In the next generation (20-25 years), the diagnostic microbiology laboratory workforce will be decimated worldwide.
If you are a student, they don’t tell you that at the careers fair…
“You sound like exactly the sort of person we are looking for. Come and “train” for four years in a lecture theatre, and then work in a clinical microbiology laboratory, that is if you are lucky enough to get a job. Unless your Mum and Dad are well off, you will accrue a hefty debt which will likely take you a couple of decades to pay off. However in 20 years time your job will probably not even exist…”
Am I being too harsh?
In terms of general culture based bacteriology, most of it will have gone molecular. Whatever is left of it will be automated, not just partially automated as with the current Kiestra TLA system, but completely automated to include plate interpretation, colony picking, identification, antibiotic susceptibility testing and rule based signout. The whole works…
Most microbiology samples will never touch a laboratory worker’s hands.
Molecular testing will have increased, but on highly automated platforms, processing high volumes of work, with minimum manual input.
Our work will be reduced to oddities and troubleshooting. I would even chance to say that there will be just as many engineers as microbiologists on the laboratory floor.
And then I look at the core components of my own job..
- Authorising important results:- This will be done automatically using sophisticated rules based computer algorithms. And they will do it much better than I can.
- Giving antibiotic advice:- Decision support apps downloaded on clinicians’ smartphones will do this more sensibly than me.
- Laboratory Management:- I fear there will be nobody left in the lab to manage…
- Demand management:- Although the process of demand management will be performed by software algorithms, there might still be a little work left for me regarding the initiation and governance of such projects.
- Anti-microbial stewardship:- Anti-microbial resistance is not going away anytime soon so there may be a continuing role in the governance of such programmes. But the nuts and bolts will be highly automated and app-based.
So I am not overly optimistic about my own long term future. No one is immune…
I am fortunate to be attending the ECCMID conference at Vienna in April. It is no accident I will be heavily focusing on presentations in molecular diagnostics and demand management. That should help in the short term at least in securing my usefulness. However it is entirely possible I will need to retrain in something completely different before I am done.
I know my job description as a clinical microbiologist will change out of all recognition before I retire. It is not impossible that clinical microbiology as a career entity will cease to exist altogether.
We need to be constantly looking at what we do today, then imagining what we will potentially be doing tomorrow, and preparing for it as best we can…