Confessions of a Microbiologist:
I was born and brought up in Belfast during the 70’s and 80’s. This was a time when Belfast was not a particularly nice place to live in and soldiers and armoured cars on the streets were a way of life. But as I knew nothing else, you took it for granted. Belfast is a lot better place nowadays. Although sectarianism has not disappeared, the violence level has decreased considerably, and the city centre in particular is much like any other medium sized city.
I admit to being a bit of a swot at school so I ended up studying medicine at university. I was probably best described as a bit of a rebel who still liked to get the best marks. I had no intense childhood calling for medicine. I only decided on this career path at the age of 16. It seemed like the most interesting choice out of the other “professional” degrees. Edinburgh was a lovely city to live in and I supplemented my drinking money with part time jobs in bars, hotels, even bookmakers. I also did a bit of mathematics tutoring for my Indian landlord’s grandchildren, reimbursed with a bit of cash and a nice Indian meal after the tutoring sessions.
I did enough to pass my medical degree, but was never at the upper end of the year. There were far too many other distractions at university. My first couple of junior doctor jobs were in District General Hospitals close to Glasgow. It was during one of these that I met my future wife, Alison, who was working as a staff nurse at the time. I also did a couple of A&E jobs in and around Glasgow. The shifts were long and tough and the case mix invariably involved a lot of trauma associated with alcohol excess.
I did my post-graduate exams in General Medicine, without any great desire of becoming a physician. In the new millennium I decided a change was in order, so we (Alison and I) decided to up sticks and spend a year in New Zealand, where I worked as a Medical Registrar and Alison worked as a staff nurse. It was a good year and as we were still childfree at that stage we did a lot of travelling around New Zealand and also to Rarotonga. It was during this year that I decided that I definitely did not want to be a physician and started becoming increasingly interested in infection.
Straight after returning from New Zealand I did a three month diploma in Tropical Medicine at Liverpool. Liverpool is not the first place that you would think of as a Tropical Medicine Centre, but the course was superb and the social life was excellent, rounded off by a personal rendition of “Danny Boy” in front of a few hundred people at the End of Course concert. It was a great three months, surrounded by lots of like minded people, and I would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in Infection, Microbiology or Public Health.
I then embarked on Specialist Training in Clinical Microbiology at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. This was a bit of a paradox. The training wasn’t great. In fact in parts it was downright awful, but the hospital itself was a great place to learn Clinical Microbiology. There were lots of specialist units, the pathology was often rather advanced as it was a deprived part of Glasgow, and the large cohort of Injecting Drug Users in Glasgow occasionally threw up some exotic infections such as botulism and tetanus, heady stuff indeed for a developed country. During this five year period I got married to Alison up in the Scottish Highlands (Glenfinnan), went on a fantastic honeymoon to the Canadian Rockies and Alaska, and in 2004, we had our first child.
When I finished my Clinical Microbiology training in 2006, we got itchy feet again. Never being one to particularly conform to what one is supposed to do, we decided to go back to New Zealand to live and work. The only problem was at this time there were no Clinical Microbiologist jobs available in New Zealand. Not being put off by this, I took a job as a Medical Registrar in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand in order to make myself known in the country. This approach paid off and after 6 months, a consultant microbiologist position came up, coincidentally back in the Bay of Plenty where I had worked several years previously. So we moved back up to the Bay and bought a house in Papamoa.
The next few years were a busy time for us in terms of growing our family. Three more children arrived during this period. One of them was unfortunate enough to have a major congenital heart condition, requiring corrective surgery at the age of three months. This was made all the tougher by the fact that our families were on the other side of the world. Another of our children required more minor heart surgery, that is if heart surgery can ever be minor… With the family growing to six, these years passed in a blur of work and childcare. Life was chaotic but mostly happy.
As the years passed I began to realise that although I had a good job with a good salary, living in a nice area of New Zealand, a new challenge was required. So we have decided to up sticks again, this time to Paris, a place that we had always enjoyed going to for long weekends as a couple. We wondered what it would be like to live there as a family. So I handed in my notice, started taking French classes and looked for suitable Parisian schools for the children.
We are clearly a family that likes to get out and about in the world. It has been interesting observing people’s opinions on our big moves. Although some have been happy for us and have encouraged us to follow our dreams, others have reacted with either indifference or worse still, discouraging us from change. I think such views just make us even more determined to carry through with our plans.
Who knows what the future in Paris will hold. That is the exciting part. Maybe it will all turn to custard and we will regret ever having made the move. But I doubt it…..
p.s. Feel free to follow any current events on my “blog” which I will update when I have both some free time and something worthwhile to say..
6 thoughts on “Confessions of a Microbiologist”
What an interesting life and blog.
Looking forward to future posts and learning more micro…
Thanks Ashley. The website is on slow burn at the moment as I work out where in the world I am going to next!
I guess with your training in the UK, Newzealand accepted your FRCPath ?I am a South African trained clinical microbiologist.What were the requirements for working in Paris and where else in the world have you worked?
Yes NZ accepted my Fellowship qualifications from the UK. There are lots of South Africans working here!
My name is Kieran Cooper and I am an Irish PGY2 doctor currently working in the Emergency Department at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim, Marlborough. I read your biography today and was struck by how many of my life plans seem to follow those that you have already followed.
I moved here 4 months ago now with my partner who is also a house surgeon for a working holiday and plan to spend up to two years here. Like yourself, I already have the feeling that I do not want to become a physician and have been considering a career in clinical microbiology since university.
I have been attempting to research potential training options and courses here in this field however and have been somewhat stumped by the dearth of information available on this topic. As someone who has worked in clinical microbiology in New Zealand I was wondering if you could give any guidance on pursuing a career in this field here or more generally.
We have also been eyeing a move to France eventually so I would also love to hear how that adventure has unfolded.
Hope you are enjoying Blenheim!
I would advise a few years of ED/general medicine if you are interested in going into clinical microbiology, and better still do the physician fellowship exams.
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