Medical Training and Careers in Microbiology

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Medical training and careers in microbiology

The world of microbiology overlaps the world of medicine. As a result, trained microbiologists find a diversity of career paths and opportunity in medicine.

Research in medical microbiology can involve clinical or basic science. Clinical microbiology focuses on the microbiological basis of various diseases and how to alleviate the suffering caused by the infectious microorganism. Basic medical research is concerned more with the molecular events associated with infectious diseases or illnesses.

Both medical training and microbiology contain many different areas of study. Medical microbiology is likewise an area of many specialties. A medical bacteriologist can study how bacteria can infect humans and cause disease, and how these disease processes can be dealt with. A medical mycologist can study pathogenic (disease-causing) fungi , molds and yeast to find out how they cause disease. A parasitologist is concerned with how parasitic microorganisms (those that require a host in order to live) cause disease. A medical virologist can study the diseases attributed to infection by a virus, such as the hemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus .

The paths to these varied disciplines of study are also varied. One route that a student can take to incorporate both research training and medical education is the combined M.D.PhD. program. In several years of rigorous study, students become physician-scientists. Often, graduates develop a clinical practice combined with basic research. The experience gained at the bedside can provide research ideas. Conversely, laboratory techniques can be brought to bear on unraveling the basis of human disease. The M.D.PhD. training exemplifies what is known as the transdisciplinary approach. Incorporating different approaches to an issue can suggest treatment or research strategies that might otherwise not be evident if an issue were addressed from only one perspective.

The training for a career in the area of medicine and medical microbiology begins in high school. Courses in the sciences lay the foundation for the more in-depth training that will follow in university or technical institution. With under-graduate level training, career paths can include research assistant, providing key technical support to a research team, quality assurance in the food, industrial or environmental microbiology areas, and medical technology.

Medical microbiology training at the undergraduate and graduate levels, in the absence of simultaneous medical training, can also lead to a career as a clinical microbiologist. Such scientists are employed in universities, hospitals and in the public sector. For example, the United Kingdom has an extensive Public Health Laboratory Service. The PHLS employs clinical microbiologists in reference laboratories, to develop or augment test methods, and as epidemiologists. The latter are involved in determining the underlying causes of disease outbreaks and in uncovering potential microbiological health threats. Training in medical microbiology can be at the Baccalaureate level, and in research that leads to a Masters or a Doctoral degree. The latter is usually undertaken if the aim is to do original and independent research, teach undergraduate and graduate students, or to assume an executive position.

Medical technologists are involved in carrying out the myriad of microbiological tests that are performed on samples such as urine, blood and other body fluids to distinguish pathogenic microorganisms from the normal flora of the body. This can be very much akin to detective work, involving the testing of samples by various means to resolve he identity of an organism based on the various biochemical behaviors. Increasingly, such work is done in conjunction with automated equipment. Medical technologists must be skilled at scheduling tests efficiently, independently and as part of a team. Training as a medical technologist is typically at a community college or technical institution and usually requires two years.

As in the other disciplines of medical microbiology, medical technology is a specialized field. Histopathology is the examination of body cells or tissues to detect or rule out disease. This speciality involves knowledge of light and electron microscopic examination of samples. Cytology is the study of cells for abnormalities that might be indicative of infection or other malady, such as cancer. Medical immunology studies the response of the host to infection. A medical immunologist is skilled at identifying those immune cells that active in combating an infection. Medical technology also encompasses the area of clinical biochemistry , where cells and body fluids are analyzed for the presence of components related to disease. Of course the study of microorganism involvement in disease requires medical technologists who are specialized microbiologists and virologists, as two examples.

Medical microbiologists also can find a rewarding career path in industry. Specifically, the knowledge of the susceptibility or resistance of microorganisms to antimicrobial drugs is crucial to the development of new drugs. Work can be at the research and development level, in the manufacture of drugs, in the regulation and licensing of new antimicrobial agents, and even in the sale of drugs. For example, the sale of a product can be facilitated by the interaction of the sales associate and physician client on an equal footing in terms of knowledge of antimicrobial therapy or disease processes.

Following the acquisition of a graduate or medical degree, specialization in a chosen area can involve years of post-graduate or medical residence. The road to a university lab or the operating room requires dedication and over a decade of intensive study.

Careers in medical science and medical microbiology need not be focused at the patient bedside or at the lab bench. Increasingly, the medical and infectious disease fields are benefiting from the advice of consultants and those who are able to direct programs. Medical or microbiological training combined with experience or training in areas such as law or business administration present an attractive career combination.

See also Bioinformatics and computational biology; Food safety; History of public health; Hygiene; World Health Organization

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Medical Training and Careers in Microbiology

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