I’ve been off the bench for almost a year, and while I don’t miss clocking in at 7:00 am or shoveling my driveway at 5 in the morning so I can get to work, I do miss actually working in a microbiology lab. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Making something out of nothing. For me, growing microorganisms on an agar plate is the closest thing to magic a laboratory scientist can do. Today, the plate is sterile; tomorrow, teeming with bacteria!
2. Learning more about a patient’s personal habits than you wanted to. Gram negative bacteria in a throat culture, oral flora in a necrotic toe, a forty-something with a UTI caused by S. saprophyticus or isolating Pasturella canis from a buttock incision site. Microbiologists know everyone’s dirty little secrets.
3. The technologist becomes the patient. When my husband and I adopted kittens, I immediately broke out in an itchy, scaly rash. Of course I performed a calcofluor white stain on a skin scraping that … just happened … to find itself on a glass slide. Diagnosing my own ringworm infection was equal parts exciting and dismaying. And since some of my flaky skin also made its way to an agar plate, we had a great fungus for our students. (For the record, we identified Mycosporum gypsem.)
4. Finding the occasional zebra. I’ll never forget the feeling the first time I recovered Malessezia furfur or the day I found an H2S-producing E. coli.
5. Learning something new everyday. Whether it was a new process at the bench, a new organism I hadn’t seen before, or attending an infectious disease lecture given by a resident, I was constantly learning about the exciting world of bacteria.
And last, but certainly not least:
6. Using my unique skill set to make a difference in patient’s lives every day.
What are some of the reasons you love your job?
–Kelly Swails, MT(ASCP), is a laboratory professional, recovering microbiologist, and web editor for Lab Medicine.