The rate of innovation in the world of clinical microbiology matches that of advances in the relevant technologies such as optics and Information Technology. It is rather easy argue in favor of the latter case because the working methods of microbiologists are very technology-intensive and utterly depend on emerging technology to expand the scope of their work, as well as to meet stakeholders’ demands. As a result, individuals who plan a career in clinical microbiology (as well as in the larger spectrum of medical laboratory work) must strive to develop a highly comprehensive set of knowledge, abilities and skills in two major areas of their work:
First, significant increases in the susceptibility and sensitivity of the equipment in contemporary clinical microbiology laboratories have led to an increase in the number of types of specimens that can be identified and handled in the lab. This implies that young clinical microbiologists must be more knowledgeable than ever before as for the growing number of specimens they might encounter and expected to identify. Challenging as this change might be, I find it as a highly exciting aspect of my work, which turns a professional requirement to an intellectual and motivating career goal.
Second, the computerized environment in which contemporary clinical microbiologists and their stakeholders operate puts increasing pressure on the former to meet the expectations of the latter. The main source of this pressure is the fact that IT has increased the transparency of the laboratory’s working processes. A system that manages work, follows it and facilitates rapid reporting helps laboratories to focus on quality and timeliness, but also calls for accuracy in operation and adherence to data management procedures. In such an environment, proper use of IT is almost as critical as the clinical work, and the quality of the microbiologist is assessed accordingly.
The two major domains of change briefly discussed above have affected my career goals and implementation to a very large extent. The focus on the technical and theoretical aspects of clinical microbiology, which characterized my educational training, seems inadequate to succeed in this profession. As a student, I strived to develop some additional soft skills that will help me (and indeed were proved as highly valuable) to avoid narrowing myself to tasks that might be commoditized, automated and/or outsourced. These skills include, among others, a comprehensive aptitude to IT, self-learning and research skills and the ability to work and collaborate with remote teams, end users and complementary service providers.
My strategy is based on the notion that the practice of clinical microbiology undergoes rapid and significant changes as a result of the computerization of many of the processes and interfaces. As suggested in the goals described above, a major implication of this change is a growing emphasis on the use of computer networks and computerized communication and distribution of data. Taking into account the changes in transparency and the expectations of stakeholders (most notably the clinics and physicians who use the data generated in the laboratory), the quality of one’s use of communication protocols, functions of the clinical software and other applications (such as written communications through emails) may be almost as significant as in-depth knowledge of clinical microbiology in its classical sense.
Some current trends may be very important in setting my career goals in the future. The premise of Web 2.0, which puts suppliers and users of the biological findings (e.g. laboratories and physicians, respectively), and the formation of virtual collaborations and professional networks instead of traditional means of collaboration has two major implications for designing a successful career in clinical microbiology. Firstly, the work of clinical microbiologists is expected to involve more people, places and processes than in the past, thanks to enhanced communications and the ability to focus more work in less laboratories, thereby requiring very comprehensive personal skills and teamwork.
Secondly, clinical microbiologists will be expected to take an active role in their organizations’ efforts (e.g. in epidemiological surveys), in terms of raising concerns for potential hazards and indicating flaws in the systems, for example, rather than simply providing that data. I would therefore assume that deep familiarity with and mastery of the working environment are the keys to meet my organizations’ expectations and to succeed in my future roles.
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