Medical Microbiology

A day in the life of a Biomedical Scientist - Medical Microbiology

In Medical Microbiology, Biomedical Scientists will study micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and parasites which cause disease. They identify organisms and establish the antibiotic treatment required to kill them. Diseases diagnosed include: meningitis, tuberculosis and food poisoning. 


Emma McKerr

Emma McKerr

Job Title

Biomedical Scientist


Medical Microbiology

Career to date

Studied BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science at University of Durham graduating with a 2:2 in 2012 co-terminus. I completed my registration portfolio in the microbiology laboratories of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust during a sandwich year as part of my degree. I began working for North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust in February 2013 where I still work today.

Photo provided courtesy of Peter Wilson.


The start of my shift

At the start of the shift I will check the bench rota to see where I have been allocated to, then I get stuck in! I am not responsible for gross work allocation but I always have a broad idea of what is going on in the laboratory; who is where and doing what, and which tests should have been started at a particular time. If we have staff shortages, I make sure that management are updated regarding the workload in the laboratory; running analysers and processing urgent samples as appropriate.

We do not undertake shift work as such, broadly speaking I will work between 8.30am and 5pm. However, we do have a twilight shift which processes a late delivery of samples from the other hospital in our Trust which finishes at 7pm. Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and out-of-ours cover are on rotation with varying frequencies.

The first thing that I do is to make sure that I have everything that I need before sitting down at the bench to start reading. Not having the reagents in front of me when I need to use them for rapid characterisation tests like catalase or coagulase, disturbs the workflow and disrupts my thought process which slows me down. Any other tests that need me to leave my bench like Gram staining, or that are quicker to perform in duplicate like Streptococcal groupings, I put to one side and deal with them after I have read the bulk of the plates.

During my shift

For most benches in the laboratory, after I have read the plates, I complete all of the characterisation tests that I decide need to be done. Inoculate purity plates and sensitivity plates and place discs of the appropriate antibiotics on them, and then incubate at the appropriate atmosphere and temperature according to the organism.

If I am assigned to the Blood Culture bench, the priority is investigating the contents of the blood culture bottles which have flagged as positive overnight before the Consultant Microbiologist goes on their first ward rounds at 10am. After that, the four-hour characterisation tests must be set up because the results immediately impact patient treatment. So the earlier in the day that our Consultant receives the results, the earlier it is that the patient receives treatment, according to the organism which aids in good Antimicrobial Stewardship. The next priority is to read the sensitivity plates for the previous day's positive blood cultures to further narrow the spectrum of antimicrobial for the patient if they are not already on something appropriate.

Most of the other benches begin with reading plates at 8am at the earliest to ensure the appropriate incubation times for the plates, except for in faeces and the MRSA screening bench where the plates are read at 11am or later. This is because the chromogens in the selective media used to isolate enteric pathogens and that used for MRSA screening requires two hours more incubation than those used on other benches.

At the end of your shift

At the end of my shift, the priority is to ensure that all of the biomedical science tasks are complete. This begins with those affiliated with whichever bench I have been assigned to that day, expands to ensuring that my immediate colleagues are comfortable with their remaining workload, and then includes helping the Medical Laboratory Assistants to set up the patient samples. I finish my day when I am done! By organising my workload I aim to be finished as close to 5pm or 7pm as possible. However, sometimes it is unavoidable to stay after hours for the benefit of the patient.