Dr Marina Morgan – Consultant Microbiologist, Exeter

Pathology (knowledge of disease or ‘Study of suffering’, literally [ - pathos plus ‘ology’]), is divided into several specialties: haematology biochemistry immunology, histopathology and finally - an ideal mix of laboratory mix with clinical exposure - medical microbiology.



Medical Microbiology/Virology is a laboratory based and clinical specialty for which a primary medical qualification is needed, dealing in the diagnosis, management and control of infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic) in both hospital and general practice relating to individual patients and the community. As well as clinical involvement with ward rounds etc and giving advice to other clinicians on how to manage infections in their patients, the environment is also important in microbiological practice e.g. the design and maintenance of operating theatres and other clinical areas, food preparation and hygiene, cleaning and waste disposal, sterilisation and disinfection. A Clinical Microbiologists’ job is never boring, and duties can be very variable.

Typical duties involve lab work, ‘authorising’ results (of work done by a Biomedical Scientist), which need to be checked prior to them being despatched to the clinician to ensure that the best diagnostic test has been ‘performed’ and the results are accurate. Often the Medical Microbiologist adds comments, recommending certain treatments.

Medical Microbiology/Virology offers considerable opportunities to those who want to mix clinical experience in a wide range of specialities with biological inquisitiveness.

Infections are part of a challenging field which is constantly expanding. The problem with antibiotic resistant bacteria and hospital acquired infection has now become an important political issue, as well as causing considerable morbidity.

Key Skills and Personal Attributes

  • Tact, diplomacy and ability to influence in all directions (junior medical colleagues, consultant colleagues, laboratory staff, nurses, managers). A great part of the remit will be to educate colleagues about best practice regarding infection control and therefore good communication and persuasive skills are very important, as is the need to build rapport with others
  • Ability to work as part of a team of medical, nursing and scientific staff
  • Ability to make sound clinical judgements and decisions and demonstrate clear, logical thinking and an analytical approach to problem solving

Overview of Training Required

Post Core Medical Training (CMT), starting as ST1 Medical Microbiology and Virology then following the curriculum (Royal College of Pathologists). Minimum 4½ years training. Some posts have the emphasis on virology instead, with less bacteriology training.

Hints and Tips for Developing a Successful Career

  • Contact your local Medical Microbiology laboratory and ask if you can spend some time with a Medical Microbiologist
  • Enquire about doing outpatient clinics in infectious diseases or HIV clinics, especially if you already have MRCP
  • Attending infectious disease ward rounds or ward rounds with your Clinical Microbiologist to learn about how common infectious diseases are investigated and managed
  • Contact your local travel clinic and ask about in-house training in travel medicine
  • Check out the Royal College of Pathologists website and the Health Protection Agency

Infectious Diseases Specialty

Infectious Diseases specialty involves more direct patient care than medical microbiology. Doctors still need laboratory skills but the emphasis is far more on looking after inpatients and outpatients.

For information, contact Dr Martin Williams at University of Bristol Healthcare Trust.