Careers in Clinical and Public Health Microbiology
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Careers within clinical and public health microbiology are challenging, yet rewarding. They offer an opportunity to participate in clinical decision making by providing critical information to healthcare teams. Microbiologists also contribute to public health by providing information important for the detection and characterization of pathogens that are of public health concern.
What is the difference between clinical microbiology and public health microbiology?
- Clinical microbiology: investigates microorganisms that cause infectious diseases. Those who work in the clinical microbiology laboratory are referred to as medical microbiologists.
- Public health microbiology: investigates microorganisms that pose threats to the public’s health.
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What do medical microbiologists do?
- Recommend methods for obtaining and transporting clinical specimens that aid in diagnosing infectious diseases.
- Select the most appropriate tests and identify bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic agents that are likely to be contributing to infectious processes.
- Determine the susceptibility of microorganisms to antimicrobial agents that could be used to treat infections caused by the microorganisms.
- Report results to healthcare providers caring for patients in a clear, concise and clinically-relevant manner.
- Work with healthcare teams, including public health officials, to improve processes to diagnose and control infectious diseases, with a strong emphasis on effective communication at all levels.
- Work with pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to develop new and improved technologies to confront emerging infectious diseases.
- Use digital technology to interpret clinical cultures, perform identification of microorganisms and initiate appropriate antimicrobial susceptibility testing.
- Develop/validate complex laboratory assays to complement public health goals in an outbreak setting like COVID-19.
Where do medical microbiologists work?
- Hospital laboratories.
- Commercial and reference laboratories (where more complex lab tests are often performed).
- Federal and state government laboratories.
- State and local public health laboratories.
- Hospital laboratories affiliated with universities and medical schools.
- Pharmaceutical and diagnostic instrument companies.
What positions are available in a clinical microbiology laboratory?
Education & Experience
Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT)
Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS)
Medical Microbiology Laboratory Director
Salaries (based on education, job sector and experience) range from $65,000-$150,000/year or more.
In most states in the U.S., the role of a MLT is to analyze specimens and report results. A MLS has added responsibility and performs more complex testing. A MLS can advance to a supervisorial or managerial position after several years of experience “on the bench.” An advanced degree is usually required to become the director of a clinical microbiology laboratory. In addition to assuming responsibility for testing performed in the laboratory, the clinical microbiology laboratory director advises clinicians on test selection and interpretation and serves as a resource for any microbe-related issues beyond the laboratory.
Individuals trained in clinical microbiology are generally qualified to work in public health laboratories as well.
Public Health Microbiology
What do public health microbiologists do?
Public health microbiologists have similar responsibilities as medical microbiologists, and may also do the following:
- Develop and perform diagnostic, outbreak and surveillance testing for infectious diseases in humans.
- Provide lab testing for a range of environmental and animal samples for pathogens of public health importance.
Where do public health microbiologists work?
- Local, state or national public health laboratories (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH)).
- Academic laboratories.
- Newborn and genetic diseases laboratories.
- Environmental laboratories.
What positions are available for public health microbiologists?
Education & Experience
Public Health Microbiologist
Director Level Public Health Microbiologist
Salaries (based on education, job sector and experience) range from $40,000-$120,000/year or more.
Is a career in clinical or public health microbiology for you?
- Are you fascinated by all kinds of “germs” and their DNA/RNA?
- Do you prefer to stay “behind the scenes” rather than work directly with patients?
- Do you like to perform a variety of tasks?
- Do you like to watch things (e.g., microbes) grow?
- Do you want to see results soon (instead of several weeks/months)?
- Are you interested in helping to determine the causes of infections?
- Do you love to solve “mysteries”?
- Do you want to help control spread of bad germs?