Clinical microbiology is the application of research for the prevention, direct diagnosis, and treatment of infectious diseases. Clinical microbiology may be a viable career option for those who want to apply their knowledge of infectious disease in clinical settings to promote public health. Two recent CAMB graduates, Jamie Lemon and Alexandra Bryson, pursued this path after leaving Penn. Jamie Lemon was an MVP student in Dr. Jeffrey Weiser’s lab, where she studied the immune response to Streptococcus pneumoniae colonization using a mouse model. She defended her thesis in March 2015 and is currently a second-year Clinical Microbiology Fellow at the NIH. Alexandra Bryson, MVP ,is currently a first-year Clinical Microbiology Fellow at the Mayo Clinic. She completed her graduate work in Dr. Rick Bushman’s lab, where she investigated the effect of covalent DNA modifications in bacteriophage on the CRISPR-Cas9 system and evolution of the human gut virome.
Clinical Microbiology Fellowships are two-year postdoctoral training programs that prepare microbiologists and immunologists for director-level positions in several settings, including hospital and public health laboratories. Jamie describes the program as “having to do parts of a postdoc, medical school, and residency all at once.” The fellowship encompasses three main areas: training in diagnostic labs, clinical service, and research. To learn the various diagnostic tools used to detect pathogens, fellows rotate through different clinical labs, including bacteriology, mycology, and virology. Fellows also go on clinical service, answering physicians’ questions about culture results and consulting on available tests. Research is the third component of the fellowship, and Alexandra’s research project will include a metagenomic analysis of cerebral spinal fluid samples. She is focused on using deep sequencing to detect organisms in cases of meningitis and encephalitis, whose microbial etiologies remain largely unknown. There is also an emphasis on developing management and budgeting skills to prepare Fellows to become lab directors. Alexandra says, “I like that we are doing something that is beneficial to a lot of people. The Mayo Clinic in particular is extremely collaborative, and every day is something new and exciting.”
Jamie and Alexandra cited their experiences at Penn and CAMB as good preparation for their fellowships. Jamie began graduate school with an interest in pursuing public health as a career. She specifically chose Penn because of the opportunity to participate in the Public Health Certificate Program, and her courses through the program gave her a good foundation in public health. Both gained exposure to the field by attending plate rounds at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), in which directors and trainees reviewed culture plates of infectious disease cases to learn about diagnostic procedures, examine microbial morphology, and determine appropriate interventions. Alexandra also attended Infectious Diseases Rounds at HUP, which are more clinically focused. She conducted a research project in the Infectious Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and presented her work at the Clinical Virology Symposium, where she was able to meet lab directors and others in the field. Some of the most important skills from graduate school that they use include critical thinking, troubleshooting, and communication skills. As Jamie says, “Things don’t always work as expected (or as they should) and being able to systematically figure out why something isn’t performing as expected is a skill that I honed in grad school.” Alexandra added, “Communication and leadership skills are essential. I give presentations to a big community of physicians and researchers, so you have to be comfortable speaking on diverse topics.” For students who are interested in clinical microbiology, they suggest talking to current fellows or lab directors and gaining as much exposure to the field as possible, either by going to plate rounds, doing a small project, or learning about the direction of the field. Some of Jamie’s favorite memories at CAMB include spending time with friends, daily coffee time with her lab, and finishing the Philadelphia Half Marathon. For Alexandra, a combination of having great friends and an exercise community were key to helping her get through grad school.
Regarding future plans, Jamie’s fellowship ends in June, and she is currently interviewing for director-level positions at city and state public health labs. Alexandra is interested in becoming a director or assistant director of a clinical microbiology lab at a hospital or research university, preferably at a medical school where she can also teach.