National Pathology Week: “Infection Detection!” workshop

The Royal College of Pathologists based in London established National Pathology Week in 2008 to raise awareness and promote the role of pathology in healthcare. A recent study commissioned by the College reported that over two thirds of people thought pathologists worked only with dead people like they have been portrayed in television programmes such as Crime Scene Investigation and Silent Witness. Furthermore, the public did not realise that there were over 15 pathology sub-specialties, including microbiology, virology and immunology, and although some pathologists do work with the dead, most pathologists deal with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease in living patients.

In order to dispel some of these myths we invited three groups of Year 10 students from two local schools to spend a day in the Microbiology Department at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. We held an interactive “Infection Detection!” workshop in which students were given the task of investigating a ward outbreak of diarrhoea caused by Clostridium difficile (C. difficile). We hoped to provide an opportunity for the students to experience the working environment of a microbiologist and the role of microbiology and the infection control team in a clinical outbreak scenario. They worked in groups to test fake stool samples (made from gravy) for the presence of C. difficile toxin using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay kits. Having identified the patients that had C. difficile-induced diarrhoea, the students were also given clinical information about the patients, including the timeline of events, location on the ward and any antibiotic treatments they had received. In their groups they discussed ways in which the infection could have spread and what methods the hospital infection control team could implement to stop the outbreak.

Following this the students watched two short films that we made and released on YouTube explaining the role of pathologists: “Pathology” and “The Screen Team: The role of pathology in preventative medicine”.

On completion of the day, the students appeared to have a better understanding of the role of the pathologist, in particular that of the microbiologist, in today’s modern medicine. Feedback from the day has been positive, ranging from “…I liked learning about what is done when the samples are taken on the hospital wards and how infection is spread” to “…I enjoyed the practical side of the day as it was helpful in explaining what was happening.” The majority of students said they would encourage their peers to attend the event next year.

Vanessa Wong

I wish to thank the SfAM for supporting this event with an Innovative Project Grant/Public Engagement grant, Professor Kevin Kerr, Dr Sophie Collier, and Ruth Semple for devising the workshop, the University of Nottingham Medical School for all their help in organizing the event and providing the equipment and laboratory facilities, and the Microbiology Department at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust for their support.

Categories: Early Career Scientists


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