Diagnostic microbiology is a specialty in the sciences which focuses on applying microbiology to medical diagnosis. Like other microbiologists, diagnostic microbiologists tend to work in a lab environment which allows them access to a variety of equipment which they can use to identify and study the organisms they encounter. People in this field can work in labs which handle diagnostic testing for hospitals and clinics, and they can also work in research and development, helping to develop new diagnostic techniques and treatments for microbial infection.
Microbes such as bacteria, protozoans, and fungi play a role in many disease processes. When a patient presents with a condition which is caused by an infection, the doctor usually wants to determine which organism is responsible so that the best treatment can be selected. A diagnostic microbiologist takes a sample collected from the patient and cultures it to see what grows, returning results to the doctor.
In addition to being involved in the identification of a disease-causing organism, diagnostic microbiology can also be a part of developing a treatment plan. Many microbes have developed resistance to medications, for example, so a microbiologist might be asked to test various medications with the cultured organism to find the most effective treatment. A clinical microbiologist can also be asked to look for signs of multiple infectious organisms, or to provide insight into the pathology of the infection.
Diagnostic microbiology can also be applied to epidemiology. Clinical microbiologists are usually involved in the early stages of tracking and studying epidemics, to identify the organisms involved, find connections between them, and help to develop an approach to stop the epidemic and treat people who have been infected. Their skills are also put to use to determine who belongs in the epidemic and who does not, using their diagnostic skills to trace infections as they spread and to distinguish between people with ordinary infections and people caught up in an infectious epidemic.
People who work in the field of diagnostic microbiology usually have extensive training. The nature of the training can vary, depending on where the scientist works. Lab technicians who culture and identify routine specimens, for example, tend to have less training that people who are working as epidemiologists who handle new and unknown organisms while confronting a public health threat. People interested in careers in diagnostic microbiology field should plan on taking a lot of science and math courses.