By Sally Liska, DrPH
Being a public health microbiologist can mean more than just working at the lab bench helping diagnose communicable diseases or being involved in public health outbreak investigations. There are many opportunities available. One activity I particularly enjoy is teaching and mentoring clinical laboratorians in developing countries. And now retired, I have more time to do this rewarding work. Sharing my knowledge – something we in the field call “technology transfer” – with a willing group of lab personnel can be very uplifting. To feel their enthusiasm, see their progress and receive their sincere thanks is truly heart-warming.
For the past five years I’ve participated in about 12 laboratory management workshops in several African countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia. You never know what to expect during the training session; each class of laboratorians is different. Are they going to be shy and reserved, as we lab folks tend to be, or are they going to be an enthusiastic bunch wanting to share their knowledge with their colleagues? Will we have to draw them out to participate, or rein in their many comments and questions? Of course they are always courteous and receptive during the presentations but blossom during the small group exercises where they take center stage. Through group exercises, role-playing and presentation they get the opportunity to interact with their colleagues about the real-life situations they face. For many participants, there is that special moment when they see themselves as important and integral parts of the health care system of their country; and to be there to witness that is truly special! Throughout the week they network with their colleagues, forming bonds that last long past the end of the workshop.
Although we may differ in culture, age or mother tongue, we share many of the same issues of constantly striving to improve the quality of our work, gain recognition for our profession and do what’s best for our clients.
Being a public health laboratorian means not just doing what you know, but sharing it as well; I’ve been fortunate to experience that. And teaching is a wonderful opportunity to do this on a close-encounters basis.