1. Describe your job at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).
I am a clinical microbiologist working in BCCDC’s Public Health Laboratory. I am the program head for both the Zoonotic and Emerging Pathogens Section, and the Parasitology Section. These are the sections that deal with diseases that usually infect animals but can also be transmitted to people, as well as emerging infectious diseases such as syphilis and Helicobacter pylori-related disease. The laboratory carries out surveillance, outbreak investigations, diagnostic immunoassays, and culture and molecular testing. Our aim is to detect antigens or antibodies to bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic agents that are of public health concern. I also provide consultation services to physicians and other health workers.
2. What inspired you to take up a career in public health?
I did not know what I wanted to do when I was young, but knew that I had to provide for my family. So, I always made my career choices based on opportunity and security. In high school, I was fascinated with the microscope and later enrolled in biology for my undergraduate degree. While I was an undergraduate student, I wanted be a college professor. After I graduated, I got an opportunity to do my master’s thesis at International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR’B). There, I saw firsthand how simple measures like hand washing and Oral Rehydration Solution can save thousands of lives from diseases including cholera and blood dysentery. This is ultimately what led me to a career in public health.
3. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the times when I have had a direct, positive impact on a patient’s life. During my lab practice, I experience many of these fortunate moments. One example that stands out involved a patient who was suffering with painful symptoms for over a year and had no clue why. He remembered, however, that he had travelled to Tibet. It was his mother who called and told me the story. I suggested he be tested for the Chikungunya virus, and it turned out to be positive. After the diagnosis, he received the care he needed and a few weeks later his mother sent a very nice thank-you letter.
I’m also proud to have received an Excellence in Clinical Services Award from UBC’s Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine in 2016, as well as being named a winner in the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards in 2017.
4. How does your work improve patient care?
The BCCDC Public Health Laboratory receives thousands of samples every day from patients across the province. Our job is to try and diagnose whether they are infected with any disease-causing agents, and provide that information back to physicians. Physicians rely over 75% of the time on a laboratory diagnosis in order to treat the patient, which makes our work a critically important element of patient care. We provide information that allows healthcare providers and their patients to make informed decisions.
Similarly, our work also helps detect and prevent communicable disease outbreaks. The lab provides a number of speciality tests, public health tests, as well as research, development and consultative services. We often encounter new diseases such as West Nile virus and Zika virus. In addition to clinical services, my lab also does field work which provides the true incidence of the disease in the vector population.
5. What changes do you anticipate in your field over the next decade?
All fields within medicine are transforming rapidly and clinical microbiology is no exception. In my view, point of care testing will become more popular in primary care settings. This means more testing outside of the laboratory and closer to where patients are receiving care. I believe we will also see more automation for traditional culture, serology and molecular tests, and panel-based testing will become more popular compared to single tests. Detection of disease causing pathogens in coming years and characterization of pathogens via meta-genomics based workflows will be implemented in routine usage in diagnostic and public health laboratories. Finally, the field of proteomics and metabolomics will find a way to enter into mainstream laboratories.
Ultimately, these changes and advancements mean patients will receive their results faster, and public health officials will be able to more effectively prevent the spread of disease.
6. What is your favourite thing about your work?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a teacher. During my master’s degree, I wanted to be a public health microbiologist, and later I became interested in clinical microbiology. I am fortunate to have my dream job where I do all three. As a clinical microbiologist, I use patient samples to find the causation of disease. Data obtained from these clinical samples allow me to do public health research, and I also have the opportunity to teach graduate and undergraduate students at UBC.
A big part of my job is to talk to people and learn about their stories and experiences, which I love.
7. An interesting/surprising fact about yourself?
I have recently developed an interest in gardening. This summer I planted a variety of vegetables in my backyard. I have been growing my own vegetables, and enjoying it very much. So far I have grown squash, zucchini, beans, tomatoes, kale, hot chilli, eggplant, bitter melon, onion, garlic and more.