On November 19th 2015, myself and another 3rd year Healthcare Science (Life Sciences) student spent a day visiting Porton Down, Wiltshire, as part of our Public Health Infections module. We visited the public health laboratory, but Porton Down is also home to MOD facilities. I wasn’t sure what to expect!
We discussed what Public Health England does, particularly its role in fighting the Ebola outbreak. Porton Down trained all of the lab staff who went to Sierra Leone to work with Ebola, and we were later given the opportunity to see the training lab and try out the containment level 4 lab equipment. I could just about use a pipette through the 3 layers of gloves! It was fascinating to hear about the outbreaks from the point-of-view of people who actually went to Sierra Leone, and have the opportunity to discuss it with them.
We were also shown around the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL) where diagnoses of rare viral and bacterial infections such as Ebola, Anthrax and Lyme disease are made. Having recently spent 3 months on placement in an NHS Microbiology lab, I was intrigued to see where samples for non-routine infections were sent for diagnosis. We spoke to other teams of staff who worked with mathematical modelling, geographical information systems, epidemiology and health psychology to predict patterns in disease and public responses. This is a large part of public health which I knew little about, and it was really interesting!
I enjoyed the visit very much - everyone was friendly and keen to show us the laboratories and equipment we had never seen before. It also opened my eyes to other potential career opportunities outside of the NHS. It was a fantastic opportunity and I’m very grateful to Professor Simon Jackson (Plymouth) and Professor Nigel Silman (PHE) for organising the trip!