An interview with Dr Angharad Davies

November 2019
Dr Angharad Davies is a member of the Microbiology Society and along with her role at Swansea University Medical School, is a Consultant Clinical Microbiologist for the national Cryptosporidium Reference Unit, where she focuses on research into Cryptosporidium infections. In this interview, she talks about her experience as a clinical microbiologist and her involvement with the Society as a member of the Professional Development Committee.

You are currently a Clinical Associate Professor in Medical Microbiology at Swansea University Medical School. What does this role entail?

As a clinical academic I carry out NHS clinical work, research and educational activities - my role is very diverse, which I love, although it means I’m constantly juggling. I am also Specialty Lead for Infection for Health and Care Research Wales. This entails supporting the successful delivery of infection-related research studies in Wales and representing Wales at NIHR specialty group meetings.

In my teaching role, I am particularly committed to ensuring that our students receive appropriate education in antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial stewardship. This includes not only our medical students, physician associate students, and post-graduate pharmacists, but also our BSc students - many will eventually work in healthcare settings and some will be the laboratory scientists of the future, developing new diagnostics and therapeutics, so it's really important they have a good understanding of this challenge from the outset.

What is your area of specialism?

I am the Consultant Clinical Microbiologist for the national Cryptosporidium Reference Unit, which is based in Swansea. I provide clinical input to the Unit and respond to clinical enquiries from across the country. These usually involve immunocompromised patients, who may suffer from very severe or even life-threatening diseases caused by Cryptosporidium, but there are also calls from concerned GPs and other clinicians about normally healthy patients who have been symptomatic for longer than they expected. Cryptosporidiosis can go on for up to three weeks and is a highly unpleasant experience, even for people with intact immune systems.

Clinical research I have carried out with the Unit has established the frequency of carriage of Cryptosporidium in young children in the UK and the importance of Cryptosporidium as a cause of cholangitis and cirrhosis in immunocompromised patients, especially children with primary immune deficiencies. This is important to recognise as it can pose complex diagnostic difficulties, and if unrecognised can even lead to the need for a liver transplant. We have also demonstrated that Cryptosporidium infection has clinical sequelae long beyond the acute infection, which is important information to share with patients and clinicians so that their expectations are managed, and it is important in its prioritisation in health prevention policy.

Tell us about your biggest professional achievement(s) so far.

I am the Royal College of Pathologists' joint lead for Undergraduate and Foundation Education. In this national role there is the opportunity to have a real impact on clinical microbiology (and broader pathology) education and training for medical students and junior doctors. It is a privilege to be able to do this and hopefully in some cases help influence career choices – we need more medical microbiologists!

I am also a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Do you have any career advice for early career researchers?

Get involved with the learned and professional societies which are relevant to you. This will enable you to develop networks and be active in your field over and above your day-to-day work, which will really help broaden your horizons. Don’t think you are too junior or that you have to be really eminent in your field to contribute - that isn't true at all. 

Why did you join the Microbiology Society?

I was a member for years but didn't get actively involved until I saw that the Society was looking for a clinical microbiologist to join the Professional Development Committee. I've found that the Society does really great work to support microbiologists, especially early in their careers, and has an excellent ethos and commitment to equality and diversity, so I'm really pleased that I got involved.

You are a member of the Professional Development Committee and involved with other member organisations. Why is it important to get involved with organisations like the Microbiology Society?

I'm active in a number of relevant professional societies and organisations - as well as the Microbiology Society and Royal College of Pathologists, I sit on Council of the Academy of Medical Educators and the BMA's Medical Academic Staff Committee and Women in Academic Medicine group. Earlier in your career you may feel that your energies are all focused on training and establishing yourself in your job - but if you can find time, getting involved is not difficult and will add another dimension to your work, and another community outside your own workplace.

Where did your interest in microbiology come from?

I was always interested in infectious diseases. When I was at school, I read a book all about a public health project to control schistosomiasis on the island of Saint Lucia by controlling the aquatic snail population. This really fascinated me. After I qualified in medicine, I came back to this and decided to specialise in clinical microbiology.

How do you keep up to date with the latest microbiology news?

I receive a number of journals and e-mails from my professional societies which keep me updated. Also, quite honestly nowadays, on Twitter! Used carefully it's a really convenient and accessible way to find out about new developments as they happen. I don't think this would have been helpful at the beginning of my career though - it would just have been a jumble of confusing information without context. Nowadays though, I know what I am looking for and exactly what is of interest and relevance to me.

Why does microbiology matter?

On the one hand, modern medicine as we know it is under a very real and serious threat from antimicrobial resistance. At the same time, we are learning ever more about the microbiome and how it impacts our health in ways we never dreamed of when I was a student, from our metabolism to our mental health. Microbiology matters more than ever.

Dr Angharad Davies is one of the organisers of the Microbiology Society and Public Health Wales ‘What’s new in Cryptosporidium?’ Focused Meeting. This meeting will be held at Swansea University Bay Campus on 6-7 July 2020. This is the perfect opportunity to hear about advances in the field, share good practice and establish collaborations with others across science, industry, public and environmental health and clinical and veterinary practice.

If you are a member of the Society and would like to find out more about how you can get involved with Society activities and/or showcase your research, please email us at [email protected].