An interview with Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green

Elaine Cloutman-Green is a joint Trust Healthcare Lead and represents over 700 Healthcare Scientists at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). Here she tells about bridging the gap between the lab and ward staff and leading patient engagement and outreach activities. Elaine also discusses why she joined the Society and why microbiology matters.

Tell us more about your role at Great Ormond Street Hospital as Joint Trust Healthcare Lead Scientist.

As Joint Lead Healthcare Scientist at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) I have a really amazing job representing over 700 Healthcare Scientists and advocating for them to Executive level. My responsibilities include research, education and workforce. I am responsible for creating advanced roles that reflect the changing face of the National Health Service (NHS) as well as developing training to support research activities and clinical practice. One of the best things about my job is that I’m also responsible for leading patient engagement and outreach activities, so I get to do really fun and different activities across age groups and backgrounds, in order to raise the profile of science and microbiology.

You specialise in outbreak control and are involved in the creation of infection control policy, what does this involve?

I’m a scientist by background but I work in a patient facing role, bridging the gap between the lab and the ward staff. My clinical role involves reviewing results, talking to parents and patients about their infections and advising on diagnosis and antibiotic selection. My research guides this role and involves developing new techniques for detection of outbreaks and improving infection prevention and controlling interventions so that there is an evidence base for decision making.

In terms of creation of policy, I sit as a National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Expert Advisor in Infection Prevention and Control, as well as sitting on the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostics Programme Board. I contribute to specific pieces of policy created by organisations like the Microbiology Society, Healthcare Infection Society, Society for Applied Microbiology and Public Health England. 

Tell us a little about the educational and outreach activities you undertake in your role.

Working in paediatrics it’s so important to educate and engage the next generation of scientists.  I’m really lucky in my role to be able to undertake innovative approaches to education, such as working with playwright Nicola Baldwin, to create plays to help engage both children and adults.  I also run an activity called ‘Reach Out for Healthcare Science,’ where 300 students visit hospitals across London to learn what it’s like to work in Healthcare Science.

In terms of working with other scientists, I’m involved with the London Healthcare Science Education Collaborative, where scientists from across London come together to build networks and share learning. I also run the Environment Network which aims to support anyone with an interest in environmental infection prevention and control in order to provide safer environments for patients. Finally, I run an annual education conference inventively called Healthcare Science Education (HCSEd). This one-day event has workshops and networking events as well as lectures from educators to support us thinking differently about how education can be delivered in the modern academic and healthcare settings.

Do you have any advice for early-career scientists wanting to pursue a career outside of academia?

When I was at university I had no idea that you could be a scientist outside of academia or industry, neither of which I particularly felt were a good fit for me. I fell into what I did now, mostly because there weren’t many people out there advertising different routes and due to a lack of websites and social media platforms it was hard to discover different roles. I don’t think that’s the case nowadays and I think it’s much easier to explore using the tools we have available and see what might fit who you are and what you want to achieve. I think my main advice though is to be brave. It’s very easy to settle into the boxes that people put us in and to follow pre-defined pathways. For me, those pathways just didn’t fit. I’ve carved out a pathway that works for me, sometimes that’s difficult but it’s definitely worth it.

What if any are the professional challenges that present themselves and how do you try to overcome them?

I work in an environment where I don’t really fit. This is because I occupy the space between academia and clinical care, between medics and scientists. This space has huge opportunities to influence changes in practice and really translate science into everyday clinical use for patient benefit. Sometimes it is a difficult space to occupy however, you have no one to benchmark against whether you’re doing ok as no one is doing quite what you do. Forging a career pathway is difficult as there’s no pre-defined route. To counter this I’ve worked hard to form networks and develop relationships to counter those feelings of isolation. Also, you achieve so much more working in collaboration with others and so I work in teams on different projects to gain that sense of progression I wouldn’t have on my own. So much of modern science is about relationships, so take time to invest in them and supporting societies as you will reap the rewards later.

You were recently awarded ‘Champion of the NHS Constitution’, what does this mean to you?

Winning the Champion of the NHS Constitution Award meant everything to me. I passionately believe that if we can embody who we are and our values in everything we do then we make the experience of being scientists, academics and working in healthcare as impactful as it can be for everyone involved. So many awards celebrate tasks and achievements, and they are great, but very few recognise the impacts of how we treat and work with people. I was completely lost for words when I won, I really didn’t know what to say.

What is your biggest professional achievement(s) so far?

This is a tough one.  I achieve so little on my own, I’ve managed to do what I do by working with a whole bunch of wonderful people who hold the same values as me. I have to pinch myself a lot about where I’ve ended up and that I get to have the wonderful career that I do. I think I’m proudest of the work I’ve done in bringing science into settings outside of the lab, be that Blue Peter, our plays ‘Nosocomial’ and ‘Remember Remember’, or outreach activities such as ‘Reach Out for Healthcare Science.’ If we are going to change the way that science is seen by society and the public we need to do more to get out there and show what life as a scientist really is like.

In terms of academic achievement, I’ve recently been part of a team awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant to undertake work in Mali.  This grant has the opportunity to reduce infant mortality by 20% and so could be a major step forward in modifying childhood mortality across Africa.  It is simultaneously amazing and awe inspiring to be involved in something of this magnitude.

You were an invited speaker at ‘Bridging the clinical-research gap’, a collaborative one-day workshop hosted by the Healthcare Infection Society (HIS) and the Microbiology Society last year. Why is it important to attend and be involved in events like this?

Events like this are invaluable. So much time and energy goes into research that doesn’t quite transfer into the clinical setting, often because the questions answered aren’t quite right, or the solutions can’t be implemented. Days like this offer the opportunity to understand what the different sides of the equation are actually looking for, what drives them and to understand the language that they use for better communication. They also provide great opportunities to understand how things like ethics are handled in different settings and to meet future collaborators. So much of research is driven by happy coincidences, so by attending events like this you may just have a conversation over coffee that changes your entire career.

Why did you join the Microbiology Society?

I joined the Microbiology Society as part of my quest to build better networks. I had a number of friends who sit within academia who always attended the Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference and talked about how great the networking at these events were. I joined and they were completely right, the networking was amazing, and even though some of the sessions were beyond my clinical micro background I always came away feeling like I’d learnt something. Recently, policy and other areas of the society have also played a big role in my continued membership, it gives me an insight into how the society is influencing at a strategic level which is key for my current role.

Why is it important to get involved with organisations like the Microbiology Society?

I cannot state how important being part of a member organisation is. They give you opportunities you just cannot obtain on your own, from networking to applying for funding and the opportunity to be involved in activities such as policy, finance, conference organisation and leadership roles. Involvement will give you the ability to develop skills that are invaluable across your career. Getting travel grants is a great way of getting successful grant applications onto your CV. Applying to be part of an early career researcher group will give you experience in budgeting, leadership and applying strategy to events. These opportunities come much later in your professional career and if you can get experience earlier it will enable you to progress faster, but also help you when you land your dream job.

Why does microbiology matter?

Few areas of science permeate so much across society and societal issues, from food security to migrant health and yet is so little understood by the public. Many of the significant challenges facing us as a society over the next 50 years are either because of or impacted by microbiology. More people will die from antimicrobial resistant infections than from cancer by 2050, and it’s so important it is on the National Risk Register alongside pandemic flu. The anti-vaccination movement means we are looking at a return of mass outbreaks, not to mention pandemics caused by new infections and movement of organisms linked to climate change. Food shortage could be addressed by microbiology, as could fuel use to help address climate change. In short, I can think of no other field that will be so pivotal in the next five decades in addressing issues across the board, microbiology does indeed matter.
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