Meet the 2022 Peter Wildy Prize Winner, Dr. Diane Ashiru-Oredope

05 April 2022

Diane Ashiru-Oredope Pewter Wildy Prize 2022 Credit Archyra Photography_ccexpress.jpeg

Each year, the Microbiology Society awards the Peter Wildy Prize to an an individual for an outstanding contribution to microbiology education and/or communication in order to stimulate interest and understanding in the subject.
Ahead of the Peter Wildy Prize Lecture, Elizabeth Cummings, ECM Forum Executive Committee Member, interviewed Dr. Diane Ashiru-Oredope to learn more about her career and how it feels to win a Microbiology Society prize.

Congratulations again on your Prize win How did you feel when you were told that you were this year’s winner of the Peter Wildy Prize?

I cried. I actually cried! I cried ugly, sobbing tears of joy. The news came just before World Antimicrobial Awareness Week and the annual publication of our national surveillance report on antimicrobial resistance and utilisation (ESPAUR), both of which I lead for England. I had been extremely busy, I was exhausted. We all have our moments of “Is this all worth it?” and “Am I making a difference?”, so to have the news come through via email in the middle of some really challenging work really overwhelmed me. I was extremely happy. Although in that moment when the news arrived, I couldn’t figure out how the award came about. I suspected that the nomination would have come from someone outside my organisation, who wasn’t a pharmacist, and that made it even more special. I was truly honoured and finding out was very emotional for me.

When did you decide to become a pharmacist?

From an early age, around eight years old, I knew that I wanted to do something about science and healthcare. When I was a child, my mum almost died after she gave birth to my youngest sibling. At that point, I knew that I wanted to work in a hospital, either as a doctor or in some other profession. As I went through my GCSEs and A Levels, I undertook work experience in a range of places; including hospitals, care homes, pharmacies, and finally decided to study Pharmacy at the University of Bradford.

What made you decide to specialise in antimicrobial pharmacy?

Well… I didn’t. It wasn’t a path that I consciously chose, not at first. I finished my degree, was a resident pharmacist at a teaching hospital for a few years and then went to do my PhD. Once I’d finished my PhD, I went back into hospital rather than working in industry or anywhere else. I was a rotational pharmacist, so I had an opportunity to go around different specialities and remind myself of the various key specialties. Having a research degree usually means that you want to specialise, but I didn’t know what I wanted to specialise in. Now I was back in a clinical setting (my PhD was in pharmaceutics). A maternity cover opportunity came up and it happened to be in antimicrobials. I accepted the position and really enjoyed it. I got embedded across the infection prevention and control team, as well as the microbiology team, rather than staying within pharmacy only. I then moved into a role at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) as an antimicrobial pharmacist to support the Department of Health Expert Advisory Committee on AMR and HCI - leading work around antibiotic awareness across the country. I also had another part-time role in a hospital as a specialist antimicrobial pharmacist. During the early part of my role at HPA, I happened to watch a documentary about a girl called Addie and that is what changed my whole trajectory of being a specialist in AMR. It became more than a day job for me - a cause, a mission, a vision, or whatever else you will call it. I think that is why there's a difference in the way I focus on my role in AMR. Watching the documentary about that girl, and being a mum myself, made me realise that anyone can have a resistant infection. If that could happen to Addie, it could happen to my children, it could happen to me, it could happen to members of my family. So at that point, I guess I was convinced that I was in the right specialty.

What is your proudest achievement to date?

I have a few… I think that the Microbiology Society award is special because it is recognition outside of my profession and my organisation. I've had a couple of other awards; I am a fellow for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and I have won an award through the Pharmaceutical Society for which I am also proud and grateful. I think the other reason why the Peter Wildy Prize means so much to me is because it shows that the work that I am involved with, together with my colleagues, is valued and is making a difference. For me, that's what matters the most, that we are making a real difference to patients and to populations.

So then to flip that question on its head, what are the biggest challenges that you've experienced?

I am very proud to be an antimicrobial pharmacist or infection pharmacist, but then being ‘pigeon-holed’ or feeling like that's all people know me as when I still want to be known as a pharmacist is challenging... So that's been interesting. I've had moments of having to be okay with the fact that that's what I am known for and when I try to diversify, people still always bring it back to AMR. Often I'm saying, “still a pharmacist!”. I think what has also been challenging has been stepping away from the front line. That took a while for me to get comfortable with. That it's okay, that I am still a real pharmacist even though I'm no longer patient facing.

Do you think that was a pressure that you felt from others in the field?

No, I don't think so. I think it was more me. Although I've had questions like, “Are you still a pharmacist?” and “Are you still a real pharmacist?”.  For a long time I asked myself, “Am I still?”, but I think recently, particularly where we've been developing patient group directions, to just go through that and pick some key points, which are very pharmacy focused, reminded me that I am still a general pharmacist. There are just some core skills (of ensuring the safe and rational use of medicines) that will not be forgotten. So that was quite nice. And I tweeted about it, because it made me reflect that, I may not be on the front line, but at the end of the day I'm still making a direct impact as a pharmacist, although now at a population/public health level.

Your successes in scientific communication and antimicrobial stewardship are inspiring and make you a role model for the community – did you have any specific role models or mentors that helped you get to where you are today?

Yes, I have three people that I always talk about. They're all ladies actually. There are others, but these three ladies have very significant time points in my life. The first lady is called Raliat Onatade. She was a remote mentor when I first finished my PhD and went back into hospital. I published my findings as a PhD student, so I was quite keen to continue to share learning, but I when I got back into hospital, I realised that this didn’t happen in practice.  Seeing her name in publications sharing practice-based and clinical pharmacy, that were useful for us in our hospital, gave me the confidence to share what we were learning within our hospital practice. She is the single reason I credit her for going ahead with starting to share learning from my clinical practice. Fast forward 13 years, and I have more than 70 peer-reviewed publications as well as several blogs and editorials.

Another lady was when I was experiencing a period of feeling disillusioned in 2017 – it happens to everyone! Her name is Clare Howard, and she was once Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for England. Being in a national role, it is very difficult to know who else to talk to that would understand the challenges of being in a national organisation and the confidentiality that comes with the role. We'd never spoken personally, but she would have known of me because we followed each other on Twitter. I just reached out and sent her a message and said, “Can I please have a conversation with you?”. I was literally at the end of my tether. We had conversations regularly for approximately six months. She is one of the people I credit for not leaving work at that time.

The third person is Susan Hopkins, who was my line manager for about three years. Before that, she was a mentor within the organisation. She's now the Chief Medical Adviser for UKHSA, but for many years before that she was a colleague and acted as a mentor. I learnt so much from her.

I use social media quite a bit so there are people that I would say have mentored me remotely, in the sense of I follow their tweets and learn from them. Some of them will probably never know me closely. So, I'm a strong believer in mentorship, both one-on one and remote.

I’d like to talk a bit more about your Antibiotic Guardian campaign which has been super successful. The campaign now has over 150,000 pledges registered online – did you ever foresee this level of success when you began?

It was launched in September 2014, and we had a goal for the end of November of that year. When I wrote my first version of the paper, I said I wanted 100,000 pledges within three months. Susan Hopkins was very wise and said that was very unlikely. This was very new then, it was 2014. People were not providing their email addresses or signing up to campaigns online, the way they are now. We got to 10,000 within three months, which looking back, was still a great achievement. One of the reasons why I am proud of the campaign is because we do not have media spend. It is very much grassroots and people are championing the campaign. The fact that it is now in policy has also been really important. It is part of the pharmacy contract that every community pharmacist should become an Antibiotic Guardian and choose a pledge. But it has not been easy; it takes a lot of people to make these things happen. So, did I foresee that we would be at 150,000 pledges? At some point? Yes. I think the biggest milestone was when we got to 100,000, that was really pleasing. I knew that at some point we would get to high numbers and we are not resting on our laurels.

What are your future ambitions for the campaign?

What I have loved the most about the campaign is the additional sections that we have developed. The students conference is an important part. Yearly, we have a National Students AMR Conference, which is under the umbrella of the Antibiotic Guardian brand. We also have Antibiotic Guardian school ambassadors,  where scientists and healthcare professionals go into schools and educate children. We have the Antibiotic Guardian awards, which we use as an opportunity for case studies and to celebrate and support and highlight those who are taking key action around tackling AMR. I think for me, what I would like to see is for us to grow these sections even more, to make a real difference, particularly with students and schoolchildren. What the Antibiotic Guardian school ambassador does is engage non-specialists. We want healthcare professionals that are not specialists in infection to go out and be ambassadors and share our ambition. I think by doing that we are spreading the message in the wider community.

Do you have any specific advice, in the context of Antibiotic Guardianship, that you would like to give to the Society’s microbiologists?

I think Microbiology Society members are natural champions for tackling AMR, given they are specialists. What would be great is using their influence to encourage others to take action, especially with public engagement and non-specialist engagement, which Antibiotic Guardians can be involved in. What Antibiotic Guardian does through the pledging process is empower individuals to take personal action as part of a wider mission. Everyone has a role in tackling antimicrobial resistance. I am very grateful to those who nominated me and the Microbiology Society; the award provides another opportunity to highlight the campaign to a wider audience.

Image: Archyra Photography.