Education And Debate

Doctor in the lab: what is it like for a doctor to work with scientists?

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7061.867 (Published 05 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:867
  1. Christine M Jorm, lecturer in anaesthesiaa,
  2. Jonathan A Stamford, senior lecturer in neuropharmacologya,
  3. Leo Strunin, BOC professor of anaesthesiaa
  1. a Anaesthetics Unit, London Hospital Medical College, Alexandra Wing, Royal London Hospital, London E1 1BB
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Stamford.
  • Accepted 21 November 1995

As clinical academic medical departments strive to improve the quality of their research, clinicians and scientists are forced into closer liaison. In many cases, clinical departments now have research laboratories directed by “basic scientists” but often staffed, in part at least, by doctors. To someone who has not worked in one, these laboratories may seem uncompromising and forbidding work environments. This article presents a “case report” written from the viewpoints of the doctor, the scientist, and the professor.

The doctor

CMJ: I had a career year to fill and was looking for some research to do. I was considering various clinical research options or audit activities when Professor Strunin suggested that I visit “The Laboratory,” muttering obscurely about it being an unique opportunity.

Visit it I did. In the midst of mazes of wires and monitors were two illuminated chambers with a constant bubbling. It looked a bit like the set for a cheap horror film—down in the lab the evil genius Dr Von Stam and his trusty henchman Burger were cooking a potion that when unleashed upon the world…etc, etc. These chambers allegedly contained bits of tissue pierced by assorted electrodes. (I was reluctant to confess my rustiness at identifying anything down a microscope—after all, university was many years ago.)

“You're just in time,” the jolly research assistant said. “We're going to try for transmitter release.” He pressed a button; a pen on a chart recorder moved smartly 2 cm to the left then settled. He then behaved in a manner that seemed more appropriate to a major sporting achievement (the deciding goal in the World Cup?) than to the movement of a pen on a piece of chart paper. He seemed disappointed at my lack of response and moved me on to talk to his boss. The boss was young, …

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