Sarah Bakker has always been someone who enjoys questioning things. Ultimately, it was this curiosity that led her into a career in science “I really liked science at school,” she says. “My favourite science subject was biology.”
Now Sarah is a Principal Technician in the Nosocomial Infections laboratory at ESR.
“I’m one of those boomerang employees,” she explains. “After graduating from university, I worked at ESR for four years in a variety of areas: Antibiotic Reference Laboratory, Nosocomial Infections Laboratory, Virology Serology Laboratory, Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, as well as the Legionella and Leptospira reference Laboratories. Then in 1998, I was lucky enough to receive an ESR study award to visit the Central Public Health Laboratory, Colindale, London for a few weeks and attend a conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was an invaluable experience and provided me with a pathway to increase my knowledge of antibiotic resistance and molecular epidemiology.”
Sarah loves the variety in her work. “A typical day doesn’t really exist for our team. We provide epidemiological typing services for hospital-acquired bacterial pathogens. Unfortunately, that means we’re talking vulnerable patients –think premature babies or patients in ICU. When an outbreak happens in a ward or across wards, the hospital needs a result urgently. This type of work puts our team under the pump! We are always glad when the outbreak finishes, it means our work has helped; no more patients are affected, and we can catch our breath until the next one happens.”
“It’s not on the same scale as COVID-19 but, due to the type of samples, the work is important to assist the hospital infection control team in eliminating the outbreak.”
Currently Sarah’s team is working on national surveillance of the bacteria S. aureus in blood stream infections. “We’re pretty busy with that,” she says.
“Receiving lots of samples, testing them and analysing the data to determine if the S. aureus bacteria causing the problem is a single type or if there are lots of different types.”
Sarah’s laboratory is also involved in surveillance for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in selected food animal species as part of the New Zealand Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan.
“It all sounds a bit nerdy, I know,” she laughs, “but, it’s very satisfying providing Science for Communities.”