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Medical scientist fighting antimicrobial resistance

Cite Magazine
Online exclusive

Jessica Ramsay’s dream of making a difference to the lives of others is coming true through her key role in guiding the treatment of drug-resistant superbugs as part of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia (Doctors Without Borders).

Jessica Ramsay
Photo: Sam Proctor.

Doctors Without Borders is an international organisation for medical humanitarian aid. It comprises 30,000 doctors, nurses and other medical and non-medical professionals supporting people affected by armed conflict, epidemics or natural disasters in crisis zones around the world.

Since joining the organisation in 2015, Ramsay has worked as a laboratory manager in Papua New Guinea, Jordan and Yemen, diagnosing and guiding treatment of patients infected with drug-resistant bacteria.

“Within the bacteriology laboratory, we analyse specimens taken at the doctors’ requests to determine if bacteria are causing the disease and if so, test a range of antibiotics to ensure the most appropriate treatment is chosen,” she explains.

“It is important to determine if bacteria are really the cause of the infection as overprescribing antibiotics and antibiotic misuse can cause resistance.”

Ramsay’s most recent placement with Doctors Without Borders was in the Yemenite port city of Aden from late 2016 – early 2017, where she was instrumental in opening up a laboratory within a hospital to support trauma victims of bomb explosions, shootings and car accidents.

She also wrote procedures and trained local staff to understand the different laboratory methods used to identify bacteria and antibiotic results, and assisted in infection control procedures needed for highly antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Jessica Ramsay working in a bacteriology laboratory.

Photo: Jessica Ramsay/ Médecins Sans Frontières Australia.

As with her previous placements, Ramsay had to adapt to living in the war-torn country, where she was mostly confined to the hospital and only permitted to leave at select times.

“I guess it was easier for me to deal with because I did not have a lot of direct patient contact. Although, we did once have a mass casualty where 15 patients were injured from a suicide bombing and everyone in the hospital had to work together to help,” she says.

“Seeing how well the local team dealt with the situation was inspirational.”

It’s now been ten years since Ramsay graduated from her medical science course at Curtin, where she learned about the origin, nature and course of diseases and how to diagnose them, and while she is happy to be back in Perth she doesn’t think it will be the last time she’ll work with Doctors Without Borders.

“It’s been such a great experience; you see things and deal with situations that would never happen while working in Perth,” says Ramsay.

“In all three of my field placements, the local communities were very appreciative. They are grateful Doctors Without Borders are there and for all the hard work everyone puts in.”

Jessica Ramsay with hospital staff in Yemen.

Photo: Jessica Ramsay/ Médecins Sans Frontières Australia.

Graduate snapshot

Name: Jessica Ramsay

Studied: Bachelor of Science (Medical Sciences)

Related course: Bachelor of Science (Laboratory Medicine)

Graduated: 2007

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  1. Gordon Williams says:

    Great story Jessica, challenging placement with one of the worlds best NGO’s.

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