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The Let’s Talk Micro Podcast


In this article the host of the Let’s Talk Micro Podcast (Luis Plaza Rios) is interviewed about his experience and learning clinical microbiology using podcasting via the Let’s Talk Micro podcast. 



Interviewee: Luis Plaza

Interviewer: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCIDP

Article Posted 1 December 2023

Podcasting has emerged as an incredible way to reach a global audience and discuss scientific information. Some great podcasts in the area of infectious diseases include the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists’ Breakpoints Podcast, the American Society for Microbiology Podcasts, ID:IOTS, the Febrile Podcast, and ID Podcast, amongst others.

In the area of clinical microbiology, the podcast called “Let’s Talk Micro” provides discussions with experts on a variety of related topics. Clinical microbiology is a rapidly advancing field as new rapid diagnostic technologies enable faster organism identification along with more rapid susceptibility testing. It is an incredibly important field for the advancement of patient care today.

As folks seek out podcasting resources to learn about clinical microbiology, they may be interested to learn more about the Let’s Talk Micro Podcast, which is hosted by Luis Plaza, who is the Lead Medical Laboratory Scientist in Microbiology at a Hospital system in Orlando, Florida as well as a microbiology instructor for the Medical Laboratory Sciences program at the University of Central Florida. I had the pleasure to meet Luis in person and after exchanging some emails we were able to compose this article.

In this interview we will dive into learning microbiology through your ears, discussing his journey and all about the Let’s Talk Micro Podcast. If you are interested in learning more about the podcast beyond the interview, the points of contact listed below may also be of interest to you. I catch the podcast on Amazon music, but there are many ways to find it and learn about what is new on social media.

Here are the questions and answers from our interview…

1. How did you get interested in microbiology and what path did you take to reach where you are today?

Triggering curiosity

My interest in microbiology came while I was in the service. I joined the Navy many years ago and I was looking for a career or occupation that I could also work on after my time in the service was done, something that I could do on the outside as a civilian.

I have always enjoyed science especially biology and even prior  to joining the service I was studying it in college. Long story short it did not work out, I joined the service, and while I was looking for an occupation, I saw they offered an associate’s degree in medical laboratory science. I looked into it and learned about what they do, which is something that most of us prior to studying this have very little knowledge of.

Sure, we go to the lab growing up and have some sort of testing performed like a glucose test, or a CBC, but we don’t understand what’s going on behind the scenes. This degree seemed interesting, so I went ahead and enrolled in it while in the service and then one of the classes of course was microbiology and it was like love at first sight.

There was something, I don’t know how to explain it but like first of all it is so visually stimulating. Take some of the colors  the organisms produce. Some of them have pigmentation. Also the colors of the agar like the green in Hektoen or the red on blood agar. Then  learning about these organisms and their biochemical reactions and how they cause disease and some of them are part of our normal flora they just live there and learning about this whole process it was so fascinating and I felt like very drawn to it. There I knew that that’s what I wanted to do I wanted to become proficient at that and learn more about these organisms and what they do. Also learning about  a profession where you can help so many patients but it’s outside of what we normally grow up knowing, was something that appealed to me.

Training

We grow up knowing that there are doctors and nurses and then you have scientists, for which when you think about them, you picture someone in the laboratory with beakers performing some sort of experiment. However, most people do not know that this is an occupation which can make a big impact on patient care.

Once my time in the service was complete, I decided to go to the University of Central Florida where I applied to their Medical Laboratory Sciences bachelor’s degree.  I got accepted and while going through it, my passion for microbiology was still very strong. I can still remember how much I was looking forward to my microbiology rotation during clinicals. I finished my degree and then I actually started working in microbiology. At the time due to some personal situations I ended up rotating through other areas of the lab like and chemistry, but microbiology kept drawing me in. I think that is where I do my best work I. think it comes very natural to me understanding these organisms and these reactions and that is where I have  been working all these years.  In 2021 I enrolled in a Master’s for Microbiology and cell science at the University of Florida and I am  expecting to complete it in December of 2024. 

A personal story

It is very exciting work and so rewarding when we can provide that identification to the physician, when we can provide that susceptibility profile and I have a great story for you that comes to mind which one time we had a culture where there was Pseudomonas aeruginosa growing and then via MALDI-TOF besides the P. aeruginosa, an identification of Stenotrophomonas maltophilia was produced. We were unable to isolate it and those of you that work in the laboratory know that it is normal practice when you are having trouble isolating an organism to try to pick a colony that resembles the organism in question and attempt to isolate it, or perhaps use additional media.  What I love about this field is putting all these concepts together to solve a problem.  I looked at the susceptibility profile of P. aeruginosa and saw that it  was susceptible to meropenem so I suggested to sweep the colonies and place a meropenem disc since S. maltophilia is  resistant to meropenem so it should be able to grow. We did that and we actually managed to recover S. maltophilia since it was growing close to the disc. It was such a great feeling. 

2. What are your thoughts on the value of using podcasts for medical education?

The Value of Podcasting

I believe that podcasts are a great tool for learning not only for microbiology and Laboratory Medicine, but science and other topics in general as well. They are very valuable because they provide information in a way that is readily accessible. You can be doing anything while listening to a podcast – driving your car, riding a train, doing house chores – and you can be learning at the same time!

Just like everyone, people in the laboratory have families, busy lives where there is work and then after work there is something else to attend to such as  picking up the kids, homework,  dinner, etc. Podcasts bring that information to a place where you can access it while you’re doing any of these tasks. You can pause it, you can listen to it as many times as you want and then if you want to do your research beyond the podcast, you can go ahead and do so but it’s a great starting point to learn about topics. For these reasons, I believe it is valuable for people to have access to them.

Listening to podcasts, not only can you learn, but you can also find out what people from other parts of the world are doing  and how that relates to what you are doing. You can connect with people as well which is something that a lot of times we do not think about. We are so busy with our lives and we are in the lab and we are working let’s say 8 hours, a lot of times you do not have room for much else. With podcasts you can really find out what is going on in the laboratory and beyond. For example connecting with pharmacists and infection preventionists, it can help connect all the pieces together. It is  always great to learn what happens beyond the laboratory. 

Getting Into Podcasting

There are mainly two reasons why I got into podcasts: (1) I have always like to learn and (2) I like to share information.

When I am working on a bench in the microbiology lab, I always want to learn the “why” behind  things like why we make certain decisions such as working up a particular organism, selecting appropriate antimicrobials for susceptibility testing, or performing those tests. I have found out at least in my experience in the laboratory that at times learning the “why” is difficult because in our line of work the pace is tends to be fast, so there is not  a lot of time to ask questions right. You work your organisms, you put your results out there and then if you get stuck you ask your supervisor and that is it. Otherwise if you  stop every single time to ask questions or look at things or find the answer, you will consume a lot of your day.

I think a good analogy to explain this is like a kitchen and a recipe. You want to learn how to make a dish and then people just give you a recipe. I want to learn how to validate an instrument and I want to learn the steps you take and where that information is obtained from. However at times in the laboratory what you encounter is that someone just gives you an evaluation plan (i.e., recipe) and that’s it: validate the instrument and move on.

It’s difficult to learn in the lab and a lot of times there’s also a lack of mentoring and maybe they choose one person to teach things to and that is it. Then there is the sharing information part which is something that I have always loved to do and currently I am a laboratory instructor and I enjoy it immensely. I was always the technologist training someone, giving information about package inserts about the behind the scenes , talking about why do we do this or why do we do that and that’s the way that I am.

I enjoy teaching, and like I said, because podcasts are so accessible and such a convenient tool that is why I chose podcasts.  I decided to share information about organisms and reactions and I also want to make sure that people do not encounter the same barriers that I have encountered in my career where it seems that wanting to learn a lot of times is not seen as a good thing. If I have learned something I am going to share it and I am going to make sure that microbiologists out there they are arming themselves with many tools and they know where their resources are and they know what the information is so they can get comfortable enough where they can do an amazing job.

This is what I do in the podcast in addition to talking about organisms and biochemical reactions and things like that, I also talk about the things that I have learned from my experience in the bench and I point to the resources and where the information is so we can so people can continue building their knowledge which at the end translate into being a better microbiologist.

3. What is the focus of the Let’s Talk Micro Podcast?

Let’s Talk Micro focuses heavily on clinical microbiology, especially on information that is part of working on a bench with cultures. I provide information on different organisms: morphology, how they look on media, and what type of testing is there. I go over diseases and I also go over biochemical reactions . I talk about susceptibility testing too. This is a lot of material so it is going to take a while to go over all the different microorganisms, but as of right now I am currently going mainly over bacteria and then eventually I will move on to other groups of microorganisms.

The goal of the Let’s Talk Micro podcast is for it to be used as an educational tool. This is a lot of material and unfortunately because it is so much material it is very difficult to go over it in Microbiology training programs, especially those for medical laboratory sciences which are the ones that perform the majority of the testing and have to be licensed as such to work in a clinical microbiology laboratory.  I want this podcast to be used as an educational tool where people can find out more about what they do and at the very least know what the resources are and what kind of information they contain so if they ever need to access them, they know what and where they are.

In addition to reaching out to medical laboratory scientists I want to reach out to microbiologists in general starting of course with clinical microbiologists.  If you are a graduate student in microbiology or an undergrad student or if you are taking some sort of microbiology class, I want to provide information that can help you learn about this material and I want to do it in a way that a student and a professional alike can understand the material. I try to explain it in simple terms. So my goal is to put enough material in the podcast and bring awareness about it where hopefully institutions in the US and maybe around the world can access it and it can be shared with students and it can be recommended as a tool to learn.

Besides going over organisms and reactions and things like that I also bring guests that either they have worked on a project or have some sort of publication that I think that it pertains to our work like a validation of an instrument or a talk about a certain organisms. When I see articles like that or if I see a topic I go ahead and reach out to the guests and invite them to the podcast and they come in and they talk about a specific topic.

Going beyond the above, I also want to bring information about other areas of microbiology besides clinical and what can you do as far as what kind of work you can do in microbiology (e.g., marine microbiology or environmental microbiology) . I want people to know what the options are out there.

4. What has been your favorite Let’s Talk Micro Podcast episode?

Episode 88

While I have enjoyed many episodes either doing the research or talking to guests there are two that come to mind: one is episode 88 from season 2 which is the Clinical Microbiology Procedures Handbook where I got to talk with the editors of the 5th edition of that particular book and they explain what information is in there, how they choose that information, and  how it helps with our work in clinical microbiology. I like that episode in particular because this is such a great resource and I even use it to prepare for my episodes. It just it felt great to talk to the to the editors and being able to shine a light on this resource that helps us so much on the work that we do. I really wanted to bring this out to light so microbiologists out there know that this is available. The episode includes  information on molecular testing, media, and bioterror procedures. It is such a wonderful and complete resource, being able to provide that to the audience is something that I enjoyed very much.

Episode 98

The second episode that I enjoy a lot is the episode 98 which is the start of an antimicrobial resistance sub-series. I have Dr. Andrea Prinzi on it, who is a microbiologist and medical science liaison, co-hosting with me. This episode is dear to me, because going back to what I said about there being a lot of information in microbiology, this is true core of susceptibility testing and antimicrobials.

When we go to school, we learn a little bit about this topic but most of our knowledge comes from on the job experience. It can be daunting and a little intimidating when you are sitting there and you are performing testing and accepting susceptibilities so I wanted to really break down antimicrobials. The episode goes all the way from mechanisms of action to  talking about intrinsic resistance to what kind of organisms a particular drug or class of drugs intended for.

I wanted to put all this information in a podcast format so people can listen to it at their own pace. This is such an important part of our work as clinical microbiologists and we need to be comfortable with all this material but that can take a long time to learn and even when you start working in a microbiology laboratory you train for maybe 3-4 weeks and that is not enough time to learn most of this material. So bringing that information to the audience making it accessible is something that I am enjoying a lot.

Overall I enjoy episodes a lot when I have guests because it just it seems like they shared the same passion for the information as I do and talking to people like them, it is very rewarding and fulfilling.

5. How do you measure success for the podcasts you have released?

Downloads

There are several ways to measure the success of the Let’s Talk Micro podcast. The first one is the metrics which are measured by downloads. The podcast is getting a lot of downloads and the number has increased exponentially over time. I think there is still a lot of room to improve and it comes from a place that there is still a lack of awareness about it and that’s a challenge that I have with it. However, I am working hard on social media to promote it and reaching out to fellow microbiologists and laboratorians so they can share it with others. That’s one hurdle that I think I have to go over which is bringing awareness about it, but overall this has been very successful and as more people learn about it more people are downloading it and the difference in numbers from year one to now is amazing. I’m still very grateful.

Personal Benefit

And then there’s the personal metric.  Even if there were no downloads at all I measure the success in the amount of information that I have learned and how much I have grown as a professional. One of the things that I enjoy about this podcast is the process about it, which is doing the research. I enjoy that process and bringing a guest while reading about a publication. So overall research is fun. That is a process that I enjoy and in that process I have learned so much because I have to go back and read the information and my professional knowledge has increased tremendously. I have also met so many wonderful people that in all probability without the podcast I would not have met. That goes back to us been so busy in the lab that lot of times we do not have time for what is out there for like exploring other things: we do our job and go home.

For me it is a huge amount of success how much I have grown as a professional and the wonderful people that I have met. There’s a whole world beyond the lab and there are so many great microbiologists,  pharmacists, and physicians out there working in this profession  and sharing their information and  knowledge. Getting to meet them or talk to them and learn from them it’s an amazing experience so that alone it’s great success.

The success of learning and gaining knowledge and meeting people coupled with the fact that I do want to bring information out there to my fellow microbiologists and help them out as much as I can, that is what drives me to do the podcasts. It is all the steps. If you put them alone, they are great, and once combined they are even better.

6. What are some things you have learned from your experience doing the Let’s Talk Micro Podcast?

Editing

I have learned many things from doing the podcast and I think one of them is that it is challenging listening to your own voice because in my case I do my own editing. I sit there and I listen to my episodes and while I am doing the editing and then I listen to the edited version to make sure that no mistakes were made and that is something that is challenging. I have learned that for this you have to be committed and you have to be organized making sure that you set up a schedule where you are either doing research or you are recording depending on the frequency that that you are publishing episodes. I also think that it is always good to stay in touch with the audience and keep them updated. For example, if you cannot produce an episode, let people know that you are not able to publish one that particular week.

Expanding Knowledge

Something else that I have learned is just that there are so many incredibly knowledgeable and talented people out there who are sharing information, want others to learn, and they are willing to take the time to speak about it. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

I have been wonderfully surprised about how nice the guests are and most people if you ask them about a topic and you extend an invitation, most times people will say yes. Every now and then you might get a no but a lot of times it is because people are busy with their jobs and they might not have time for it but if you wait long enough then they might be able to come on the podcast .

A lot of people out there are willing to share their information and they are so nice about it.

7. What do you think the future holds for medical podcasting and the Let’s Talk Micro Podcast?

I think the future looks great for podcasts. They are growing in numbers and you see a lot of people from artists to actors doing podcasts. It is a great way to share information and it is very convenient, so I feel podcasts have a very stable future. Since the years that I have been doing this, I have seen more podcasts come out and hopefully more do come out because it is it is a great format.

As far as Let’s Talk Micro Podcast, I plan on doing this for a long time.  I enjoy the process and it is valuable to me. I love the fact that I am helping out people and helping them learn more and that is something that I am very committed to. I do not get compensated for it in any way, but I think in the future if I could potentially get some sort of sponsorship where at the very least, I am able to attend let’s say different conferences where I can meet more people, connect with more people find more topics I think that will be very beneficial.

When I go to conferences, I try to bring awareness of the podcast. I talk to people presenting posters, reach out to speakers, and I give things like stickers with the podcast logo and QR code. Those conferences can be expensive when you combine the conference hotel and travel, so having some sort of sponsorship that cost can be off-set, which will help the podcast greatly. Like I said bringing awareness about it has been a hurdle. I am definitely planning on doing this for a long time.

Final Thoughts

If you listen to the podcast, please share it with others. If  you are a director, please share it with your staff. If you are a teacher, please share it with your students or just share it with your coworkers, but let them know that this is a resource that they can use. I am always looking for topics and looking for guests so if you have any potential topics, you can always reach out via social media or via e-mail but definitely share the podcast and let them know that it is out there (information above).

With social media being so huge as it is right now it is a great time to learn and use it for science.  I have found a lot of my guests through social media. For example, I see them on a on a platform sharing an article they have published and I reach out to them. Not being afraid to communicate with people has been important to my success.

It is a great experience once again but what I do tell everyone that’s looking to start a podcast it’s just make sure that you are responsible with the information you’re putting out there. That means doing the proper research and making sure that what you are placing out there is accurate but by all means go for it. Creating and following a schedule is also important for being consistent. The audience also appreciates consistency, so staying on a routine cadence for publishing episodes also helps.

Finally, I will share it is a great feeling when you are out in the world, someone approaches you, they recognize you from the podcast, and they say they listen and say that it has helped them. That is an amazing feeling that is something that I enjoy very much.


ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE

Luis Plaza is a Lead Medical Laboratory Scientist in Microbiology at a Hospital system in Orlando, Florida. He is also  a Microbiology instructor for the Medical Laboratory Sciences program at the University of Central Florida. Microbiology has been a huge passion of his. Having a desire to learn and share information, he created the Let’s Talk Micro podcast. In there he explains clinical microbiology in simple terms. He goes over organisms, reactions, and brings guests relevant to the field of Microbiology. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, movies, and great coffee. 


Editors Note: I would like to sincerely thank Luis for taking the time out of his busy schedule and sharing his journey and experience podcasting. Check out Let’s Talk Micro and follow the social media profiles too!


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