Dr Philip Rice, Virologist

My day begins at 7am when I start my 20 mile cycle commute. 

Luckily, it’s mostly off-road down a disused railway in north Norfolk called Marriott’s way. This gives me plenty of thinking time. Winter’s not so good, but spring and summer make up for it. I arrive at work, shower, change into my work clothes and often my first job is answering the phone. The rest of the morning is spent deciding which tests to perform on which samples based upon what the clinicians have written about the patient on the request form. The more information they write down, the more likely it is that virology will make the correct diagnosis. The day is then a succession of phone calls from inside and outside the hospital, queries from the laboratory scientific staff, whilst I authorise results from the laboratory and teach the trainee doctors. One’s knowledge and how to use it to make decisions is constantly being tested.

Why did you choose this specialty? 

I chose virology because I really like finding out how small things work. With viruses, because they are so small (in terms of their DNA or RNA content) that, by drilling down to the tiniest detail, there is a prospect of understanding them and how they interact with humans, in their totality. You can understand how they transmit, persist and cause disease, and how they still manage to evade our immune system. It’s fascinating.

What do you enjoy most about your job and your chosen specialty? 

Putting all the pieces of information together (history, symptoms, signs, who the patient is, what they do in their life etc.), plus the results of other laboratory tests and making the diagnosis. If you understand who the patient is, it makes getting the diagnosis right much easier. Making a diagnosis the clinicians haven’t even thought of is the best; it’s a rare event but fun nevertheless.

What advice would you give to students looking to enter your field? 

If you really like a subject, study it really hard. It will get more interesting the deeper you go. And, when you begin to think about the connections between different branches of pathology or science in general, that’s when the real excitement starts.

Do you have any professional or personal achievements that you would like to share or highlight? 

What has given me the most satisfaction in my job has been the discovery that a collision between Earth and another planet which made the Moon over 4.5 billion years ago, has directly affected how the virus which causes chickenpox survives to transmit between people. The genetic adaptations which were ultimately a response to this cataclysmic event may also influence whether or not the virus reactivates in later life. This just shows how exquisitely interconnected are the biological and physical worlds. I intend to spend the rest of my career pursuing this.