The human side of science

Katherine Macpherson

Bachelor of Medical Science graduate Katherine Macpherson is an authority when it comes to lungs.

From five year old lungs to 100 year old lungs, as a Respiratory Scientist she’s tested hundreds of pairs.  

“I see lots of different people and lung conditions! And that’s one of the best parts of the job.”

Respiratory Science is a Clinical Measurement Science, which also includes Neurophysiology Science, Sleep Science and Cardiac Science. Clinical Measurement Scientists are among the only scientists that work directly with patients, conducting physiological tests.

“Not many people know what a respiratory scientist is,” explains Katherine. “Essentially, I do lung function testing on patients. We’re testing for various conditions – we see a lot of asthma, we’ll see a lot of smoking-related lung disease, connective-tissue diseases and genetic conditions, and cancer.

“If you want to be a scientist but still work with patients, this is the job for you: you get to use your brain, apply your degree, and help people at the same time.

“It’s not like working in a pathology lab where you’re just dealing with specimens, you actually have to have that personal interaction to get the best results for patients. It’s incredibly rewarding.

“There are great opportunities to work in multi-disciplinary teams. I work with the nurses and the doctors within the unit, and also in multi-disciplinary clinics for cystic fibrosis with other allied health professionals, including physios, dietitians, genetic counsellors – the list goes on and on.”

Katherine describes her job as a combination of biology, physiology and physics.

 “I did advanced anatomy and physiology courses as part of my degree which have been the most useful, the genetics I studied has come in handy too, from the perspective that I see a lot of genetic conditions, such as cystic fibrosis.

“What I liked about studying science at ANU was that it was really well-resourced. I also found it challenging which I enjoyed. All the lecturers and academic staff were great, really approachable, and flexible with supporting everything else going on in your life too.”

Thanks to a partnership with ACT Health, Katherine started working at the Canberra Hospital just one month after graduating.

 “One of the courses I took while studying my Bachelor of Medical Science degree was Medical Science in the Workplace, where we did a lot of site visits to ACT Health. Two sleep scientists from the Canberra Hospital came and presented and I found it super interesting. There was a job going so I applied and started a month after I graduated!”

Five years since her graduation, the tables have turned for Katherine, who now delivers the lecture that inspired her career as a Respiratory Scientist.  

“I now deliver the presentation that inspired me as a student! I know what to say to them because I know what I wanted to hear when I was a student. I also supervise students from ANU on placement at the Canberra Hospital too.”

Find out more about studying a Bachelor of Medical Science at ANU.