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What Does an Infection Preventionist Nurse Do?

Submitted by Admin on April 12, 2010, 9:04 am
Sallie Jo Rivera, RN

Sallie Jo Rivera, RN, MSN, CIC, didn't set out to become an infection preventionist nurse. She was just looking for a part-time job that would balance with her parenting schedule.

When a part-time Infection Control Nursing job was advertised 4 miles from her home, it seemed like a good fit for Rivera's schedule.

"Even though I had never done the job before, I applied and interviewed for the position," says Rivera. A recent graduate of a masters-level Community Health Nursing program, she felt confident she could handle the unfamiliar role. And her MSN curriculum had included a course in epidemiology, which had sparked her interest in the field.

What Does an Infection Preventionist Do?

Infection preventionists possess a comprehensive skillset aimed at preventing, investigating and managing the spread of infections within healthcare settings. Their knowledge base and clinical work helps improve patient outcomes and saves healthcare dollars.

With a rising national trend toward preventative care, the role of an infection preventionist is gaining awareness. This essential nursing specialty has been around for a long time, but the unwieldy title "infection control professional" was officially replaced with the more accurate--and more topical--"infection preventionist" in 2008.

Within 6 months of being hired, Rivera was greatly enjoying her new role as an infection preventionist. She likes using the diverse skills her job at Central DuPage Hospital (www.cdh.org) pulls into play. "Infection prevention uses my academic training in Community Health Nursing, Epidemiology, etc.," she says, "plus allows me to use my clinical training as well."

Rivera also gets a kick out of playing Sherlock Holmes. "I enjoy the detective work to figure out the questions of why, where, how, and when about a patient condition," she says. "I like collecting and analyzing data and looking for trends, patterns, and formulating quality tools and recommendations to prevent infections."

Infection preventionists must commit to keeping their skills and knowledge current. They also have to stay on the cutting edge of technology and keep up-to-date with regulations. Rivera enjoys the challenge. "I like learning new things, and infectious conditions are always evolving, for example, H1N1 that occurred during the 2009-2010 influenza season," she says.

Becoming an Infection Preventionist Nurse

Rivera has some inside tips for nurses who want to enter the infection prevention field.

First, she says, mentor with a trained, certified, qualified infection preventionist in your current role. Spend time with him or her learning about the role. Then apply for an open position.

To be considered for infection prevention jobs, you'll usually need a BSN degree. An MSN is not required, although Rivera found that her MSN program provided her with a solid academic foundation for her job. In order to hone her skills further, she attended a novice IP training program sponsored by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Later, she attended the 2nd and 3rd level APIC training programs. She recommends that new infection preventionists attend APIC-sponsored trainings and that they do lots of networking with professionals in their field.

As an infection preventionist nurse, certification demonstrates your internationally recognized level of knowledge in the field, signals to your employer and colleagues that you are committed to professional growth, and increases your credibility. To become certified, you'll need to pass the Certification in Infection Control (CIC) exam, which Rivera has done twice. Prior to taking the exam you need to work in the role for at least 2 years. The CIC is valid for 5 years.

Working in infection prevention gives you access to a variety of clinical and managerial experiences and fosters multi-disciplinary relationships, as you have to work closely with health professionals from diverse backgrounds. "It is fun, rewarding, stimulating and an excellent career path for nurses," Rivera says. "Just do it!"

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