Infection Preventionist – A Day in the Life

Key Topics:

What does an Infection Preventionist Do?

Infection Preventionist, also known as IPs, are healthcare professionals focused on preventing the spread of infections within a facility. These infections can be Community-Acquired Infections (CAIs) or Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs).

While germs come from all over the hospital, they are passed through two sources: people and the environment. Infection preventionists seek continued improvements and take bundled approaches to prevent the spread through both sources.

The Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), notes that IPs, "look for patterns of infection within the facility; observe practices; educate healthcare teams; advise hospital leaders and other professionals; compile infection data; develop policies and procedures, and coordinate with local and national public health agencies."1

Patient safety is the number one priority for IP.

Infection Control Results notes that IPs may have other titles like infection control practitioner, infection control coordinator, infection control nurse, nurse epidemiologist, and infection control officer.2

Who are Infection Preventionists?

According to Zippia, Infection Preventionists primarily identify as female, representing over 85% of all surveyed. They have an average age of 44.1 and the majority, 35%, stay in their role for 1-2 years. 69% work for a company with 1,000 or more employees. 53% hold a bachelor's degree, and 17% have a master's degree.

Infection Preventionists work in industries all over the world, but their title is most common in New York, NY, and Houston, TX.

APIC highlights that most IPs as

  • Nurses
  • Epidemiologists
  • Public health professionals
  • Microbiologists
  • Doctors
  • Or other health professionals

Let's look at some real examples of what an Infection Preventionist does in their day-to-day.

History of Infection Prevention

The position of infection prevention and control is relatively new in the United States, forming in the 1950s.

"The hospital discipline of infection control was established in the 1950s in response to a nationwide epidemic of nosocomial Staphylococcus aureus and the recognition of the need for nosocomial infection surveillance. As a concept, however, the epidemiology and prevention of infection has its roots in a time prior to the understanding of the germ theory of disease."3

If you're interested in learning more about the beginning of infection prevention, check out this previous blog on hand hygiene.

A Day in the Life of an Infection Preventionist

In this next section, we're turning it over to our in-house Infection Preventionist, Caitlin Stowe. Caitlin serves as ActivePure Medical's VP of Clinical Affairs and Medical Liaison and is a certified infection preventionist. She's going to share more details about her role here and interview a few IPs in her network.

Caitlin here. My role at ActivePure Medical is to advance infection prevention science through strong clinical evidence and improved value proposition establishing ActivePure Medical as a trusted vendor and thought leader.

In addition to directing both independent laboratory studies on emerging pathogens (e.g., Monkeypox & SARS CoV-2) and healthcare-based clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of the ActivePure Technology, I oversee the development of ActivePure's efforts in contributing to the fight to achieve zero HAIs.

"As a certified infection preventionist with a master's in public health and a Ph.D. candidate, I am dedicated to improving patient outcomes and preventing infections through practical application of best practice. I believe that we need to provide a bundle of practice solutions to move the needle on HAIs.

Joining ActivePure Medical provides me a great opportunity to fight preventable infections while providing educational resources, as well as supporting ActivePure's goals of providing a solution for the contamination that occurs between episodic interventions."
- Caitlin Stowe

You can read more about my background here, but let's jump into our IPs interview series. First up, Regan!

Regan Wagner, MPH

Regan Wagner, MPH is an Infection Prevention Professional at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida. She has been an IP and in her role for a year and a half.

Regan Wagner, MPH Regan, Wagner, MPH

“I knew I always wanted to work in healthcare and help people however I found that direct patient care was not my forte so I decided that I could help people from a bigger picture and advocate for patients and employees who can't always advocate for themselves.”
- Regan, Wagner, MPH

Q&A with Regan Wagner, MPH

  • What is a typical day like? A typical day is normally filled with education to employees and patients on infectious agents, reporting infectious diseases to the local health department, and working with leaders to provide the best healing experiences we can to our patients.
  • What is the best part about your job? The best part about my job is that I am constantly learning about best practices, current guidelines, emerging infectious diseases etc.
  • How would your parents describe your job? Mom: “Our daughter's roll is so much more than the “hand-washing” and “face mask management”! She's helping the frontline employees while advocating for patient and workplace safety.
  • What characteristic does someone need to be an IP? Resilient and patience
  • What trend do you expect to see more of in the future for infection prevention and control? I expect to see more technology incorporated into observations such as hand hygiene that for so many years have been done by employees or volunteers. With this I hope to see a level of bias decrease due to the Hawthorne effect.

John Patrick Delano, MPH, CIC

John Patrick Delano, MPH, CIC is an Infection Prevention Manager Advocate Christ Medical Center, Advocate Aurora Health In Oak Lawn, Illinois. He has been in this role for nearly three years but an IP for almost 8 years, and in the field of infectious disease epidemiology in various capacities for over a decade.

John Patrick Delano, MPH, CIC John Patrick Delano, MPH, CIC

“I have always been interested in the fields of microbiology and infectious disease epidemiology ever since I was a kid and read “The Hot Zone.” It wasn’t until I became a patient myself who had a hospital-acquired infection that I discovered the fascinating field of Infection Prevention and was inspired to become one.”
- John Patrick Delano, MPH, CIC

Q&A with John Patrick Delano, MPH, CIC

  • What is a typical day like? A typical day in the life of an Infection Preventionist often may start with a review of patient census lists to ensure appropriate isolation orders are in place and/or participation in a daily Safety/Bed huddle. Surveilling for Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs) through review of microbiology cultures/reports may be next on the docket followed by unit rounding which could include anything from environmental of care, isolation/PPE use, to device huddle rounds. You may have various quality improvement meetings or committees to participate in or a class to teach for new employees on infection prevention best practices!

    As a manager now a typical day may include many of the above activities in addition to acting as a mentor for new IPs, meeting with C-suite leaders to discuss big picture status of and advocating for our Infection Prevention program and facilitating committees meeting. Of course, there is always the unexpected curve ball of an outbreak investigation or unannounced regulatory survey that really keeps you on your toes. Really there is never a dull day in IP!
  • What is the best part about your job? I think the best part of my job is being able to combine my passion from problem solving/investigative work with quality improvement. As a result, I know I am contributing to creating a safer environment for patients, healthcare workers and the public which makes this job always fulfilling.
  • What do you wish others knew about your job? Infection Prevention is more than being the “hand hygiene/Foley/Central line police” and that we are in fact part of the healthcare team that bring a unique perspective to improving patient care. Infection Prevention has changed so much over time from a field once purely seen through the lens of nursing to one that includes a variety of different perspectives including epidemiologists, public health specialists and other ancillary healthcare practitioners.
  • How would your parents describe your job? I have actually asked my mother this exact question. She has told me when people ask her what her son does for a living, and she tells them I am an Infection Preventionist she would often get blank stares of confusion. She would go on to describe me as “an infectious disease detective” and “someone who makes sure that when you come to the hospital you don't get sicker.” In the past few years though this has changed a little bit due to the public's exposure to my profession due to media attention to COVID-19 which has been nice and probably easier on my mom when the question comes up.
  • What characteristic does someone need to be an IP? To be an IP an individual must be willing to commit to a lifelong dedication to learning. This field is forever changing and for one to be successful they must be willing to grow and adapt. They must also have a strong analytical mindset and be inquisitive. To truly excel an IP needs to know when to admit they don't know the answers to something but know how to utilize the resources at hand to identify the answer!
  • What trend do you expect to see more of in the future for infection prevention and control? Leveraging technology and big data analytics/mining to improve Infection Preventionist workflows and HAI detection. Really helping to further shift the field from a reactive to a proactive mindset helping us live up to the “preventionist” title.

Industries for an IP

While there are many opportunities outside of the hospital for an IP, working in healthcare remains the most popular industry for an IP representing 83%.4

We want to thank our two hospital-side infection preventionists for sharing a day in the life with us. If you like this series, let us hear from you! We’d love to interview other IPs in the future to show the vast opportunities available.

If you're interested in becoming an IP, keep reading!

How to Become an Infection Preventionist

If you feel inspired by our infection preventionists, we don't blame you. Here are a few tips on how to become an IP.

First, get your degree. You'll need at least an associate degree to start your career. This is a highly educated audience, and most hold a bachelor's degree or higher.

Next, get familiar with APIC. They are an IPs’ best friend. This is the professional organization for our trade group, and its mission is

To advance the science and practice of infection prevention and control

One of the best free resources they offer is their Novice Roadmap. This roadmap is "an orientation guide to your first few years in infection prevention, but also your pathway to the Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC®) exam."5

You may wonder, “do you have to take the Certification Infection Prevention and Control exam to be an infection preventionist?” Not technically, but here is why you should consider it:

  • Expectations - Each year, more employers are expecting candidates to have or be working toward their certification
Just over 80% of employers prefer or require certification
  • Competitive Advantage - More than 2,000 health professionals certify or re-certify each year
  • Highlight Commitment and Understanding - Infection Preventionists work with evolving pathogens and rely on emerging scientific literature to stop the spread of infections

According to the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc., CIC requirements include:

  • Attestation Statement
  • Proof of Degree
  • Current CV/Resume
  • Official Job Description
  • CIC Application Fee

They note, "There is no specific time requirement that defines “sufficient experience;” however, we emphasize that this certification examination is geared toward the professional who has had at least two years of full-time experience in infection prevention and control."

Additional Resources

For those interested, APIC offers CIC prep courses. The next is scheduled for December. Learn more.

APIC has also provided three great infographics – who are infection preventionists, what do IPs do, and who do IPs work with? Download them here.

For ActivePure Medical's healthcare partners, our goal is to be an extension of your infection prevention team. Whether you have an on-site IP or not, our team is ready to help you take your infection prevention practices to the next level.

Contact us today for a free evaluation of your infection prevention efforts.

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