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The evolution of the infection preventionist

There is little doubt the role of infection preventionists (IP) is becoming more important and more diverse as dangerous infections evolve and infiltrate our nation’s hospitals.

But it’s also a role that is new for many healthcare sectors, especially the ambulatory care sector, where CMS Conditions for Coverage now require ambulatory surgery centers to appoint a trained professional in charge of the infection prevention program [1]. In other facilities like long-term care, or long term acute care (LTACs), the IP position is in place, but may be divided among numerous other responsibilities such as supervisor, staff educator, employee health coordinator, etc. Therefore, IPs in any setting must be given the proper training, time, and resources to do the job.

A recent article featured in Pulse [2], a magazine published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which focuses on jobs in the healthcare profession, highlighted the increased importance of infection preventionists [3].

“The stakes are higher, so the role is growing and commanding more respect than ever before,” Denise Flook, coordinator for workforce and infection prevention initiatives for the Georgia Hospital Association says in the article. “There have been infections since the beginning of time, but the number of resistant infections is going up and our patients are more acute. An infection can cause additional morbidities or mortalities.”

Infection prevention has been around for years, and although the author suggests it’s a job that has typically “been given to older nurses at the end of their careers,” many of us have been fighting infections for decades only to have the spotlight pulled on us now that prevention measures are more demanding. But we can use the attention to our advantage. This makes it all the more important to carefully choose new infection preventionists and train them on evidenced-based practices and the very basics of infection prevention.

Is there someone in your facility who is a go-getter and always inquisitive and creative with ideas and interventions on infection prevention and control? Do they have a real interest in emerging diseases and education? Is there a person in the clinics, offices, surgery center, long term care facility whom you could train and send for additional training? IPs must take the time to develop and mentor these folks along in order to have valuable assistance on the job and new professionals to follow in our footsteps.

The topics listed in the “APIC /CHICA (Canada Infection Prevention, Control, and Epidemiology): Professional and Practice Standards” detail the areas in which an IP should have fundamental knowledge:

If you are new to the infection prevention sector of healthcare, you are probably overwhelmed, so take a deep breath. Remember infection preventionists don’t just emerge overnight. There is a gradual learning curve and tremendous amount of ongoing learning as new diseases, technology, and regulations force us to think differently about infection prevention.

But if you are looking for some assistance with the fundamentals of infection prevention training for an employee with new IP responsibilities, Peg Luebbert and I are presenting the Infection Prevention Core Training Bundle [4]. We had our first Webcast on MDROs last week [5] (now available on demand) and our next one covering HAIs is August 12. If you are looking for a resource that will lay the groundwork for your new IP, this training crash course might be just what you need.