ICT spoke with Karen M. Anderson, MT, CLS, MPHc, CIC, infection preventionist at California Pacific Medical Center and chair of APICs Education Committee.
Q: What do you think are the gaps in knowledge or skill sets in todays younger infection preventionists?
A. They may lack the experience and confidence to defend their determination of whether an infection is healthcare acquired or not, i.e., that it meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) definitions. They may be challenged about their decisions. As a new preventionist, they may not have the experience to monitor performance or to perform surveillance in departments such as dialysis, sterile processing, long-term care (LTC) or long-term acute care hospitals (LTACs). But we all had to start somewhere.
Q: How about the veterans?
A. Some of the same issues they may be given the responsibility to monitor infections in ambulatory care or behavioral health and have never done that before.
Q: How does this affect their job performance?
A. We all have resources that we can use to learn about the new departments or new types of surveillance that are required. For new infection preventionists, attend a training course.
Q: What can be done to address these deficiencies?
A. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) annual conference, webinars offered by APIC and others, CDC/NHSN resources, and networking, networking, networking with other infection preventionists through their local APIC meeting, at the annual conference, and other educational offerings.
Q: Because the demands on infection preventionists seem to be growing exponentially these days, what are the most critical skill sets that they need to acquire/hone to be able to meet these demands while still tending to the infection prevention-related instruction needs of other healthcare professionals?
A. Know what you dont know, know where to look to find valid answers, use your network of other infection preventionists, and learn how to effectively build a case to ask for more resources.
Q: With budgets still being lean at many hospitals, whats your best advice for how infection preventionists can ensure they get the professional development they need?
A. Document all the variety of things that you do, document how you have made a difference at your facility by keeping a particular infection down (e.g., Clostridium difficile rates fell this year by 10 percent because I round and give mini in-services to staff), and tell your boss about it. Do not keep your successes (or your failures) to yourself. Convince them that the extra FTE can do the much needed X, Y, and Z programs that are not being done now because you dont have the time and you dont have the necessary resources.
Q: What seem to be the elements still lacking in the average infection prevention and control program?
A. Clout (influence), time, and monetary resources. We know what needs to be done, but we do not have the resources to do it.
Q: How can infection preventionists best build a strong business case for these aforementioned program elements?
A. Put it down on paper. Show all that you do now, what is not being done, and how many more FTEs it will take to just meet the baseline requirements. And let administration know about the other patient safety programs that you can put into place with that one additional person and how that will effect patient satisfaction and may even reduce costs due a decrease in infections.