Infection Control Today is proud to announce the winner of the Infection Control Today Educator of the Year Award: Sharon Ward-Fore, MS, BS, MT(ASCP), CIC, FAPIC. Listen to the announcement and interview with the winner.
The competition for the Infection Control Today Educator of the YearTM award was fierce, with nominees hailing from diverse educational backgrounds, showcasing remarkable determination, and demonstrating unwavering dedication to the field of infection control and prevention.
The panel of judges received the nominations with all identifying information redacted. The judges’ decision was unanimous: Sharon Ward-Fore, MS, BS, MT(ASCP), CIC, FAPIC, the winner of the prestigious 2023 ICT Educator of the Year Award.
The judges said, “Sharon Ward-Fore, recipient of the Educator of the Year Award, embodies excellence in infection prevention. Her wealth of experience and commitment to public service, including volunteering at the Veterans Administration during the COVID-19 crisis, highlight her outstanding contributions. Sharon's expertise in applied resources and presentations on key topics like cleaning and disinfection underscores her dedication to education. Winning the Educator of the Year award recognizes her as a trusted professional, leaving a lasting impact in the field."
Ward-Fore has worked in health care since 1985, in both acute care hospitals and industrial research and development. She started her career in an acute care hospital microbiology lab, then transitioned to industrial microbiology research and development.
She left the research/industrial side of microbiology to begin a new career as an infection preventionist (IP) at a Chicago Veterans Administration Hospital, then moved on to an acute care academic medical center in Chicago.
Her areas of expertise include surgical services, sterile processing departments/CSS, Emergency Preparedness, Special Pathogens [personal protective equipment] training, cleaning, and surface disinfection, with a special place in her heart for environmental services.
She’s an independent infection prevention consultant, a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Infection Control Today® (ICT®), and a clinical editor for the [Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology] APIC Text.
She has a bachelor of science in biology and medical technology and a master of science in clinical microbiology. She’s board-certified in infection control (CIC) and is an APIC Fellow (FAPIC).
Ward-Fore spoke with ICT about winning the ICT Educator of the Year Award, why she began her career in infection prevention, and her advice for others in infection prevention education.
ICT: How does it feel to be recognized as the Educator of the Year in the field of infection control?
Sharon Ward-Fore, MS, BS, MT(ASCP), CIC, FAPIC: I have to say this recognition was last given and, I think it was 2002, to Linda Spalding. And she's an IP with an amazing career and a dedicated educator. To be able to receive the same recognition is unbelievable. There are so many wonderful IPs who are dedicated to providing education. And, every IP is an educator, whether they do it professionally or not. I never thought I'd be nominated, and I'm honored and humbled to receive this recognition.
ICT: What motivated you to pursue a career in infection control education?
SW-F: I've always loved rounding in the hospital; it was my thing, [as well as] talking to the staff. I always found that a good opportunity to share knowledge informally; it is a conversation that you have with people. You learn a lot, and you see a lot. So, I was approached by a couple of organizations to provide infection control consulting, and one of them asked me to present a webinar on their behalf. And that is when my educational IP career took off. Now, I don't know if I'm allowed to do this, but I have to credit this one company with my success. They saw my potential; they had faith in me. And this opened the door to a lot of other opportunities. Without them, I probably wouldn't be receiving this recognition today.
That is Metrex; they have supported everything I do and truly believe that infection prevention education is important. So it's nice to work for a company with the same mission, right?
ICT: Can you tell us about some of the most significant challenges you've encountered as an educator in this field?
SW-F: Virtual presentations are mostly what I do. Besides those never-ending technical challenges, it's hard to know if you're reaching your audience because you can't see or hear them. Now, sure, you've got that little thing at the bottom of the screen that shows you the number of participants. And you can see things popping up in the Q and A. But you know someone's out there, but it's nothing like standing in front of a group. In person, you can see if your audience is engaged, or you can also see if they’re all on their phones or they're checked out sleeping. But you know, immediately if you've captured your audience, so although I love presenting virtually, those limitations can be hard to deal with because you don’t get a lot of feedback.
ICT: What advice would you give aspiring infection control educators who want to make a meaningful impact in the field?
SW-F: First and foremost, know your stuff. And know a lot [about] it; expose yourself to all the amazing hospital areas and departments. So, you can learn firsthand what the actual practices in the field are. Protocols and policies are great, but when you have that protocol and policy in hand, and you go to the actual unit and watch it maybe being performed, sometimes there's a disconnect. So I think that real—I always call it “boots-on-the-ground”—experience makes for a really good educator; I think you need to read all you can about topics that are of value to IPs and then share that knowledge.
I think IPs are consultants. So, we provide a lot of education—just as an IP on the floor. So, as an IP educator, it's the same thing, only now we're doing it maybe to a bigger audience or we're doing it virtually—so [it's the same] kind of thing. Know your stuff.
ICT: Could you highlight a particularly memorable or rewarding moment from your career as an educator and infection control?
SW-F: So, this was before I branched off on my own, but again, IPs are educators, right? So yes, I have one that sticks in my mind that probably will never go away; it’s burned into my brain. So I was one of several IPs [who] covered the OR (operating room), the surgical services. And the operating room can be a challenging area for anyone. And I rounded pretty regularly there and got to know a lot of people, especially the OR nurse educator.
We were preparing for our Joint Commission survey. And I would round, and I'd share my findings in real-time with the staff. And sometimes I got a lot of pushback for calling out deficiencies, but I figured better me than a surveyor, right?
When the survey happened, I didn't know the findings. I was off doing something else. But shortly afterward, the nurse educator came up to me and said, “You were right. We should have listened to you and corrected everything you told us.”
Now I have to tell you, I almost cried; I finally felt supported and maybe even a bit appreciated, which doesn't happen often with the OR. They're their own beast; they have their own culture. If you're the IP covering that area, you need to know your stuff. But you also need to understand you're just there as a consultant; you're helping that department rise to the level of whatever the guidelines and recommendations are. And to be told by the nurse educator that I was right was like, to this day, I'm still shocked. And I'm also pleased that they realize that.
ICT: In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues or developments in infection control that professionals should be aware of?
SW-F: So, there are 3 that come to mind. They aren't glamorous, and they're not even new. And the first one I think about is hand hygiene [adherence], which will always be an issue. We've tried everything to increase [adherence], but we're still stuck at about 48%.
When I think about hand hygiene [adherence], I think we should emphasize hand hygiene [adherence] with environmental hygiene and treat the 2 [issues] as a bundle to get more traction because we know health care workers are busy. They all try to do the best they can. But hand hygiene is one part of that, and environmental hygiene (EVS) is the other part. If we worked on both of those at the same time, there would be more hand hygiene [adherence], more environmental [adherence], and maybe a reduction in HAIs (health care-associated infections).
The other thing is EVS. Now, the use of all these adjunct technologies to help improve environmental disinfection, I think we need to look at that carefully.
Technology shouldn't be thought of as a silver bullet to fix inadequate cleaning. And I believe the emphasis should be on improving how we clean. Then bringing in that adjunct technology but focusing on developing a robust cleaning program. Because if you can't, if it's not clean, it's not disinfected.
In addition to that, we should support our EVS staff by factoring in more time for room turnovers, offering consistent training, providing opportunities for certification, and promoting EBS as a patient safety function because they are these things should be a priority. I think if we improve these 2 measures, I think it could make a difference in HAIs and multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs).
MDROs and antimicrobial stewardship are my third [issue]. We need to have more robust programs worldwide if we ever expect to get a handle on these resistant organisms.
ICT: How do you stay current with the latest advances and best practices and infection control? And how do you incorporate them in your teachings?
SW-F: [Infection prevention] is very dynamic; things are changing all the time. So, I am constantly reading and researching my topics. And it is [publications] like ICT, prevention strategist, APIC; I use the APIC Text as a resource a lot. The New York Times science section is great. And I'm also on a lot of professional websites. When I'm doing my presentations and educating, I try to provide the latest data and keep the presentations timely. You just have to keep up. That's all there is to it. Read, read, and find the things that are new and important.
ICT: Are there any innovative teaching methods or technologies you find particularly effective in conveying infection control concepts to students or colleagues?
SW-F: One thing I've learned is that everyone learns differently. Although I wouldn't call it innovative, I think sometimes presenting facts and telling a story about something that happened, like to me as an IP, as it relates to that, makes it stick. It's more memorable and interesting if you can relate it to the job of an IP. So, I try to use a lot of storytelling. It's a way to connect because we've probably all experienced the same things. So, it makes it all more relatable.
ICT: What future goals or projects do you have in mind, and do you continue to educate and inspire others in infection control?
SW-F: I have a few more webinars for professional education scheduled for 2024. I'm the lead author and am revising the EVS chapter for the APIC texts. So that's a that's a big lift. And I should be writing more about ICT because it's a great resource for education for IPs. So those things are all really important. They're on my radar for 2024.
ICT: how do you envision the role of infection control educators evolving in the coming years, especially in light of emerging infectious diseases and global health challenges?
SW-F: That's a good one. So, IP educators will need to continue learning and sharing what they do, especially on things to the curve in the field. Unless you're involved in the day-to-day goings-on in a health care setting, you get removed from the pressing issues for an IP. And good educators want to stay up to date on topics that interest IP and are useful. Staying informed and attuned to this is important. We need to continue to learn and share.
Emerging diseases and global health challenges are always going to be there. It's a big world. There's no equity throughout. So, we need not just to think locally but also as educators learn to educate globally, too.
ICT: Congratulations, that is such an amazing award. And we're so excited that you have won; what do you want to say to those who look up to you and hope to win this award?
SW-F: First of all, I don't know many people who look up to me, but I don't do it for recognition. I do it for the love of infection prevention. And I know that sounds corny and cliche, but you know, I found a career that I really, really enjoy, and when you enjoy it, helping others by providing education allows them to enjoy it more. So I would tell them there are good days and bad days; focus on the good days, and the little wins the baby steps. And although it may not feel like it, you are making a difference. And as educators, our job is to provide you with information that's up to date and interesting and maybe even funny at times, to help you share that knowledge so that we can all work on improving patient care. And that's the bottom line: we're all there to help each other do the best for the patients on the units and areas we cover by working together and having fun at it, too. It makes the job so much easier.
ICT: Congratulations, Sharon.
SW-F: I have to pinch myself. I can't believe it. It still hasn't sunk in. But again, I am grateful. It's nice to be recognized for things that you do, but you don't do them for the recognition. You do it, like I said, for the love of the profession. So, I hope IPs out there, if you've seen or read any of my stuff [that] found it valuable because I don't see you and I don't hear from you. So, I'll take this as meaning that, yes, it's been useful.
(The interview has been edited for clarity)