Dear Helpdesk: Overcoming Monotony in the Role of Infection Preventionists


A struggling infection preventionist seeks guidance on combatting monotony and finding fulfillment in their role amidst recurring challenges.

Running on a gerbil wheel.  (Created by AI)

Running on a gerbil wheel.

(Created by AI)

Dear Helpdesk,

I’m struggling with the monotony of our role as infection preventionists (IPs). Although I have only been an IP for 4 years, I feel like I see the same problems over and over again. I continually offer solutions to the staff that could resolve this dialogue altogether, but it never gets resolved.

I have tried tackling it in different ways, but I always get the same result. And, of course, my inability to change these behaviors makes it seem like I am not doing my job sufficiently because we are still seeing the same trends. How do I live with this feeling of inadequacy and frustration?

When I see other people not trying, it really affects my own morale. How do people manage to stay in this role for so many years? Perhaps this is why IPs have a reputation for changing jobs frequently…you realize you have nothing left to offer, and so you are forced to move to the next best thing to repeat the cycle over again….

Dear Monotony,

Thank you for sharing this with us. I can hear how much this is impacting you. Honestly, how could it not? What resonated with me most is the feeling that you are continuing to show up to fix the issues when your peers are not and the pressure of having to do it alone, a bit like running on a gerbil wheel.

What comes up for me is how profoundly this impacts how you see yourself and your passion. If you had the power to wave a magic wand and change how you approached this situation, what would you change? I invite you to reflect on your answer and spend time identifying and acknowledging the feelings that come up. Then, ask yourself if you were to approach this issue as the best version of yourself, what would be different?

I suspect that each time you get on the gerbil wheel, you repeatedly show up as the best version of yourself. Please give yourself grace and acknowledge that if you were providing direct patient care, you would totally wash your hands, scrub the hub, and disinfect the vital signs machine between patients. Fortunately or unfortunately, as IPs, our role is limited to our ability to influence the behaviors of others.

What I hear from you is a situation that all IPs see themselves facing at some point in their career: the limitations of our locus of control. Please know you are not alone. So, what can you do about it?

Here are some thoughts:

  • What is it about infection prevention that you love most? Feel most passionate about?
  • If you describe a good week at work, what do you do during those days? What makes those things good?

Please make a list of your answers and then look for trends. You will begin to see what role nourishes you.

For there, I invite you to reflect on those issues you cannot move. What would it look like to do what is needed? What would it feel like to accept that this is a metric you may not be able to change right now?

The Plan: What would it look like to spend less time and energy doing the work that drains you and repurpose that time on something you love that you can impact? Daydream some ideas and jot them down…

What I have come to appreciate about being an IP is that we can never know everything, and there is always more to know. I have also learned that there are people and departments who want to work with you, who value your solutions, and who will show up.

I have met some of my favorite people doing just that, and along the way, I was able to reduce surgical site infections, reprocess N-95s during COVID-19, and mentor some amazing people who are now IPs, too.

In closing, I invite you to lean into what drew you to infection prevention and focus your expertise on what you can influence and will bring you joy.

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