The future infection prevention and control pathway is inclusive and invites master of public health graduates and other degrees besides nursing to enter this evolving field.
As a student in college, I was desperate to find a career that spoke to me that resonated with my aspirations and passion for aiding others. I was at a crossroads when asked to declare my major in the second year of my studies. I sampled various majors, but none captured my interest until infection prevention seemed to serendipitously come my way after countless late nights on my computer searching and seeking answers. The next day after the triumphant final night of my quest, I capered to my school’s college of public health and declared my major. At present, I proudly hold a master of public health (MPH) degree and have actively served as an infection preventionist (IP) for the past few years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
No Longer Only Nurses
Traditionally, IPs have been recruited from nursing; in the last few years, a new pipeline has prepared students to enter careers in infection prevention and control, emphasizing public health or alternative degrees beyond nursing, such as microbiology. Colleges and universities have also designed certificate programs enabling students to obtain a certification in infection prevention.
In Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology’s (APIC’s) MegaSurvey, there was a slight shift between 2015 to 2020 regarding the educational background of respondents. In 2015, 82% of infection preventionists came from the nursing discipline; in 2020, 78% came from a nursing background. Among the respondents in 2020, a mere 8% originated from a public health background. The skillset of a public health graduate must continue to be considered when welcoming new infection preventionists to the table.
MPH graduates are trained in epidemiology, biostatistics, outbreak investigations, health care research, and other invaluable disciplines. Within our studies, there is also an emphasis on critical thinking, leadership, and health communication. As an IP, delivering information is a regular function; therefore, understanding how to convey the information appropriately and to different audiences is key. This communication can include presenting infection rates to physicians, educating nurses about the different types of isolation, or being a stakeholder in a facility’s design and construction project.
Schools of public health also prepare future infection preventionists to learn the basics of epidemiological investigations, calculate and interpret critical data, and find and utilize relevant scientific literature. Through my experience as a student, I felt prepared to investigate my first outbreak when I started my first role as an IP and how to organize the data strategically. Cluster and outbreak investigations are unique features in public health programs. Public health programs also educate students on driving individual, interpersonal, and organizational change, essential for infection preventionists when introducing new products in a facility, drafting policies, and more.
Thankful for the Journey
I express immense gratitude to the nurses and other professionals who have provided invaluable clinical assistance and understanding in my journey in infection prevention. I also appreciate those who listened attentively to my voice and professional opinion and embraced my diverse background without hesitation. I acknowledge the potential challenges associated with witnessing someone from a different background entering a field that has been traditionally nurse-driven. I plan to continue to be an advocate for the inclusion of public health graduates in the field of infection prevention and control.