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How does someone become an infection preventionist or an epidemiologist? And how does the person continue to grow in their profession? Isis Lamphier, MPH, CIC, explains.
“We don’t stop going to school when we graduate.” –Carol Burnett
Whether your prestigious diploma is covered in a film of dust or is so new it is rolled up in the cylindrical mailer it was shipped in, your professional skills must continually be sharpened through continuing education.
Professional development refers to continuing education and career training after entering the workforce.1 The goal is to provide employees with new knowledge and skills that will be beneficial in their current job and further their careers. Professional development is critical for infection preventionists (IPs) and epidemiologists, as the health care and public health fields are constantly evolving. The benefits for IPs and epidemiologists include better patient outcomes, increased confidence, and feeling better equipped to take on new tasks and projects. Professional development also increases employee retention and morale.
Several professional development opportunities exist for IPs and epidemiologists, including the following:
As IPs and epidemiologists, we should be connected to peers and colleagues. We can learn from the experience of others and rely on each other to ask questions regarding The Joint Commission standards, instructions for use, infection control practices and policies, reportable diseases, and more.
Our strength as professionals in infection control can come from our connection to other IPs and epidemiologists because we understand what our profession entails—it is not always sunshine and rainbows. We know this now more than ever as we are emerging from a few difficult years in the profession due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professional organizations can benefit IPs and epidemiologists who do not work on a team. These organizations facilitate collaboration between various institutions and facilities, and even states and countries. Some professional organizations include the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) and APIC’s local chapters, the American Public Health Association, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
Conferences allow professionals to learn, network, and be immersed in a particular area of expertise for a few days. IPs and epidemiologists can participate in conferences as attendees or as presenters, who have various opportunities to present data in oral or poster format. It is exciting to flip through the program on the first day of a conference, highlighting which sessions you wish to attend, or to roam the poster gallery enthralled by new ideas and innovations from other professionals.
For IPs or epidemiologists wishing to attend a conference, APIC’s annual 3-day conference and exposition covers the key competencies that every individual in infection prevention and control needs. The conference, held virtually and in person, takes place this year from June 26 to 28, in Orlando, Florida.
APIC 2023 will feature keynote speakers, an exhibit hall showcasing innovative products and services from more than 200 companies, opportunities to meet other IPs, and more. Lastly, attendees can earn continuing education (CE) credits. For more information, visit:
Mentorship programs are another type of professional development strategy. The partnership between a mentor and a mentee is a 2-way professional relationship, and both are invested in the mentee’s success.2 The goal is to help the mentee achieve their personal and professional objectives. New IPs can seek out experienced professionals in the field of infection prevention to help equip them to be successful leaders in
preventing health care–associated infections. IPs can also seek mentorships from professionals outside infection control in areas where they desire to strengthen their education and skill set, such as sterile processing and
Mentorship programs are often offered through professional organizations, but IPs and epidemiologists can also be mentored by others who work with them directly or by professionals in other facilities. With technological advancements, IPs and epidemiologists can connect with mentors or mentees from anywhere in the world through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and LinkedIn. After reading an article published by an IP or hearing an epidemiologist speak at a conference, be encouraged to reach out to them if they provide their contact information or LinkedIn profile to connect.
In-Person and Virtual Learning
Pursuing education in person or virtually by participating in distance learning and webinars can help IPs and epidemiologists grow professionally. Classes and modules are also helpful in earning CE credits. Many opportunities are available virtually, such as Steris University for those wishing to learn more about sterile processing, APIC’s online webinars, and the CDC’s Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity webinars.
Certifications, Licenses, or Professional Designation
Through obtaining certifications, licenses, or professional designations, individuals learn new skills and demonstrate mastery of competencies. IPs and epidemiologists can seek out these opportunities to cultivate knowledge in a field or subfield of their profession.
Scholarly Articles and Other Publications
It is essential to stay up to date in the field of infection control, as new topics appear every day. Reading scholarly and peer-reviewed articles is beneficial for supplementing knowledge with more detailed information, learning about recent advancements, and discovering practices in other facilities or areas such as central line–associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI) prevention or endoscope reprocessing. A notable publication for IPs and epidemiologists to read is the American Journal of Infection Control. It covers critical topics in infection control and epidemiology.
Reading can also be done for enjoyment. As IPs and epidemiologists, we joined the field because we are curious about the microorganisms that cause infections. Subscribe to newsletters or publications such as Infection Control Today® to learn more about the areas that interest and excite you. It can be enjoyable to take a few minutes of your day to open that newsletter from the CDC and take a break from your regular work emails. The CDC offers hundreds of different subscriptions and news updates. Some related to infection prevention include antibiotic resistance and use, emerging diseases, handwashing, and global HIV-AIDs updates. To subscribe to these emails, visit https://tools.cdc.gov/campaignproxyservice/subscriptions.aspx
A graduate program also can provide IPs and epidemiologists with professional development opportunities. Many specific degrees related to public health leadership are beneficial for professionals who aspire to be leaders in the field. Graduate degrees can also provide students with advanced learning in specialized disciplines.
As a professional, setting goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) is imperative for evaluating progress. Professional development goals can help you identify what you want your career to look like in the short term and the long term, and the steps you need to take to arrive at your destination.
Undertaking research, publishing articles, volunteering on committees, and attending leadership classes and workshops can also be part of professional development. By investing in your career, you can grow in your area, building confidence and enjoyment in your work. Ensure your knowledge and skills remain relevant and up-to-date, and connect with others in your area. By investing in professional development, you invest in yourself and those around you.