How to Become a Certified Infection Preventionist

March 26, 2021
Janet Glowicz, MPH, PhD, RN, CIC, FAPIC

Infection prevention certification is not what it used to be—it is more valuable. It’s not for a few experts; it’s for the frontline IP in any health care setting that chooses to demonstrate competency.

The Certification Board in Infection Control (CBIC) is aware that infection preventionists (IPs) pay close attention to changes in the certification process. 2020 was a year of turmoil and change within the profession and some may look back recalling a time when the Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC®) credential was awarded to a small number of expert IPs, mostly in acute care. CBIC is looking ahead to a day when verified infection prevention competency is a standard for IPs across the health care continuum.

To address the needs of the profession, CBIC has implemented several important changes. These changes include responding to the most recent Practice Analysis with new questions for

CIC exam, the new a-IPC credential, and a new recertification process. Because the CIC credential is becoming more accessible, some may wonder if the CIC credential holds the same status as it used to.In 2014, the APIC Text chapter on certification describes the CIC credential as the “pinnacle of practice.” This is no longer true. Infection prevention certification is not what it used to be—it is more valuable. It’s not for a few experts; it’s for the frontline IP in any health care setting that chooses to demonstrate competency. Certification in infection prevention is now a milestone on a journey of demonstrated competency and frequently a minimum job requirement.

According to the 2020 CBIC Practice Analysis, just over 80% of employers prefer or require certification. This is a 10% increase from the 2014 Practice Analysis. Individuals that possess the CIC are more diverse than ever before. This diversity encompasses disciplines, geography, and health care settings. There are over 8000 CIC IPs from 40 countries and more than 6500 in the United States. They are physicians, nurses, laboratorians, and epidemiologists. As the world begins to recover from the effects of a novel respiratory disease (COVID-19) resulting in a public health disaster, certified IPs will continue to be respected experts across the continuum of care; from nursing homes to critical care units, the CBIC cannot miss the opportunity to verify the competency of those entering our profession.

Why does the a-IPC have no educational requirements?

As the CIC credential continues to become a condition of employment within infection prevention departments it has been difficult for some individuals without job experience to enter the profession. Some of these individuals have completed formal education but need experience within health care to become certified. The a-IPC has no educational requirements because employers will determine the appropriate level of education within their setting. For some settings this may be a Master of Public Health; in other settings this may be a Licensed Vocational Nurse. To progress to the CIC credential, the individual will be required to hold a post-secondary degree in a health-related field. Additionally, the a-IPC does not allow for renewal therefore aligning with the progression of the IP career and competency to aim for the opportunity to sit for the CIC.

Are the CIC eligibility criteria changing?

CBIC believes that the CIC exam should measure the competency of individuals with direct programmatic responsibility for infection prevention in a health care setting. Beginning in June 2021, the CIC will require completion of a post-secondary education in a health-related field. Certificants must have completed at least one year of full-time employment as an IP, two years of part-time employment, or 3000 hours of infection prevention employment within the last 3 years. In addition to the previously required domains the certificant must be responsible for activities within the domain of cleaning, disinfection, sterilization, and asepsis.

Is recertification by infection prevention units (IPUs) less rigorous than recertification by exam?

Recertification by IPUs reflects the professional activities of the currently practicing IP’s efforts as he or she strives to remain abreast of the field. IPUs are gained over the course of the recertification period and are awarded for activities that often involve sharing one’s lessons learned. For example, IPUs are awarded for publication of peer-reviewed journal articles, presentations at conferences, and poster presentations at professional events. IPUs are required to contain content relevant to the practice of the IP, however, IPUs also provide a mechanism for recognizing the efforts of the IP professional. This is as rigorous, and likely more fulfilling, than an open-book, multiple choice exam taken over the course of a year.

Should there be more pathways to infection prevention competency?

Infection prevention is a team sport. While not everyone will become a CIC, all health care personnel should understand the basics of infection prevention. It is our mission to create pathways to infection prevention competency across the continuum of care among all levels of health care personnel. We believe that health care without infection is only possible when all health care personnel possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform infection prevention measures.

Does CBIC want to certify everybody?

Yes! We strongly believe that verified infection prevention competency, specific to the level of care and responsibilities the individual is charged with, leads to health care without infection. Looking ahead there may be several new types certifications that will be developed. The lives of those we work with and those we care for depend on the ability of healthcare personnel to provide safe healthcare in all settings.

Janet Glowicz, MPH, PhD, RN, CIC, FAPIC, is the president of the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC).