I’m Not Just an Infection Preventionist

News
Article
Infection Control TodayInfection Control Today, September/October 2023 (Vol. 27 No. 7)
Volume 27
Issue 7

Infection preventionists (IP) can come from many different backgrounds. This is 1 opinion from 1 very successful IP who doesn't have an RN or a BSN and the bullying that sometimes occurs.

Infection preventionist taking off a mask (Adobe Stock, unknown)

I hear the familiar sound of a text message from a former colleague turned friend and look to see what he said. He is interviewing for a management position! Usually, that’s such exciting news when you have been in any profession for years, right? This infection preventionist (IP) was interviewed at a health care system, but to his dismay, they told him they only hire nurses per their job description. Kindly, they would still keep his application in consideration. A couple of days later, he was declined for not meeting their requirements.

Hearing this news, I had so many conflicting feelings. I, too, am not a nurse, but am leading a fruitful and successful career as an IP. I have not felt limited in my career because I’m not a nurse nor by not having a master’s in public health. Instead, I have learned to seek out those who have the expertise that I don’t. I have learned to become comfortable with saying “I don’t know,” or “I could use some help.” This journey my friend was embarking on was so familiar to me, and one that many others have had to endure.

Not being a nurse doesn’t mean I can’t be an effective IP. I am an IP. I am an exercise physiologist. I am an emergency medical technician. I am a certified sterile processing technician. I am board

certified in infection control and epidemiology. I am an Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology fellow. I am not an RN, BSN, or MPH. Still, I am not just an IP.

"Not being a nurse doesn’t mean I can’t be an effective IP."

As an IP, I was also a “one-er,” as our APIC President, Patricia Jackson, MA, BSN, RN, CIC, FAPIC, calls someone who is the sole IP for an entire facility. I was the only IP at the facilities I worked in for over 8 years. So even though I had an unconventional background and beginning in IP, I always felt respected, valued, and needed in my facilities.I didn’t feel like my background was a barrier, or a hinderance to my work or how competent I was in my role.My colleagues counted on me, knew I was the subject matter expert and trusted the guidance I provided—because I was the IP. However, I wasn’t oblivious to what was happening around the

country—that others were being turned away from positions because of their lack of certain certifications.

Years later, I am still confused, surprised, and disappointed that I am hearing stories of health care organizations not giving the opportunity to experienced and outstanding IPs for positions simply because their job descriptions are only for nurses. We have come too far as a

profession to limit ourselves to only 1 specific title. True, nurses are an important component of any infection prevention team, but so are all of the other professionals who are filling IP teams across the globe. As we continue to focus on diversity and inclusion, we need to include our IP team construction in this conversation and understand the benefits we gain from the differences we bring.

I shared my thoughts on LinkedIn about my friend’s rejection for not being a registered nurse, not expecting anyone to pay it much attention. The response to this post was overwhelming, and the comments and stories have been incredibly inspiring (https://bit.ly/3EuiYbW). The comments started pouring in from those IPs who felt the same way, who have been turned down for roles for the same reason, or who want to be an IP but are having trouble getting noticed because of their lack of degree or experience. I have been talking personally to many of these individuals who may have lost hope after not being considered for specific roles and some who have IP positions but have compared how they are being treated in the workplace as “bullying” because they come from a nonclinical background. This must stop.

So, where do we go from here?

How do we motivate those who feel they will not be able to enter the infection prevention field because they don’t have a certain degree, certification, or background? How do we re-energize those who have been rejected in the past for not being a nurse? How do we encourage those who feel discrimination in the workplace due to their lack of certain credentials? It is going to take all of us to make this happen, to spotlight the work we do, the significance of our work, and the incredible reach we have in our influence and responsibilities. We need to elevate the role we have as IPs, the expertise needed in this field, and the importance of having people of different backgrounds on your team. We learn from each other, we build off the expertise of our teammates, and we succeed because we function as a team with individual talents.

The time is now to highlight the importance of the IP role, the variety of areas we cover as IPs, and the span of services we offer daily. We do not belong in the background of health care when we are leading the way with patient safety, emergency management, construction, dialysis, disinfection, sterilization, and so many other areas. As a profession, as individuals, and as aspiring IPs, we are all 1 team with 1 goal—to keep our patients and our staff safe.

#IAMANIP

If you would like to let Infection Control Today know what you think the required education should be for IPs, fill out ICT's poll, open until October 15, 2023. The results will be posted on October 16, 2023.

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