IP LifeLine: Superhero Secrets: Mastering Infection Prevention in Your New Job

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Beginning a new infection prevention position can be daunting. Check out the latest IP LifeLines article by Brenna Doran, PhD, MA, ACC, CIC, on mastering the transition.

An image of an infection prevention personnel in a superhero cape and mask.  (Image by author with AI)

An image of an infection prevention personnel in a superhero cape and mask.

(Image by author with AI)

When beginning a new job, we all face the same challenge—being in an unfamiliar environment. Yet, some individuals effortlessly develop strong connections and are widely liked. Stepping into a new role as an infection preventionist (IP) can be daunting. Navigating an unfamiliar environment, building rapport with colleagues, and establishing expertise are all crucial for success. Yet, often, the most overlooked aspect is the initial impression you make. Those first interactions set the tone for your relationships and influence your effectiveness throughout your career.

This article examines the strategies IPs entering new roles can employ to make a positive and lasting first impression. We'll explore how to curate your professional brand, build trust through collaboration, and ultimately become a trusted resource within your organization.

The Power of Presentation: Who is the New Infection Preventionist?

Imagine starting a new role. Before you even walk through the door, whispers travel. A nurse you met last week describes your introduction to the unit. An environmental services (EVS) worker mentions your conversation with a doctor regarding hand hygiene. These first impressions, these fleeting interactions, paint a picture that precedes you. This is your professional brand.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou.

Self-branding is the art of purposefully cultivating your professional identity. What qualities or character traits do you want to highlight as an incoming IP? How do you want your team, peers, and stakeholders to see you? How did they feel after an interaction with you?

Your professional brand will mix what you wear, how you approach others, and your communication style. The dynamic health care landscape includes face-to-face interactions, virtual appearance and presence, and written communication.1 The most crucial element of your professional brand is your interpersonal skills. How approachable you are, being seen as a resource, and partnering with local champions will create the foundation of how others see you, building brand awareness.

The first step is the image you project while in a meeting or on a unit. Each facility has an internal culture on what appropriate attire looks like for an IP, and it may depend on what activity the IP is engaged in. While business casual is a safe bet, observe and adapt as you learn the organizational culture. Remember, your attire should project approachability and confidence. The cornerstone of a successful IP brand is approachability. You want to be seen as a resource rather than an enforcer. While creating an approachable first impression is vital, to be seen as a collaborator, you need to be seen as more than a first impression.

Imagine having enthusiastic, respected staff members on your side—local champions who share your passion for infection prevention. These individuals are your boots-on-the-ground influencers, trusted voices within their units whose opinions carry weight. By partnering with champions, you leverage their credibility to spread awareness about the diverse resources IPs offer.

This collaborative approach dismantles the "Hand Hygiene Police" stereotype. Instead, it paints a picture of the true value IPs bring – a partnership focused on preventing infections and keeping patients safe through joint infection prevention initiatives.

The Power of Collaboration: Building Trust

As IPs, we work with a wide range of stakeholders regularly. However, new stakeholders may need to fully grasp the scope of an IP's work or how it directly impacts their roles. This initial communication gap presents a crucial opportunity to make a positive first impression. This is where a prepared brief introduction comes in handy. On a single piece of paper, write down a few key qualities and fun facts that highlight who you are and what you are passionate about. This allows you to showcase your passion for infection prevention and how your background translates into practical solutions for their departments.

Example: A new IP performing the first round in the ICU unit and running into the nursing director.

“Hi! I'm [Your Name], the new infection preventionist. "I'm excited to be part of the IP team and an infection prevention resource. Please tell me about you and the unit.”

While introducing yourself, don't just list credentials. Emphasize collaboration. In the ICU example, mention your professional experience and express your desire to learn about the unit's patient acuity and infection prevention initiatives. This approach highlights your skillset and demonstrates your interest in their work. It positions you as an asset, not just someone there to enforce rules. The director's response will also reveal how receptive they are to collaboration, allowing you to tailor your communication accordingly.

This approach isn't limited to the ICU. A cultivated introduction is also valuable when meeting with peers and stakeholders. It allows you to market your professional brand and gives them insights into how you are to work with. Be sure to personalize your introduction for each department, highlighting how infection prevention directly impacts their daily work. This personalized communication fosters trust and a collaborative environment, ultimately increasing your influence and effectiveness as an IP.

Consider that even as a new IP, you're joining projects already in flight. Use the opportunity to curate your introduction to market your professional brand successfully. By leading with your expertise and collaboration style, you are extending an invitation to partnership, establishing yourself as someone whose focus is on supporting, not enforcing.

United We Prevent: Cultivating Trust and Partnership in Infection Prevention

Making a great first impression is key, but true success as an IP centers on building trust and demonstrating your collaborative spirit. This has 2 sides: Forging genuine connections and proving your reliability as a partner.

Building relationships is all about people. Get to know your colleagues on a personal level. Ask about their roles, hobbies, and interests. Let them steer the conversation and ask how you can best support them. Be present whether the conversation is in-person, via videoconferencing, or by phone. Show attentiveness through eye contact, body language, and active listening. This means genuinely listening to understand, not just to respond. Take notes after the meeting, including personal details in your notes, such as family names, hobbies, and preferred modes of communication. This additional touch demonstrates you care about them as individuals and your intentions are not just transactional. Furthermore, during future encounters, engage in small talk and ask about their lives outside of work.

An IP LifeLine From Infection Control Today article.

An IP LifeLine From Infection Control Today article.

In tandem, consider how you can demonstrate your value as a reliable and expert collaborator. Demonstrate your curiosity by asking them their units, using open-ended questions like "What are you most proud of?" or "What's your biggest infection prevention challenge?" This illustrates a sincere interest and provides vital insights into what is most important and value-added to your key stakeholders. When an opportunity arises, or you are asked to share your recommendations for improvement, frame them collaboratively, highlighting how your skillset can contribute.

For instance, when working on a nurse-driven protocol for removing Foley catheters, highlight how your nursing experience and infection prevention expertise can contribute to the project. Similarly, if your background lies in clinical microbiology, leverage your understanding to determine how to test if the patient's methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) isolates are related during a potential MRSA outbreak. Your ability to integrate your expertise into stakeholder collaborations showcases your value as a key resource.

When you have your first successful collaboration, celebrate! Take advantage of the opportunity to show appreciation and acknowledge your stakeholder’s contributions. Giving credit where credit is due and publicly sharing a rave review builds trust and encourages future collaborative projects.

Finally, track your contributions and document how you influenced interventions and infection rate reductions. These data points help you see the larger picture and showcase your reliability as a partner. Purposefully time to analyze key takeaways from meetings and conversations with peers and stakeholders. Pulling themes from these interactions allows you to understand the interplay between multi-disciplinary projects and organizational dynamics and the bigger picture of infection prevention’s role in the facility.

Building genuine relationships, demonstrating your value, and celebrating successes will transform you from a newbie into a trusted and reliable collaborator. Remember, your success is more than a first impression; it's about establishing long-term partnerships and driving positive change through influence.

Your Trusted Resource: Partnering with Infection Prevention for Lasting Success

As you build rapport with your peers and stakeholders, you will see a shift in how you are received. No longer the new IP or hand hygiene enforcer, you will be seen as a reliable collaborator with whom people want to work. This is where you build on your initial success by staying aware and being adaptable.

An integral element of maintaining success is a commitment to continuous improvement. This requires ongoing self-assessment—routinely ask yourself, "What's working well?" and identify areas where processes or collaborations were optimized. “What is not working well?” assesses where processing or communication could be improved and what changes are needed for success. Be prepared to adapt your approach and be flexible; leadership priorities inevitably shift. Remember, complex issues rarely have quick fixes, so cultivate patience and a willingness to work collaboratively toward long-term solutions.

Consider leveraging your unit champions to keep abreast of each department's local needs and how they relate to the greater organizational goals. Continue to cultivate relationships and identify your allies. Lean into like-minded people with whom you can partner to effect change. These relationships will be vital to your long-term success.

Similarly, regular touchpoints with key leadership stakeholders should be set up quarterly. If you are part of a larger IP team, connect with your manager, who may be the most value-added for you to meet with. If you are a solo IP, I invite you to consider the infection prevention yearly program goals and what stakeholders are vital to moving those goals forward.

Lastly, find your niche. What topics or departments are you most passionate about and interested in? Which of these would be welcome in your partnership? As an IP, continual professional development is vital as our roles cover a wide range of disciplines, and we are often consulted to provide expertise in the subject matter. What you gravitate towards may relate to your professional experience before entering the infection prevention field. Regardless of your professional background, I encourage you to explore infection prevention work that aligns with the existing knowledge set and extends into areas you need to become more familiar with or comfortable with.

By shadowing and observing in unfamiliar departments, you demonstrate your interest in expanding your skill set and learning how other roles approach and perform their roles. Some of the most significant epiphanies you may have come from conversations and learnings of different departments. I encourage you not to stop there but to continue to set aside time to connect with new departments and learn more about what they do and how the work contributes to patient safety. As you continue to build these relationships, you are expanding your network of colleagues and influence.

Superhero Training Complete: The Student Becomes the Master

An effective IP takes time and mastering the art of sustained awareness, reflection, and curiosity. A successful IP is more than a valuable contributor; they have cultivated a deep understanding of the organization's internal dynamics and how to navigate them. This requires actively listening not just to what is explicitly said but also to the unspoken undercurrents of the organizational culture. Pay attention to leadership dynamics that influence decision-making, unspoken expectations, and potential roadblocks.

Additionally, learn to navigate the organization's political laylines. These are the unofficial power structures and areas of influence that can impact your ability to enact change. By developing awareness and vital professional relationships, you can position yourself strategically to build stronger and more impactful relationships within the organization. Remember, it's not just about who you know but who knows you and your positive impact on infection prevention.

References:

Bachmann, P. What does health have to do with your brand. Forbes. 2024, March. Accessed May 3, 2024. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2024/03/07/what-does-health-have-to-do-with-your-personal-brand/?sh=59f26f293a22

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