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Six Key Skills Every Infection Preventionist Needs

Posted on 09/19/14

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As infection prevention and control evolved from a part-time responsibility of staff nurses to an integrated, multidisciplinary team undertaking, the specific skills needed by an infection preventionist across all healthcare settings also evolved. Today, many leaders in the field agree on the six core competencies every infection preventionist (IP) needs[1]. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) recommend that an IP should be skilled in the following areas: 

  1. Infectious disease process identification: An infection preventionist should understand colonization, infection and contamination. They should know how key infectious agents are transmitted, their notable signs and symptoms, common reservoirs and incubation periods. In addition, an IP should understand the strengths and weaknesses of various diagnostic tests and recognize sentinel organisms. An awareness of microbiological monitoring of the environment and the uses of antimicrobials are also important.

  1. Surveillance and epidemiologic investigations: An infection preventionist should be able to design their surveillance system to ensure complete and accurate collection, interpretation and reporting of data. In many hospitals, the IP relies on automated systems to collect, compile and report on data collected throughout the facility, but he or she should be able to customize the infection prevention modules to gather the data most relevant for the hospital to understand, and act on the results.

  1. Prevention and control of infectious agent transmissions: Developing and refining infection prevention policies and procedures both internally and in collaboration with public health agencies are critical parts of an infection preventionist’s work. Many aspects of infection prevention and control naturally fall under this heading including hand hygiene, cleaning/disinfection/sterilization, isolation practices and patient immunization programs.

  1. Implementation of employee health policies and procedures: Keeping healthcare workers healthy reduces the potential for transmission of communicable diseases to patients. An IP needs the skills to review immunization and screening programs for diseases such as influenza and tuberculosis, and recommend appropriate restrictions and testing following exposure to communicable diseases. The IP should also be able to work with the hospital’s occupational health department to identify and monitor incidents of exposure affecting healthcare workers and other staff in the facility.

  1. Management of the infection prevention program and communication of its findings: To be successful, an infection preventionist must maintain compliance with regulatory requirements, participate in and demonstrate the effectiveness of quality programs related to infection prevention and control, and persuade management to support modification of updated guidelines and outcomes, and process metric results.

  1. Education and research: Underlying the other five skills must be a commitment to education and continued research. The IP should continue to grow in skills and knowledge by staying current on research findings and incorporating evidence-based best practices into infection prevention policies and protocols. The IP should also create and deliver effective educational programs to educate staff on infection prevention and control topics, and be adept at working with patients, families and visitors to minimize infection risk.

Do you agree with the key skills we’ve shared? Let us know if there are any you would add. 

  1. Murphy DM, Hanchett M, Olmsted RN, Farber MR, Lee TB, Haas JP, Streed SA. Competency in infection prevention: a conceptual approach to guide current and future practice. Am J Infect Control. 2012 May;40(4):296-303.

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About the Author

Cathy Thompson, MBA Cathy is a Biomedical Engineer with an MBA by education and has spent the majority of her career in the healthcare industry marketing both medical devices and IT applications.