5 Qualities of High-Quality Infection Preventionists

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Infection prevention and control is one of numerous issues in the forefront of healthcare, and healthcare organizations have taken on the challenge through a variety of means, including hiring infection preventionists. But what, one may ask, separates the one-star experts from the five-star experts. Karen Mackie, RN, MA, CIC, infection control manager at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, Md., explains five must-have qualities of top-tier infection preventionists.

1. Achieves certification in infection control. Certification in infection control is a measure of competence in the infection prevention world, says Ms. Mackie, who herself is certified in infection control. Interested clinicians can only achieve certification through the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology. In order to prepare, clinicians should consult with a variety of expert resources, including the Association of Professionals in Infection Control, The Joint Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to help prepare for the certification exam.

"If I was a healthcare employer and wanted to hire a specialist to oversee infection control, I would want to hire an individual who is certified," Ms. Mackie says.

Ms. Mackie's point is supported by recent research published in the American Journal of Infection Control. In that study, infection control policies and outcomes from 180 California hospitals showed hospitals with certified infection control professionals had lower rates of MRSA infections than hospitals without such expertise.

2. Develops leadership qualities. While many skill sets, such as computer literacy and research capabilities, are important to have for infection preventionists, none may be more pivotal than leadership. According to Ms. Mackie, leadership qualities include organization, an eye for detail and project management.

"[Infection preventionists] are increasingly being asked to lead projects, so these professionals must be able to bring the right people to the table and lead that group effectively once they're there," she says.

Ms. Mackie adds another key leadership quality is requesting colleagues' input on projects. Constantly dictating what needs to be done without engaging or obtaining buy-in from stakeholders is an obvious red flag that he or she lacks this quality.

"One of my colleagues said, 'We're puzzle solvers, we're detail oriented, we're researchers. We also worry and nag,'" Ms. Mackie says with a laugh. "And I believe that we are. Sometimes people don't want to hear your message about hand hygiene or another compliance issue, but you have to do it; otherwise it won't get done."

3. Builds a strong network of peers working in infection control. Membership or affiliation with local chapters of national professional groups, such as APIC or the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, not only opens doors for learning opportunities but also gives infection preventionists a way to network with other professionals. Ms. Mackie says failure to network can stunt an infection preventionist's growth, particularly those who work in smaller facilities. For her part, Ms. Mackie found joining the Baltimore chapter of APIC has dramatically expanded her learning opportunities.

"While I have two wonderful colleagues who work with me on infection prevention at GBMC, I realize that infection control professionals can't do it alone. You need to develop that network," she says. "I have developed relationships with other practitioners in the area, and now they're an email or phone call away."

4. Acts on curiosity. Ms. Mackie says one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of specializing in infection control for more than 30 years is the ongoing process of wondering and learning. Great infection preventionists are people who will act on every curiosity and research all possible solutions until a conclusion is met. Answering questions, particularly related to infection control and prevention, is now easier than ever with the advent of the World Wide Web, Ms. Mackie says.

"In this day and age, there are multiple electronic resources. What use to take me a week of searching through journals, I can now do in a few minutes on the Internet," Ms. Mackie says. "If you don't want to or aren't able to keep up with researching infection control, you aren't going to be effective. I go home every day learning something new."

5. Is a patient advocate. While individual nurses may be assigned to deliver bedside care to specific patients, top-notch infection preventionists will be a patient advocate for all. With a heightened sense of accountability for all patients in the hospital, Ms. Mackie says great infection preventionists will make sure every patient receives stellar healthcare and all the right practices, such as hand hygiene and antimicrobial stewardship, are followed.

"From the infection prevention perspective, we can't just advocate for Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith," Ms. Mackie says. "We advocate for everyone in the more general sense."

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