Infection control nurses are specialty nurses who are at the forefront of disease and infection control in communities and healthcare settings. They are usually at least a registered nurse with specialized training, education, and experience. Depending upon the facility and title, their exact role may differ slightly. Generally speaking, infection control nurses identify, prevent, and manage multiple diseases and infections. This nursing specialty has recently come to the public’s attention due to the Ebola outbreak in the U.S.
Infection Control and Ebola
Nurses and their role in protecting the public’s health has been a hot topic lately. Since Ebola has come to the U.S., the American public now conjunctures the image of Hazmat suits at the very mention of the words infection control. The reality is that this image represents only a small part of the role of the infection control nurse’s actual job. The fact is, Ebola is just one disease in the sea of many that the public needs to be educated about.
Infection Control Nursing Overview
While Ebola in the U.S. has currently been managed and contained, there are many other common diseases and infections that affect the general health of our population. One example is influenza. In 2011, 1,532 Americans died from influenza. While Ebola in America was highly covered and sensationalized by media, what you didn’t see in years past in the media (at least not to the extent of the Ebola coverage) is infection control nurses’ struggle to prevent the spread of influenza.
However, influenza and Ebola are not the only two health risks that infection control nurses deal with. Infection control nurses usually work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect the public. A few examples of diseases and infections that they routinely deal with:
- Hospital Acquired Infections
- Community Acquired Infections
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
Additionally, they are employed in a variety of settings:
- Community Care Centers/Home Health
- Health Departments
- Long-term Care Facilities
Their job is dependent upon their role and the facility they are employed in. However, some basic job roles include:
- providing advice about infection control matters to patients, the community, and coworkers
- developing measures to prevent the spread of infection and educating others about them
- working as a team to develop ways to implement their workplace’s infection control plan
- monitoring the implementation and compliance of infection control procedures by staff members in healthcare facilities
- facilitating, developing, and teaching educational classes concerning infection control
- being involved in disaster planning
According to the United Stated Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $65,470 per year in 2012. Since infection control nursing is a specialized area of nursing, they can potentially make more than the median salary of a nurse especially if their role requires advising and managerial duties.
The Pathway to Infection Control Nursing
The starting point to become an infection control nurse is graduating from an accredited registered nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN. After obtaining basic nursing experience, they apply for a staff nursing position in infection control. After experience as an infection control nurse, they can take an infection control certification exam.
Advanced Degrees in Infection Control
While not required to practice as an infection control nurse, nurses can seek graduate education in public health such as a Master’s of Science in Nursing or a Master’s of Public Health MPH. Advanced degrees may be required for leadership and supervisory positions. However, as worthwhile as degrees are, experience can be a factor in obtaining positions.
The Lessons learned from Ebola
The presence of Ebola in the U.S. has left healthcare workers with many questions such as Is my workplace really prepared to handle an infectious disease outbreak? Are there enough infection control nurses on staff with highly specialized training? Should we increase education, train or hire more infectious control nurses? Are there adequate policies, procedures, and supplies in place to protect the staff and community? Meanwhile, the public leaned that not all nurses are infection control specialists. Also, they learned that nurses are not always given the education and tools they need to do their job. The specialty of infection control nursing should continue to grow in importance and value as the media highlights health matters and nurses educate the public about their role.