Working as an infection preventionist (IP), there is always a running joke that the IP’s job is to go around and yell at people for not washing their hands. While there may be some truth to that joke, as we often do remind people to wash their hands, the job of an IP is much more involved.
Essentially, IPs are professionals who work to ensure healthcare institutions and healthcare workers are doing everything possible to prevent infections. We work hard to prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases among patients, as well as among staff.
Prior to COVID-19, my duties as an IP included hospital rounding to ensure infection prevention practices were being followed, surveillance for hospital acquired infections, surveillance for and identification of potential infectious disease clusters, staff education and training to infection prevention policies and procedures, reporting of state health reportable diseases, as well addressing any other infection prevention and control related concerns that may occur.
Unfortunately, IPs are not always everyone’s favorite health care worker because we are a constant reminder of unknown dangers. For example, we really do spend a lot of our time reminding staff to wash their hands, because hand washing truly is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infections to their patients as well as themselves.
However, when the unknown danger is no longer unknown and has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, that is when the IP is needed the most.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, my duties as an IP have inherently remained the same. My fellow IPs and I have still been rounding the hospital, observing infection control practices, and providing education; however, the degree to which we are performing these tasks has expanded greatly.
Even before the crisis became evident in the United States, we were remaining up to date on the latest COVID-19 developments and looking at ways to best prepare the hospital and its staff.
We began our preparations with ensuring front line staff were educated and confident with the CDC’s recommendations for personal protective equipment by providing one on one education and training.
While we have always been involved in educating staff, one on one education is not our typical means of disseminating education to the majority of staff.
Another familiar duty to IPs is rounding; however, rounding the hospital, to include patient care areas as well as non-patient care departments, has been an almost 24-hour duty. Our guidance has been necessary during all shifts and throughout all departments, as we need to ensure all staff feel safe, comfortable, and supported. Adapting our schedules to ensure staff were supported was another change in our normal operations.
Understandably so, there have been a lot of changes, as well as fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 and common workflow practices. The essential duties of the IP have remained the same since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. What has changed; however, is the necessity of an increased availability of the IP for education, rounding, and overall support for hospital staff. As we continue to navigate the crisis, and especially when we begin to return to normal operations, the IP will continue to be a resource for healthcare institutions, ensuring patients and staff alike are prepared and protected from unknown dangers.
Nicole Kraut is a nurse working in Chicago, Illinois, who writes for us regularly about her experiences as an early-to-mid career nurse. She has been a RN for over five years.
Nicole graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Loyola University Chicago and recently obtained a Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Nursing Education from Grand Canyon University. She “was inspired to become a nurse because I wanted to work in a career field in which I could make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis.” She adds, “I feel nursing is my vocation and am passionate about sharing my knowledge and experience in order to positively influence others.”
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PLEASE NOTE: The information in this blog post was considered current at the time of its publishing, 04/27/20. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is an ever-evolving disaster due to new findings, data, and availability of resources. Please refer to the CDC website for the latest detailed information when you need it.
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