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Answering the call: IP decides to sink or swim
"Leap, and the net will appear."
— Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
The Zen quality of the above quotation underscores that the new IP may find him or herself in midair a few times a day, leaping and hoping that net will form. For Christi Zumwalt, RN, an infection preventionist at Medical City Hospital in Dallas, it's the only way to fly.
"Completely and totally immerse yourself in it," she advises. "Jump in with both feet. It all works out. Enjoy the ride."
On the job since January of this year, Zumwalt decided early on to try to solve problems as they arose, knowing the experienced IPs on her team had her back.
"I try to answer all the calls; if I don't know the answer, I tell them I will get back to them," she says. "I try to get as much hands-on experience as possible. You may not have the answer or you may give the wrong answer. You just call them back and say, 'I talked to my team, and here's what we need to do instead.' But I've learned something. If I hadn't answered the call, I wouldn't have learned anything."
Zumwalt segued to infection prevention from a related field — performance improvement (PI) — bringing along a passion for information technology in the bargain. It is never a bad thing to have someone with a "geek streak" on your team, particularly with the ongoing national transition to electronic records and data systems. But she also was involved with peer review, looking at trends and outliers much as IPs do.
"I did a lot of medical staff peer review," Zumwalt says. "That involved looking at the complications, mortalities [and assessing whether providers] were following established guidelines for different diseases or complications."
Being in the same department with infection prevention, Zumwalt experienced a little osmosis as the conversations, projects, and news of the latest crisis drifted earward.
"It always sounded interesting to me, and it was a good career path move," she says. "What I have found is that infection control has a piece of the pie in everything. I was surprised at how far reaching it is into the actual hospital and all of the different venues — things you wouldn't even think of. That's very interesting to me."
Indeed, experienced IPs well know that the role takes one into all departments and areas, from the operating suite to the construction site of the latest renovation.
"I have been at Medical City for 10 years, but I think I've learned more in the last three months about the interworkings of the hospital," Zumwalt says. "What we do with each piece, who does this and who does that, our contracts for this and that. I am definitely much more into the nitty-gritty of how the hospital works."
The PI background makes sense, as infection prevention may be the ultimate performance improvement project. "It really is," she says. "A lot of what I was doing before naturally weaves into this position. There is a lot of investigating and chart review. How did this happen? What happened first? There is a natural investigative piece and a lot of data management, so it rolls very naturally into this position. "
Zumwalt is applying her IT background to streamline reporting and move away from handwritten documents. That's right in her wheelhouse, but there still are those challenges of course — like the aforementioned construction and renovation.
"There is so much to know, because infection prevention goes through the whole hospital," she says. "I find the construction piece — when we are doing the risk assessments for all of the new projects — challenging. I hadn't had any exposure to that."