What is an infection preventionist (IP), and what does he or she do?

For many years, patients, the public, and even some fellow healthcare workers were not fully aware of the critical role IPs played behind the scenes. The IP profile has been raised dramatically over the last decade by national efforts to reduce healthcare-associated infections, the rise of antibiotic resistance, and emerging infections like Ebola.

As a result, APIC created a video that features IPs explaining what they do and what aspects of the job they particularly enjoy. The video can be used to raise awareness among the public, patients, medical personnel, and recruit new IPs into the profession. (The video can be viewed at: https://bit.ly/2QhC4aN.)

“A couple of years ago, we in leadership in APIC realized we needed to make sure that we appeal to the next generation,” says Pat Jackson, RN, MA, CIC, FAPIC, an IP at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. “I’ve been in it for 25 years. This new generation does things differently and thinks differently.”

In planning the video, which features several IPs at the University of Maryland, Jackson and APIC colleagues talked to focus groups of IPs with different levels of experience.

“The first group had been in the field for eight to 10 years,” she says. “The second group of IPs were much newer, with one to five years of practice.”

One reason recruitment should be more focused is the abiding theme over the years that IPs discover the field haphazardly rather than seek it out. “As I go around to new IPs, I ask, ‘How did you get into this job?’ Jackson says. “Almost exclusively it is by accident. ‘Somebody left and I filled in,’ or ‘Somebody approached me about it.’ It wasn’t them seeking out infection prevention. We wanted to create something to show what IPs do and who we are.”

Interviews in the focus groups and IPs commenting in the video reveal common themes in the appeal of the profession, from its unpredictable nature to the opportunity to work with a wide variety of other healthcare fields.

“One thing people like about it is that it seems every day is something different,” she says. “It’s Ebola or a problem with sterilization processes. Others said they really like the investigative part of it — being a detective and trying to figure out why this infection happened.”

Empowered by federal regulations and growing public awareness, the IP office no longer is a silo for crunching numbers. There are opportunities for personal and professional growth that appeal to new IPs. “The networking and the whole multidisciplinary nature of the job,” Jackson says. “When you’re in infection prevention, you touch all different parts of the hospital. That really appealed to them.”

In terms of recruiting, the video is shown in nursing schools and in programs that offer master’s degrees in public health.

“I know in our APIC membership right now it is weighted toward the older years,” she says. “For the livelihood of our profession, we want to continually get the younger population to join us.”

APIC is about to undertake a new strategic plan for the future, and recruiting and retaining professionals will be a key focus, she says. “The intended audience for the video is recruitment, but also anyone who maybe doesn’t understand what infection prevention does,” she says. “I have shown it internally in my own hospital. People who don’t work in infection prevention think we are just doing surveillance and collecting data. They don’t realize what a large scope that we have and all of the things that we do.”

One intangible benefit of the video is instilling a sense of pride in the long-practicing veteran IPs who have saved many a patient life by preventing infections. “Personally, I have probably seen that video at least 10 times, but every time I watch it at the end I just have this extreme feeling of being so proud to be a part of this profession,” Jackson says.