iP Newbe

IP volunteers are paying it forward

'Giving back is our responsibility.'

By Patti Grant, RN, BSN, MS, CIC
Infection Preventionist, Dallas

Patti GrantWhen I was an IP Newbie back in January 1990, my manager insisted — literally made me — go to the monthly local APIC chapter meetings. Already out of my comfort zone at work, the thought of an environment that provided constant opportunity to feel even more uninformed and unintelligent — with witnesses nonetheless — was not appealing.

After attending several meetings, the realization set in that everything was organized and perpetuated by volunteers. Those volunteers with full-time jobs managed to constantly give back, lead, and were excellent teachers willing to share almost anything.

Looking back, it seems the sinking feeling of "not knowing enough or being intelligent enough to participate" has never really left. There is always somebody smarter, more politically savvy, a better speaker/organizer, with better credentials, connections, and networking skills. I had to get over it, and just started volunteering. Consider this: You will always be smarter, more politically savvy, a better speaker/organizer, with better credentials, connections, and networking skills, than somebody else.

Contemplate, and then accept, that we each have a unique skill — possibly an unidentified passion — that will help spearhead our ability to volunteer and strengthen our profession overall. It is unfair not to share your talents with your peers through volunteerism, since the receiving of knowledge is the cornerstone of our ability to function in the complicated arena of infection prevention and control. Giving back isn't showboating. It is our responsibility to "pay it forward."

Through many mentors and chance meetings at professional meetings, or while working on a committee or task force, I have received some excellent advice. Below are some of these pearls along with concepts I've learned while volunteering. (Apologies up front as I can't remember exactly who has shared what, but here it goes anyway):

  • If you're standing in front of an audience, you are automatically the expert, and that fact alone will give you strength to prepare and provide.
  • There's no shame in saying, "I don't know." The shame is in not sharing that truth. Just state you will research whatever and get back to them.
  • Even a rejection of a manuscript is worth the effort because you learn so much from the reviewers' comments.
  • You don't have a right to complain if you are not part of the solution, so volunteer your time and get involved.
  • Don't hide your talents. Embrace the obligation to encourage others.
  • Just get over yourself and volunteer. If you wait until you are ready, it won't happen and you'll feel more isolated than you do now.

If you aren't fortunate enough to be near a group of infection preventionists that meet monthly, then consider sharing your talents outside your area of expertise. Local PTAs need speakers to present at their local meetings, as do church groups, "leadership academies" of local schools, and business groups. Think seasonal topics, such as food safety, in the summer or the importance of vaccinations before school starts. The bottom line is you are a community resource, and there is much to be learned through teaching and helping others, your peers included.

My first locally elected APIC position was secretary for the APIC-DFW chapter, and I vividly remember stuffing and licking 160 envelopes every month for two years to send out the meeting minutes. Was that fun? Absolutely not, yet it got me involved and networking, and realizing just how much I'd been missing out. So at the risk of preaching, just jump through the fear and get started volunteering because our free work is best: It decreases feelings of isolation when you realize everybody else has it hard, too. I sometimes remind myself of an anonymous quote somebody sent me years ago:

"Rejection spells failure only if you do not believe in yourself. For those who believe, it is only a challenge."

Pay it forward.