iP Newbe

Ask those questions: You're keeping us all on our toes

In some respects we're all new

By Patti Grant, RN, BSN, MS, CIC
Infection Preventionist
Medical City Dallas (TX) Hospital

Patti GrantI've been doing this since January 1990 and in many ways it seems like yesterday. When I share this information with others I can't decide if their body language and comments are motivated by shock or they are simply impressed with someone surviving that long. Most days I don't ask for clarification. I guess it is official: I'm an "old head." Still, too many days pass when I feel like a novice in many respects, but I have you iPNewbie's to thank for keeping me on my toes.

There is so much to learn as a new infection preventionist (IPs). It can be overwhelming, so please know you are not alone. I am amazed at the turnover of those that don't make it past the first year of this discipline. Hopefully these short columns have made your first years less stressful. Just think of all the infection prevention "beginners courses" that are offered by our national, state, and regional professional associations. It is disheartening to realize that most of these courses are perpetually full year after year. Do people get into this IP discipline thinking only of weekends and holidays off away from the challenges of the bedside? HA — infection prevention and control is a 24/7 responsibility. There's little time off unless you work in a larger facility with a team.

So as you stick with it and hone your professional skills, what can you give back even before you really know what is going on? Simple. Ask lots of questions to those 'more seasoned' IP's to help keep them current. Being a resource is an unexpected gift. I receive it each time I have the opportunity to work with IP's that are new or even those who are only thinking of joining our ranks. My current office mate asked me a question about the timing of blood cultures and when I tried to find my answer in writing I couldn't — it was just something 'I knew'. As it turned out I had to e-mail the CDC National Healthcare Safety Network to get verification of my answer, as it does not appear in writing – yet. Because of her question I had to search, rationalize, and finally hunt and seek. I learned much in the process (plus, I have the answer in writing now).

This concept may sound strange, but as a new IP you don't have any "old stuff" in your head to add to your days. For example, I learned the 1988 nosocomial definitions of infection as published in the American Journal of Infection Control. Nothing changed until the early 2000's when 'surgical wound infection' changed to 'surgical site infection' and the actual definition changed as well. The next big change was the definition for ventilator associated pneumonia, followed by primary bacteremia. And the changes only escalate as we learn more as a discipline.

The best unexpected benefit of this information boom is quick access electronically to most references and definitions needed to accurately perform your job. The unexpected side effect is having definitions and circumstances blend together, so in that respect we're all new because we must keep the most current of everything at our fingertips while doing surveillance.

Even our language has changed over the years, and old habits die hard. Most recently the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel shown bright when a student nurse from California e-mailed me about an article I wrote over six years ago because "she was doing a research project on healthcare associated infections." I knew our profession would continue to grow since our work is being recognized as a topic worthy of a major project in a Bachelor's degree program.

So, ask your questions. Keep us 'old heads' on the straight and narrow – we need the practice and your partnership to take infection prevention and control to the next level.

Nominate a Newbie!

Do you know someone relatively new to infection prevention that would be a good candidate for one of our IP Newbie profiles? Drop us a line and tell us why you think their story may be of interest to HIC readers. Send nominations to gary.evans@ahcmedia.com.