2003 Salary Survey Results

Will rising ICP profile bring salaries with it?

Job security soars in SARS era

Emerging infections, bioterrorism, and the patient safety movement are converging along with changes in the health care delivery system to reinvent the role of infection control. But the rising profile of infection control professionals is not necessarily lifting salaries along with it.

ICPs had a median salary in the $50,000 to $59,000 range, but budget-strapped hospitals are keeping most pay raises at l% to 3%, according to the 2003 salary survey by Hospital Infection Control.

While some ICPs are reaping the benefits of their varied new responsibilities, others at least enjoy unprecedented job security in a shaky national economy. And most don’t do the job for the money.

"I can tell you that all of the infection control people I have talked to in the past few years, they don’t stay in the field because they make a lot of money. They stay in it because they love it," says Jan Larmouth, MS, MT(ASCP), director of infection control at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua.

"I worked in public health for a few years, and the epidemiology is what I really enjoy. The cooperation between hospitals and public health is getting to be more and more common with all of these public health threats," she explains.

"I think this is a great time for infection control people. We’re not all in silos anyone," Larmouth adds.

Some doing more with more

In percentage breakdowns of the 360 ICPs who responded to the HIC survey, 20% were making $40,000 to 49,000; 37% were paid $50,000 to $59,000, and 17.5% had salaries in the $60,000 to $69,000 range.

While most ICPs are holding the line and feeling stress-free about job security, others are clearly doing more with more.

The percentage of ICPs enjoying upper spectrum salaries in the $70,000 to $79,000 range nearly doubled in our survey — going from and 6% in 2002 to 11% in the 2003 survey. Still, that may well be a statistical anomaly because the pay raises were unremarkable across the board.

While the median wage hike was in the 1% to 3% range, 24% of respondents did better by banking raises of 4% to 6%. Economic reality hit 16% of respondents, who reported no pay increase for the prior year. Thus, many ICPs see the new awareness of their role as locking up their job security more than beefing up their bank accounts.

Job security

"I wish it would mean an increase in pay, but I don’t think so," says Cathy Lucas, RN, infection control coordinator at Finger Lakes Healthcare in Geneva, NY.

"It definitely makes us busier. I haven’t worried about job security in our organization because we are responsible for so many different sties. I’m sure it helps in some situations to justify the importance of an [additional] infection control practitioner instead of just giving a part of the job to an RN on the floor."

Expanding role

The job description for infection control professionals has expanded to such a degree that hospitals looking to fill positions must recruit a multi-skilled candidate with a broad view of the health care continuum. Michael Tapper, MD, epidemiologist at Lennox Hill in New York City is currently interviewing to fill an ICP position.

"Obviously, the job role has expanded quite a bit to take in emergency preparedness, bioterrorism, and emerging infectious diseases," he points out.

"The role — particularly the need to coordinate with public health and to be able to communicate across a very wide variety of people — is different," Tapper says.

"Communication skills and awareness of forces outside the hospital are very different. Infection control has changed from simply [a focus] on the acute care hospital to a continuum of care. The task is bigger, and the playing field is certainly a lot larger," he explains.

"The days in the past where you get just do statistics in the hospital are long since over."

Critical field sees guard changing

Indeed, on the heels of a national patient safety movement came severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and a reinvigorated interest in infection control by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The SARS lessons in Toronto were particularly striking, and hospital administrators were warned that their patients and staff were at risk if they had inadequate infection resources.

Infection control a must

"They realize now that infection control is a must and somebody has to coordinate the effort," says Joyce Lawhorne, RN, an ICP at Oconee Memorial Hospital in Seneca, SC.

"We have a merit system here. Anything additional that I tackle I have to justify that and then an increase is based on my justification," she says. "So I guess in a roundabout way, it does impact our salaries; but definitely, it is having more of an impact on job security and justifying additional positions."

Indeed, job security is nothing to scoff at in today’s economy. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, almost 9 million people were out of work in October 2003. But employment in health care actually rose over the month.

"There are plenty of jobs in the nursing field period," Lawhorne says.

"Of course, a lot of ICPs are not nurses; they are micro folks. There are a lot of infection control job listings that I have been seeing in journals. I think a lot of that is that the initial wave of the ICPs that started these programs are at a retirement age now. That’s what we are seeing in our APIC association for our state. We are losing most of our ICPs to retirement," she adds.

The old vanguard of ICPs shows signs of passing the banner to a younger generation.

Fourteen percent of the survey respondents had worked in infection control 19 to 25 years or longer. By the same token, nearly a third of respondents (29%) have worked in infection control three years or fewer.

"It takes it you a while to understand all the bugs and what is expected," Lucas says. "I been in infection control for a year and a half, but I have been an RN for 22 years.

"With SARS, smallpox, and bioterrorism there is new stuff coming at you," she explains. "It makes it more challenging and exciting, so you don’t get stuck in a rut doing the same thing day after day."