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APIC 2023 Keynote: IPs Must Reclaim Their Power

‘You have the ability to change outcomes that no one else even sees coming’

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

ORLANDO, FL. June 26, 2023. Invoking riotous laughter, heartfelt inspiration, and a few tears in a call to action for infection preventionists (IPs), Bertice Berry, PhD, sociologist and author, delivered a rollicking keynote to open the 2023 conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

Her central message was for IPs to reclaim their narrative, to tell people what they do in no uncertain terms, and to empower others to do likewise.

"When people ask you what you do, say, 'I’m an IP, your welcome,'” Berry said. “When somebody asks me what IPs do, I say, ‘They’re like the Holy Spirit. You don’t see them, but you can feel their power.’”

However, this also raised a sticking point, as she said, “We’ve just been through a pandemic, and people still don’t know what you do.”

Of course, IPs are now becoming clinical leaders and directing hospital-wide infection prevention efforts, but the field has not yet completely shaken the shadow of its intentionally obscure beginnings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention knew that hospitals would not be eager to report patient infections, so they coined the arcane term “nosocomial” to describe these adverse events.

APIC President Pat Jackson, RN, CIC, said IPs have come a look way from those days of collecting infection data and working in silos — but to Berry’s point — there is still a lot of work to do.

“We need to do a better job of training IPs as leaders,” Jackson told Hospital Infection Control & Prevention. “I think a lot of people thought of themselves as data collectors who then give the data to someone else. What we are trying to empower our members with now is that you are the person that can create change in the hospital. You can drive change and be a leader. We are working on a lot of content on that right now.”

Alternatively comic and dead serious, Berry’s approach was perhaps best captured when she quoted South African leader Nelson Mandela in a passable imitation of his own voice: “It’s not that we are powerless; it’s that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that we are afraid of.”

Saying an IP saved her daughter’s life when a downward cascade of health conditions resulted in a line infection, Berry added that all the prevention work IPs do day-in, day-out “makes the world a better place.”

But IPs must reconnect to their purpose — realize they have a “calling,” not a job. Own this, she emphasized, don’t let yourself become victim to the “imposter syndrome,” that old psychological trap where everyone thinks highly of a person who herself is full of doubt and negative self-talk.

“No matter what you’re going through you have the power to change the outcome,” she told APIC attendees. “I‘ve been doing this for 30 years and there has never been an audience that [that statement] applies to more than today. You have the ability to change outcomes that no one else even sees coming. You have to live it — because this is your purpose.”

Gary Evans, BA, MA, is covering APIC 2023 in Orlando. Gary has written hundreds articles on infectious disease threats to both patients and healthcare workers for more than three decades. These include stories on multidrug resistant healthcare associated infections caused by bacteria and fungi, and emerging pandemic viruses like SARS-1, 2009 H1N1 flu, SARS-CoV-2, and Avian influenza. He has been honored for excellence in analytical reporting five times by the National Press Club in Washington, DC.