Necessity and Reinvention: APIC Tries to Hire, Retain IPs
‘We are problem-solvers’
As a generation of infection preventionists (IPs) near career end, it is well to remember that many of them tell a similar story of how they got into the profession. Often, they were doing some other clinical job and an opening or temporary need came up in the infection control department.
To paraphrase what Hospital Infection Control & Prevention has reported time and again from new IPs to long-established leaders in the field, “I just fell into it and I loved it. I found it fascinating.”
Serendipity no longer is an option. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) is working to establish academic tracks and other job entry points to the clearly identified profession of IP. Time is of the essence.
Reviewing APIC surveys and information in the literature, Chaz Rhone, MPH, CIC, FAPIC, assistant vice president of infection prevention at HCA Health North FL Division, recently broke down some of the demographics in an APIC webinar.
“We have an aging workforce,” said Rhone, who is co-chair of the APIC Academic Pathway Steering Committee. “[About] 40% of IPs are in the 56- to 66-[year]-plus age range. Those folks will be retiring within the next 10 to 15 years, so we’re about to lose a big chunk of experience and wisdom.”
As part of major recruitment initiatives that will go beyond the traditional field of nursing, there is an intention to add more diversity, since only about 7% of IPs are male and 14% are non-Caucasian.
“Hiring research shows that those in hiring positions tend to hire those [who] have similar backgrounds and experience,” Rhone said. “It makes sense that most of us are in nursing, so nurses are doing the hiring. They will, most likely, hire those with their same experience. But I think this is a habit we need to break. This is an opportunity for us to think outside of the box in terms of who we’re bringing into the field.”
Casting a Wide Net
Although nurses traditionally have been the primary work force, there was discussion in the webinar of recruiting those with backgrounds in public health, respiratory therapy, laboratorians, biologists, medical technologists, pharmacy, and others. This call for new and diverse backgrounds will be a necessity until an academic track for an IP can be clearly established.
“Over 50% of recent IP hires [came from] outside of the organization, which shows that we’re not retaining our own folks,” Rhone said. “We’re not training up our own folks from within our own organization and preparing them to step into those roles. That speaks to an opportunity.”
Currently, only about half of hospitals offer IP training, so mentorship must be part of the immediate focus on retention of new IPs and those currently in the field, said Katie Cary, MT(ASCP), MPH, CIC, vice president of infection prevention for the HCA Health Continental Division. “Internship programs are an amazing pipeline for IPs,” she said at the APIC webinar. “You’ll have MPH students that need some sort of an internship. And if you can get them in a hospital, a lot of times, it’s just a major hook and they never want to leave. So, how can we connect with different schools and different programs to be able to bring in these very eager learners to our professions [as interns] so that we can grow them?”
Another excellent program for retention of staff of all stripes are hospital “concierge services” that can aid with errands and unexpected issues. Also, there needs to be a clear path of career advancement so IPs can see their future at the facility rather than leaving it, Cary said. “How do we make sure that we are giving them a platform to stay?” she said.
Infection prevention is a demanding job, but, generally, people who go into it are enthusiastic about its challenges and driven by the underlying goal of protecting patients and staff. It should not really be a hard sell if the message can get out to job candidates. Having been through all manner of outbreaks, pandemics, and multidrug-resistant infections in the last decade, IPs can be proud of their field for still standing.
“We’re responsible for a wide range of activities, including identifying outbreaks, implementing and preventative measures, monitoring compliance and developing organizational capacity in response to infection-related issues,” Cary said. “We are problem-solvers. We’re leaders, we’re executors. And this is why it is so important that we really, heavily focus on recruiting the right talent to our profession.”
As a generation of infection preventionists (IPs) near career end, it is well to remember that many of them tell a similar story of how they got into the profession. Often, they were working some other clinical job and an opening or temporary need came up in the infection control department. To paraphrase what Hospital Infection Control & Prevention has reported time and again from new IPs to long-established leaders in the field, “I just fell into it and I loved it. I found it fascinating.”
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