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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Accident or serendipity? Career IP advises being more an 'influencer' than 'enforcer'

Infection preventionists arrive to the profession by circuitous paths, with few entering health care with a clear goal of becoming an IP. Though the profession is gradually becoming more formalized in terms of background and training, many health care professionals find themselves with some singular opportunity to enter a field they may know very little about.

Ann Marie Pettis, RN, BSN, CIC, director of infection prevention at the University of Rochester (NY) Medical Center, was drawn to a career in nursing by a family legacy that included a navy corpsman father and two RN grandparents.

“Being as ‘infection prevention nurse,’ however, was not even on my radar,” she writes as a guest blogger on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s safe health site. “In fact, microbiology was one of my least favorite courses in nursing school, and I had no particular interest in germs.”

An outbreak of Staph aureus in a newborn nursery early in her career changed all of that, as Pettis developed a close working relationship with an IP assigned to the unit. When an opportunity came to enter the profession, she made a decision that would become a career.

“Thirty-two years later, I remain amazed at the new challenges and opportunities for professional and personal growth that each day brings,” Pettis notes. “In the field of infection prevention, you quickly realize that you are either moving ahead or falling behind. There can be no standing still in this age of mandatory reporting, evolving technology, and information overload.”

Remember the days when IPs were so far under the radar that they were lucky if anyone even listened to their admonitions about hand hygiene and patient safety? Pettis does.

“It was a classic case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ because the attention infection prevention is now getting can feel overwhelming," she observes. IPs who obtain the best outcomes for patients become students of the science of motivation. To achieve true success, one must be an influencer rather than an enforcer.”