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

IP Newbie: We can be heroes

"To achieve true success, one must be an influencer rather than an enforcer." - Ann Marie Pettis, RN, BSN, CIC

Meet Christie Chapman, BSN, RN, CPAN. A California hospital infection preventionist for scarcely more than a year, she is plenty smart enough to recognize the truth when she reads it. As in the quote above from a blog by an IP with more than three decades of experience.

"That makes a lot of sense to me," Chapman says. "To me, being an influencer is so much more lasting than being an enforcer. Infection prevention has always kind of been the policeman making sure you wash your hands, but I think that' s changing. They' ve attached some money to our job now with this value-based purchasing. That kind of increased our stock in the world in a way. People are more willing to cooperate with us because they know the hospital is going to lose a lot of money if we don' t get it right."

We caught up with Chapman right before she was to don snorkel gear and head for open waters. "I keep hearing the theme from Jaws," she says. Understandable, but Chapman was otherwise unflappable as we asked about taking the plunge into infection control when an opening came up.

"I wasn' t ever particularly interested in bugs or micro, but I think what really attracted me to this position was that the education possibilities were limitless," she says. "To be able to make a difference that way was a big factor for me."

The question she wanted to answer was "why."

In my past experience as a nurse, administration would come to us and say: ' You have to do this with your instruments, do this many hand hygiene audits, and you cannot wear fake fingernails.' They told us all these things, but they never told us why. So the buy-in from nursing in general was rather low. We thought the preventionist sat in an office somewhere and just kind of thought up things for us to do."

Now the fake nail is on the other finger, as it were, and Chapman is quick to tell her co-workers "you can' t wear artificial fingernails because bacteria get stuck in the little crevices and can cause infections in patients."

Ditto for those previously ignored hand washing audits.

"Hand washing is the single most important way we can prevent HAIs," she says. "You have to track your baseline to understand where you are in this process. Once I understood why we did so many of the things we had to do as nurses, I was happy to do it and happy to help others do it. I really feel like I can make a difference with compliance and buy-in from staff."

That is critical when you work in a state that probably has more infection rate reporting requirements and regulations than any other.

"If it can be done, California wants it reported, but that' s ok," she says. "Their heart is in the right place. They want to prevent infections and promote patient safety. It' s just new and we are having to try to figure it out with our electronic medical records, the coding -- it kind of pulls everybody in. We report [HAI data] for 29 different surgeries, for example."

Chapman relays stories from actual outbreaks and patient outcomes to workers, trying to improve compliance by putting a human face on all the rules and regulations.

"What I see in infection prevention is that you always have to have a lot of different perspectives," she says. "The clinical perspective of understanding practice, how nurses practice, disease process and things like that. Then there are the other perspectives of laboratory, micro and epidemiology. Statistics are so important as well. The way we are regulated now, your statistical expertise becomes really important. There are really so many perspectives to this job that you would need a multidisciplinary team to create the perfect Superman, Justice League kind of infection preventionist."