Public awareness and knowledge on global pandemics such as Zika and Ebola has increased over the years. Additionally, some well-known hospital-associated infections (HAIs) like MRSA and penicillin-resistant tuberculosis have recently received greater attention from many healthcare sectors.

With these growing threats, there are larger demands for calling more specialised groups of healthcare professionals to occupy the needs. As part of this movement, infection control nurses (ICNs) are responsible in preventing the spread of these infectious diseases that could imperil the patient, community and healthcare workers.

Responsibilities of an ICN

ICNs monitor, identify, prevent and control the occurrences of infectious diseases in healthcare settings and communities. At monitoring stage, important patient data will be compiled, such as types of infections, etiologies and treatment so that ICN can analyse, continue operation improvements and look for other preventable measures if initial operations are unsuccessful.

They are also involved in lab tests to review findings and identify positive results. Afterwards, the results will be submitted to government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitals and communities to notify the staffs and civilians.

Prevention roles take place in educating and controlling the infectious diseases. As educators, ICNs are responsible to educate large groups of population, who are possibly patients, food service workers, medical and nursing students and healthcare workers.

Educating the healthcare workers will carry on during special slots, where strict guidelines of hand washing, equipment usage and patient care handling will be included. At this point, the ICN will record the education delivered to the staffs for ongoing evaluations of the information, policies and procedure. For risky individuals or populations, ICNs will educate them on the disease-specific care, recommended precautions and appropriate assessments.

According to Margaret “Peg” Pettis, who was previously an RN and currently a manager of Rochester General Hospital’s Infection Prevention Department in Rochester, the role of an educator is challenging but the outcomes are gratifying.

“Recently, we had a patient with a highly resistant infection and we met with the environmental services staff to ensure it didn’t spread through cleaning. After the patient was discharged, we didn’t find any spread whatsoever,” said Margaret.

“A representative from the department of health called us to tell us they were impressed with our ability to properly contain the infection.”

The final role of an ICN is to ensure that the clinicians adhere to the guidelines of infection control. To do so, ICNs will evaluate clinical settings to check that guidelines and policies are followed. They will also update the policies immediately when necessary.

As a direct result of these ICN roles and practices, environments are safer, while patients, staff and the community are safeguarded from harm and the institution’s fiscal position is made less vulnerable.

The challenges

As ICNs engage in a variety of roles and workplaces, scheduling their daily routines are the most challenging part.

Additionally, the rapid changes in medical technologies such as automated surveillance, EHRs and diagnostic systems give abundant positive outcomes to ICNs. However, the real challenge is to maintain the technology without losing sight of the human element.

What students or nurses need to know about this specialty

For students who are interested in working with a variety of infectious diseases and enjoy a dynamic work atmosphere, being an ICN would be the right fit for them. To be in this specialty, students need to get the certification to develop their specific knowledge and skills of ICN.

In Singapore, nurses who wish to take this training course and certification may register at Infection Control Association (Singapore), while for Malaysian nurses, they can join the programme at Health Careers Malaysia and any other authorised institutions.

ICNs have become the first line of defense and information for everyone entering the healthcare setting. Their tremendous contribution in helping scientist and doctors to prevent the strains of medication resistance and developing treatments for other infectious diseases have led them to be the most important position in healthcare. MIMS

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