101 Careers in Public HealthIn this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!

Job Description
Infection preventionists are experts on practical methods of preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases, typically within a specific population—the patients, staff, and visitors at a hospital or other health care setting. Their work also helps reduce the risk of contagious diseases being carried out into the community. Infection control practices include surveillance, investigation of cases and outbreaks, training of staff members, the development and enforcement of infection control policies, and evaluation of the effectiveness of infection control efforts. If an outbreak occurs, infection preventionists track down the source and control the problem. They must be alert to any unusual illness that could signal an outbreak, a new type of infection, or even the first casualty of a bioterrorism attack. They spend some time collecting and analyzing data, but they also observe staff members’ practices, participate in patient rounds, attend meetings, and design and lead interventions to improve infection control. Some infection preventionists are involved in protecting the health of wider communities. They may provide guidance on controlling epidemics, protecting against emerging diseases, or planning in case of a bioterrorism attack. Many infection preventionists in health care settings have additional responsibilities, such as employee health.

Education and Certification
Requirements depend on the specific job setting. Many infection preventionists are RNs. Some have MPH degrees or other relevant training. Although special certification is not necessarily required, job candidates may be viewed more favorably if they have a CIC certification (Certified in Infection Control), which is obtained by passing a test administered by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology. There are also infectious disease physicians and PhDs whose work focuses on infection control.

Core Competencies and Skills

  • Curiosity and persistence
  • Good problem solving skills and the ability to think creatively
  • Ability to make timely decisions, using good judgment
  • Understanding of epidemiology and data analysis techniques
  • Strong enough science background to understand how infections are transmitted and what protective practices are appropriate in a given situation
  • Knowledge of infection control guidelines and regulations
  • Good understanding of human behavior, to understand how and why people put themselves at risk

Salaries vary depending on specific qualifications, responsibilities, and location. According to a 2006 survey of members of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), the majority of whom were nurses, about half were earning salaries in the range of $50,000 to $75,000. Twenty-one percent were in the lower range of $30,000 to $50,000, and 20% made $75,000 a year or more. Most survey respondents worked directly in health care settings; about 5% had jobs specifically in public health. Physicians who are involved in infection control often have other responsibilities as well, so their salaries are more in keeping with others in their specialty.

Infection preventionists can be found at hospitals and outpatient centers, as well as hospices, home-care organizations, and other settings where health services are provided. Health departments, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and university centers also employ these experts to enhance infection control practices on a wider scale. Some infection preventionists work with the military, and some are even involved in global health, such as working to prevent outbreaks in developing countries.

Employment Outlook
With a growing emphasis on patient safety, hospitals are paying increasing attention to infection control and job opportunities are very good. Current concerns about bioterrorism and emerging diseases also provide opportunities for these specialists.

For Further Information

  • Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) (www.apic.org)