Bacteria and viruses thrive in healthcare environments when not closely monitored. Infection control nurses (ICNs) help identify and prevent the spread of these and other infectious diseases in a variety of healthcare settings. To work in this nursing specialty, you must possess attention to detail. Explaining best practices for infection prevention and patient safety requires knowledge of the risks of spreading infectious agents in contained and broader environments.
In this article we will explore:
- What are the job duties of an infection control nurse?
- Where do infection control nurses work?
- How do you become an infection control nurse?
- What are the salary and job outlooks for infection control nurses?
What are the duties of an infection control nurse?
Infection control nurses, sometimes called infection prevention nurses, must be skilled in problem-solving and innovation. They must commit to remaining at the forefront of modern healthcare solutions to curb the spread of infectious diseases.
Lethal outbreaks and disease spread can happen in any healthcare environment. From community clinics and private physician offices to hospitals and long-term care facilities, there is always a risk from bacteria, infectious diseases, and viruses. Infection control nurses play a pivotal role in preventing outbreaks in healthcare settings and the community-at-large.
Unlike other nurses, ICNs do not serve as direct patient practitioners. Instead, they use their problem-solving skills to conduct and analyze research. Then they use what they have learned to devise new policies and procedures geared toward infection control and prevention in healthcare settings. Infection control nurses have the following job duties:
- Conducting research and analysis on infectious diseases is how most ICN nurses spend their time. They conduct the research on their own, or use data collected by other infectious disease experts for analysis. The underlying goal is to be ready to deploy an appropriate response should a contagion or virus impact a healthcare facility or community.
- Communicating details about relevant research to colleagues and patients and their families. Sharing findings is the most effective way to minimize the risk of infectious disease spread.
- Educating and liaising with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH), or other relevant agencies with updates regarding potential infection threats and a recommended response protocol.
Infection control nurses serve as guides for improving proactive practices against disease spread within the healthcare setting.
Where do infection control nurses work?
Infection control nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings since their expertise is relevant to providing quality patient outcomes by reducing the risk of disease spread. Some of the most common career paths for ICNs include:
- Ambulatory and outpatient care centers. They can work as both general consultants and hands-on patient practitioners. Since these healthcare settings experience a lot of daily traffic, ICNs are crucial for monitoring and implementing sanitary practices that safeguard patient and community health.
- Home and hospice care services. Research supports the idea that shorter hospital stays reduce infection rates among patients. ICNs educate patients and their caretakers on safe practices in the home environment and creating prevention plans for home use.
- Hospitals. Maintaining best practices throughout the building is the key function of an ICN working in a hospital setting. They keep employees updated on proper sanitation practices and stay abreast of new findings that impact disease and infection control within the hospital setting.
- Long-term care centers. Infection prevention is the number-one goal of ICNs who work in this healthcare setting. Constant adjustments to real-time data collection and analysis are necessary for ICNs serving long-term care facilities.
How do you become an infection control nurse?
- Attend an accredited nursing school to earn either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN will take between 18 and 24 months to complete, while you can expect to spend roughly four years in school for a BSN. If you already have an ADN, there is an ADN to BSN bridge program that allows you to earn a BSN in 12-18 months. The more education you have, the better your chances of landing your dream job. It is advantageous to obtain a Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) because of the research portion of the job. There are BSN to MSN and RN-MSN bridge programs that decrease the amount of time spent in school.
- Sit for the NCLEX-RN exam so you can become a Registered Nurse (RN). The NCLEX provides questions on the following topics to test nursing candidates knowledge:
- Safe and effective care environments
- Health promotion and maintenance
- Psychosocial integrity
- Physiological integrity
- Once you are a licensed RN, the next step is to gain at least two years of experience working in infection control. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology requires this before nurses can earn their Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC). Earning this credential is the final step before you can seek employment as an infection control nurse.
What are the salary and job outlooks for infection control nurses?
A nationwide nursing shortage continues to surge, making nurses a hot commodity for the immediate future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts demand for epidemiologists and other infection control and prevention healthcare professionals will increase by 6% between now and 2029. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for infection control nurses is $84,582. The best-paid ICNs earn $121,500, while the lowest-paid ICNs average $55,500 annually.
The highest-paying cities for infection control nurses include:
- Sunnyvale, CA – $100,975
- Santa Cruz, CA – $100,041
- Santa Rosa, CA – $97,787
- Williston, ND – $95,816
- Manhattan, NY – $95,565
- Barnstable Town, MA – $94,823
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