How to Become an Infection Control Nurse

With neo-natal nursing and midwifery being a couple of the most popular nursing specialties, it’s clear that most nurses enjoy the more nurturing and life-affirming aspects of the profession. But did you know that there are other specialties out there designed for nurses with a penchant for adrenaline, mystery, and research? From life in the ER to the ICU, several exciting specialties offer nurses a place to practice life-and-death attention to detail and the opportunity to save the country from a zombie outbreak (if, you know, zombies were real).

Infection control is one such specialty, and it’s one that many nurses may not have heard of or considered as a potential option to get into. Think it sounds right up your alley? Keep reading for everything you need to know about becoming an infection control nurse.

What is an Infection Control Nurse?

If you’ve ever seen a zombie movie, you’ll know just how important it is to keep infectious diseases from spreading. And while there is no identified zombie virus or bacteria (yet), there are more than enough infections diseases around the planet that are difficult to keep under control. And this is where an infection control nurse comes in.

While all nurses are trained in the importance of preventing the spread of certain infectious illnesses, a certified infection control nurse receives further training in preventing this spread even more. And while medical professionals in all areas of healthcare are instructed and trained on how to take certain precautions that would thwart these bacteria or viruses from making moves (think hand-washing and the use of sterilization and isolation precautions, among other methods), the infection control nurse is an expert of prevention and isolation/containment.

What are the Duties of an Infection Control Nurse?

Infection control nurses are the first stop when there is a suspected infectious outbreak in a hospital or other healthcare facility. Of course, hospitals are kept as sterile as possible, but in a location where there are tens to hundreds of people carrying bacteria and viruses, it’s not uncommon that there is an outbreak. And when this happens, the infection control nurse is called in to prevent contamination from occurring throughout the premises. Here are more of the duties of these nurses:

  • Dealing with data. Infection control nurses are responsible for collecting infection data. They will then analyze the data to investigate infection trends. They are then responsible for releasing this information to other healthcare staff employed by the facility or organization.
  • Training and education. Aside from informal information given to staff, an infection control nurse is also directly responsible for the training of medical professionals within their organization as well as outside of it. Furthermore, they are also often tasked with educating civilians on proper disease prevention and control.
  • Prevention plans. While not every instance of infectious disease can be known in advance, a nurse must have a plan in place for what will happen if an infectious virus or bacteria does get into the hospital population. She will need to have plans in place for helping prevent the spread of the disease, especially within the hospital as well as preventing it from leaving the facility.
  • Sometimes an infection control nurse might work with a team of others, but many are also tasked with a leadership position, such as being the head of the Infection Prevention and Control Program, or similar, at her facility. She may need to coordinate with other departments to initiate trainings or inspections to determine the safety of an area.
  • Enforce guidelines. An infection control nurse should be almost an expert in the field of disease control; however, this doesn’t mean she is able to create her own procedures. Instead, she should be very familiar with local guidelines, best practices, and facility procedures. She should especially be familiar with the regulations and instructions set out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. She then needs to enforce these guidelines in the workplace and ensure that all employees are following them as well.
  • Knowing the disease. When an outbreak occurs, the infection control nurse will work to determine the origin of the particular disease. She will often study the chemical/cellular composition of said pathogen in order to determine its mechanisms, function, and weaknesses. Together with researchers, scientists, and physicians, she may also be included in the development of treatments or cures for the disease.
  • Reduce infection rates. Ultimately, the goal of an infection control nurse within a facility is to lower the rates of infection in the hospital. If she is doing her job correctly and enforcing proper prevention methods while educating others, she will certainly reach this goal.

What are the Requirements for Becoming an Infection Control Nurse?

If you’re considering entering the field of disease control, you’ll want to make sure that you have all the right qualifications to do well at your job. Of course, with all nursing positions, one would want to make sure that they are well-prepared to do the job, and with infection control, proper training is of utmost importance. Here is what you can expect to need if you’re looking to become an infection control nurse:

  1. Educational Requirements

Many locations require only a nursing diploma or Associate’s Degree in Nursing, thought these facilities are becoming more and more rare. More likely is that the hospital you’re looking at requires at least a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. This means that you’re looking at four years of school before you’d have the minimum requirement.

  1. Certifications

Before you can become a specialized infection control nurse, you need to have some basic experience as a nurse. That means that after you receive your ADN or BSN degree, you are then eligible to take the NCLEX-RN licensure exam. Once you’ve passed this exam, it’s a good idea to get at least two years’ experience with nursing before you move on to any specialty. This will ensure that you have a good enough understanding of not only how to do the nursing job but also what working in a fast-paced and often stressful environment is like.

After you have some experience as an RN, you will be eligible to take the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) certification exam, which will certify you to become a full-fledged infection control nurse.

  1. Attributes

Any nurse that wants to can study hard and pass the APIC exam, but that doesn’t mean every nurse should. In fact, becoming an infection control nurse requires certain attributes that will make your life just a bit easier and the job more manageable.

  • Infectious diseases know no timelines, so outbreaks never really happen at a good time. Therefore, an infection control nurse needs to be flexible enough to work around the timeline of the pathogen and drop everything at a moment’s notice to work on containment.
  • A lot of the job of an infection control nurse consists of research in attempting to understand the mechanisms and attributes of a certain pathogen. A nurse working with these pathogens needs to have an innate curiosity that allows him to investigate and learn.
  • Good Health. Since this type of nurse works so closely with diseases, he will need to be in fairly good health. Interacting with pathogens means that these nurses are more susceptible to infection themselves, so they should be taking care of themselves well at home.
  • Communication Skills. An infection control nurse must work closely with a team of other healthcare professionals in order to prevent the spread of the disease. She must be able to communicate clearly and directly, leaving no room for error or interpretation.

What are the Salary and Job Prospects for an Infection Control Nurse?

Upon becoming a certified infection control nurse, a wide array of job opportunities opens up. These nurses may work in hospitals and clinics, of course, but there’s a variety of other types of facilities that often need infection control nurses. For example, hospice centers, long-term care facilities, and home care are all areas that benefit from having this type of nurse on staff. These nurses may also choose to work in health-related areas such as public health, behavioral health, and emergency preparedness settings.

The salary prospects are on the higher end for nurses, most likely due to the complex nature of the position. The range is from around $78k to $93k per year, though most nurses make about $85. Of course, as with all specialties, this will depend on the state, city, facility, and the nurse’s qualifications and experience.