Healthcare-associated infections, also known as nosocomial infections, are a significant problem within healthcare settings, and one that medical professionals work tirelessly to mitigate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 1 in 20 hospitalized patients will contract an HAI each year. In recent years a greater focus has been placed on the threat of so-called “superbugs” like MRSA and penicillin-resistant tuberculosis. This has contributed to the demand for a larger, more specialized group of medical professionals dedicated to establishing and policing infection-control protocols in both health care settings and in the community. Infection control nurses (ICNs) are an important part of this movement, as they specialize in recognizing, isolating, and preventing healthcare-associated infections that impact patient outcomes and the safety of healthcare professionals.
The role of the infection control nurse includes the following:
- Recognizing and isolating outbreaks of infectious diseases in healthcare settings and in the community at large
- Creating strategies and action-plans for the prevention of outbreaks
- Collecting and analyzing data on the incidence of HAIs and the success or failure of various prevention strategies
- The investigation of possible outbreaks and the marshalling of proper resources in response in the event of a confirmed outbreak
- Serving as an infectious disease consultant for both healthcare providers and members of the community
- Serving as an advocate and educator for members of the community infected with HIV/AIDS, TB, nosocomial infections, etc. and their families
As a sub-specialization for clinical nurse specialists, and one occasionally held by nurse practitioners, fundamental knowledge of infection control techniques and protocol is learned on the job and through graduate level CNS and NP programs specific to a particular patient population focus. Advanced practice registered nurses interested in holding a formal infection control sub-specialization denoted by certification often pursue post-graduate certificate programs specific to infection control.
These programs will cover core subjects such as Infectious Diseases and Infection Control in Health Care Settings, as well as options that include advanced study of the following:
- Urban and Social Health Issues
- History of Infectious diseases
- Public Health
Certification and Eligibility
The official designation for all infection control nurses is the Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC®) awarded by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC®). While certification is not necessary to practice as an infection control nurse, it is highly recommended in order to demonstrate expertise in accordance with the professional standards developed by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control (APIC), the leading professional body for infection control professionals. The CBIC notes that certification provides an objective measure of standardized knowledge and is recognized outside the field of infection and prevention control.
First and foremost, eligibility is dependent on sufficient experience in the field of infection control and prevention. While the CBIC does not require a particular tenure, the initial CIC exam is geared for professionals who have practiced infection control and prevention full time for at least two years.
First-time applicants are required to take the computer based test (CBT). In order to be eligible to take the CBT, an infection control nurse must answer “yes” to each of the following questions:
- Are you a licensed registered nurse or nurse practitioner in good standing?
- Are you currently working in a medical setting?
- Is infection control and prevention one of your primary responsibilities?
- In your role as an infection preventionist, do you actively collect, and analyze, and interpret infection outcome data?
- Does your medical experience include active roles in investigation and surveillance of suspected outbreaks?
In addition, an aspiring certified infection control nurse should be able to say yes to three out of the five following questions:
- Have you been involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of infection prevention and control protocols?
- Have you educated others about infection prevention and control?
- Have you developed and revised infection prevention and control policies?
- Have you managed infection prevention and control activities?
- Have you served as a consultant for infection risk assessment and the creation of prevention and control strategies?
While the CBIC does not offer any formal guidance for exam preparation, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control (APIC) does offer courses and organizes Chapter study groups to prepare for the exam.
It is important for certified infection control nurses to main the CIC designation by recertifying within five calendar years of passing their initial examination. All current certified ICNs are eligible to take the recertification exam in the year their certification is set to expire. There are two pathways to recertification for certified ICNs:
- One can take the most current Certification in Infection Prevention and Control computer based test (CBT). As federal and state regulations and scientific developments pertaining to infection control and prevention change frequently, the CBIC performs an analysis every 4-5 years to integrate important changes in the field into the most current form of the exam.
- Alternatively, one can take the Self-Achievement Recertification Examination (SARE). This exam covers the same core subjects and issues as the CBT, but is geared toward certified infection control nurses with more than seven years of experience in the field. As such, the questions are more complex and comprehensive than in the CBT.
The Association for Professionals in Infection Control (APIC) is one of the largest professional associations for infection preventionists (IPs), with more than 14,000 members. APIC focuses on infection prevention at all levels of medical intervention, from physicians and administrators to the nurses who administer direct patient care. APIC conducts conferences, provides continuing education, and approves the Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC®) awarded by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC®).
Infection Control Nurse Salaries
The United State Bureau of Labor Statistics reports earnings in the general registered nurse category. The Bureau’s averages are inclusive of both advanced practice registered nurses and RNs without advanced degrees and certification. The average salary of infection control nurses is included in the broader salary averages determined by setting. The following represents average salaries by setting in which RN and APRN level ICNs are most frequently found practicing:
- Medical and surgical hospitals ($68,610)
- Outpatient care centers ($67,550)
- Personal care services ($86,470)
- Colleges and Professional Schools ($74,180)