What Is an Infection Control Nurse?

These nurses are on the lookout for trends and signs that could signal an infectious outbreak in a healthcare facility.

nurses talking in an infection control area of hospital
nurses talking in an infection control area of hospital

Infection Control Nurse at a glance

Where you’ll work: Hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, governmental agencies, long-term healthcare facilities, home health organizations and hospices.

What you’ll do: Specialize in preventing, treating and controlling infections diseases. These nurses often develop and implement infectious disease protocols in healthcare facilities.

Minimum degree required: ADN or higher. Some infection control positions require that you are an APRN, which requires either an MSN or DNP.

Who it’s a good fit for: Infection control nurses often examine data to determine infection trends. Someone who is savvy in data analysis could make a great infection control nurse.

Job perks: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, infection control jobs are in high demand to prevent future pandemics. This can lead to a greater level of job security compared to other jobs, since employers are prioritizing these roles.

Opportunities if you pursue a higher degree or certification: It is common for infection control jobs to ask that you have either an Associate Infection Prevention and Control (a-IPC) certification, or have a Certification in Infection Control (CIC). Both of these certifications are granted by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC). The a-IPC is a stepping stone to a CIC certification, for those who are not yet eligible for the CIC.

Median annual salary: $77,600

Pneumonia, influenza, catheter-associated infections, COVID-19: These are just a few of the medical challenges infection control nurses battle.

These important nurses specialize in the prevention, treatment, and control of infectious diseases. Depending on their role, they may also develop protocols for preventing the spread of infection, educate healthcare providers, or track patterns of infection on a large scale.

“For everything we do, patient safety is at the center,” says Apryl McElheny, the clinical director/administrator, quality assurance coordinator, and infection preventionist for the Laurel Laser and Surgery Center in Pennsylvania. “We work to ensure the safety of patients and employees and to keep the organization running and profitable. This is even more critical in times of a public health crisis.”

How to Become an Infection Control Nurse

The titles infection control nurse and infection preventionist can be used interchangeably. To pursue this role, you’ll need to be a registered nurse (RN). Some employers require nurses hold a more advanced nursing designation, such as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

To become an infection control nurse, you need to be an RN, or in some cases, an APRN.

An infection control nurse is not an entry-level position. “You’re not going to be hired as an infection control nurse right out of nursing school,” McElheny explains. “Nursing school gives you the foundation you need in infection control and prevention, but it won’t make you eligible for an infection preventionist position.”

That is why you need to pursue infection prevention experience in whatever entry-level nursing position you land.

Education at a Glance


Degree You Need: Minimum of an Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN), a type of two-year degree similar to an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) that focuses on clinical skills

How Long It Takes: 2 years or more

Where You Can Work: Hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, governmental agencies, long-term healthcare facilities, home health organizations, hospices

Licenses or Certifications You’ll Need: RN license at a minimum; often a Certification in Infection Control (CIC) as well

How Do I Get Infection Control Experience?

You might be wondering how you can enter this field if you need experience to get a job! “There are many things you can do to work toward a career as an infection control nurse,” McElheny says. She recommends taking these steps.

  • Target your job search.
    “Be selective,” McElheny says. You could work in a department that partners with a pathology lab, inside a diagnostic laboratory, or on a surgical floor. These jobs get you closer to working in infection control.
  • Research organizational structure.
    Find out who is in charge of infection prevention in your organization. Is there one person or a committee?
  • Find a mentor.
    Ask someone involved in infection prevention at your facility if they will show you the ropes. You can shadow this person, which can count toward experience needed to earn the CIC.

Licenses and Certifications

Most infection control nurse positions require not only an RN license but also certifications to demonstrate their knowledge in this specialty. Applicable certifications include an Associate Infection Prevention and Control (a-IPC) and Certification in Infection Control (CIC).

The a-IPC is an entry-level certification, while the CIC requires more on-the-job experience. Like most healthcare certifications, they both involve passing a standardized exam.

Neither is required to practice as an infection control nurse, but “the CIC certification is the gold standard and what most employers are looking for,” McElheny says.

Associate Infection Prevention and Control (a-IPC)

Certification in Infection Control (CIC)


Required Education: None

Required Work Experience: None

Exam Details: 100 questions over two hours, completed on a computer

Certifying Organization: Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC)

Ongoing Requirements: The certification is valid for three years and is non-renewable. The expectation is that a-IPC professionals will then earn a CIC.

Required Education: A degree, such as an ADN, ASN, or Bachelor of Science in Nursing, from an accredited institution

Required Work Experience: Two years of experience with infection control-related duties, such as surveillance, identification of infectious disease, preventing the spread of infections, sterilization processes, and education

Exam Details: 150 questions on a computer-based test

Certifying Organization: Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC)

Ongoing requirements: The certification must be renewed every five years. Recertification can be completed by passing a standardized computer-based test or by completing 40 credits of approved infection prevention-focused ongoing education.


What Do Infection Control Nurses Do?

You already know that the duties of an infection control nurse depend on your title, experience, and work setting. That said, infection control nurses usually have some combination of the following responsibilities.

  • Surveillance. Infection preventionists track the incidence of infectious diseases. This can entail keeping tabs on hospital-acquired pneumonia on the ICU floor or on influenza across the state.
  • Analysis. Gleaning insight from gathered data helps organizations’ leaders see trends and make decisions to prevent or control infections.
  • Intervention. If infection preventionists spot a worrying trend, they are in charge of identifying how to stem the problem and measuring progress. For example, if they notice an increase in catheter-associated infections in a hospital unit, they can focus on training the providers who work there.
  • Developing protocols. Infection control nurses translate research and best practices into protocols, such as how to safely enter a patient room while decreasing the risk of spreading infections.
  • Training and education. Infection preventionists may train their team, offer education organization-wide, or even train people in multiple organizations. They may also educate patients—for example, on how to care for a wound after the patient has been discharged.
  • Patient care. Infection control nurses may treat patients directly.
  • Public health. Infection control nurses, especially those who work in public health settings, may track community health, coordinate with other agencies, and design campaigns to prevent or slow the spread of infection.

No matter which specific tasks infection preventionists perform, “these jobs give you an opportunity to be a problem-solver,” McElheny says. Whether you’re stopping the spread of influenza, persuading hospital leadership to fund staff-wide training, or designing a harm reduction campaign for people who engage in risky behavior, you’ll need critical thinking skills and creativity.

Other Infectious Disease Nursing Roles

While all nurses are committed to patient health, curbing the spread of infectious disease manifests itself in a variety of ways, depending on the specific role a nurse holds. If you’re interested in infection prevention and control, you can explore these related roles:

Nurse Epidemiologist

Work in a public health department to track patterns of infectious disease, such as influenza

Infection Control Staff Educator

Research current best practices and teach employees how to correctly follow procedures to reduce the spread of infection

Communicable Disease Nurse

Run outreach, treatment, and data analysis programs for populations that have contracted, or are at risk of contracting, communicable diseases such as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis

Epidemiologist and Infection Control Nurse: What’s the Difference?

The number of titles and terms for infection control nurses can be confusing. So, what is the difference between an infection control nurse or infection preventionist and an epidemiologist?

The difference depends mainly on workplace and responsibilities. Epidemiologists focus on public health and often work for local, state, or federal agencies, such as a state health department. They look at infectious diseases from a bird’s-eye view. They track trends at a wider level rather than focusing on an organization, as infection control nurses do. Epidemiologists typically require a master’s degree, often in public health (MPH).

Not all infection control nurses deliver direct patient care, but many do. Epidemiologists do not.

If you want to pursue the public health route, look for the job title “nurse epidemiologist.” These roles can allow you to enter the field of epidemiology without a master’s degree. 

Salary

As with most jobs in healthcare, compensation can vary greatly. The range in income depends on experience, education, where you live, the setting where you practice, certifications or specialties, and more.

Registered Nurses

National data

Median Salary: $77,600

Projected job growth: 6.2%

10th Percentile: $59,450

25th Percentile: $61,790

75th Percentile: $97,580

90th Percentile: $120,250

Projected job growth: 6.2%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $99,110 $77,450 $127,020
Alabama $60,510 $47,390 $78,670
Arkansas $61,530 $47,510 $79,440
Arizona $78,260 $60,750 $100,200
California $125,340 $78,070 $165,620
Colorado $78,070 $60,550 $100,870
Connecticut $83,860 $61,470 $110,580
District of Columbia $95,220 $62,700 $129,670
Delaware $75,380 $59,900 $99,780
Florida $75,000 $49,680 $95,630
Georgia $75,040 $58,400 $98,410
Hawaii $111,070 $75,380 $129,670
Iowa $61,790 $48,290 $79,260
Idaho $75,560 $59,640 $98,030
Illinois $77,580 $59,640 $100,650
Indiana $62,400 $48,400 $90,260
Kansas $61,790 $47,630 $79,360
Kentucky $62,480 $48,000 $82,410
Louisiana $64,450 $48,920 $94,360
Massachusetts $94,960 $61,180 $151,310
Maryland $78,350 $60,420 $101,650
Maine $75,040 $59,640 $98,780
Michigan $76,710 $60,120 $98,510
Minnesota $79,100 $60,850 $101,610
Missouri $61,920 $47,350 $94,690
Mississippi $60,790 $47,210 $78,670
Montana $75,000 $60,320 $97,260
North Carolina $72,220 $51,420 $95,360
North Dakota $73,250 $59,810 $95,360
Nebraska $64,000 $55,040 $84,910
New Hampshire $77,230 $59,900 $99,580
New Jersey $94,690 $70,920 $117,990
New Mexico $78,340 $60,320 $98,660
Nevada $79,360 $61,790 $119,530
New York $96,170 $61,260 $127,080
Ohio $74,080 $59,540 $94,690
Oklahoma $62,170 $47,960 $79,940
Oregon $99,410 $76,180 $127,680
Pennsylvania $76,940 $59,640 $98,680
Rhode Island $78,900 $61,340 $101,650
South Carolina $72,650 $47,860 $86,820
South Dakota $60,550 $47,470 $77,360
Tennessee $62,390 $48,190 $81,950
Texas $77,320 $59,780 $99,070
Utah $75,000 $59,640 $95,160
Virginia $76,900 $59,170 $100,990
Vermont $75,380 $59,640 $98,030
Washington $96,980 $74,070 $127,320
Wisconsin $76,560 $60,060 $98,970
West Virginia $62,390 $47,450 $87,440
Wyoming $75,000 $59,650 $98,140

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Most infection control nurses are RNs, although you can also work in this role—and increase your earning potential—by earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and/or becoming a nurse practitioner.

“Your salary is based upon the organization’s budget, your roles and responsibilities, education, and experience,” McElheny explains. “Typically, I see a range of $50,000 to $95,000 for an infection control nurse.”

Career Outlook

“Infection prevention and control have become more critical than ever,” McElheny says. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of this role. In addition, hospital-acquired infections are serious but not uncommon challenges for healthcare facilities. Organizations are invested in addressing these issues, and that attention won’t wane anytime soon, McElheny says.

In addition, state and national regulations require that most healthcare facilities employ infection preventionists.

The result: greater demand for infection control nurses. The number of registered nurse jobs in the U.S. (including RNs who are infection preventionists) is projected to increase by 6 percent by 2031, according to the BLS.

The BLS predicts that demand for infectious disease nursing will increase 6 percent by 2031.

“Facilities are putting more of an emphasis on this role,” McElheny says. “The people who specialize in infection control are being asked to steer the ship: to make sure all protocols are in place so organizations can run safely.”

Professional Resources

“To become an infection preventionist, you have to become inquisitive,” McElheny says. “Look at research, read articles, and become involved.”

She recommends staying up to date on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other resources include:

  • The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC): The professional organization offers continuing education, conferences, and certification prep.
  • Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology (CBIC): The certifying agency for ICN certification.
  • The American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC): The peer-reviewed journal provides the latest evidence-based practices and research on infection prevention and control.
  • Field-specific resources: Look to the professional organization that represents your nursing setting (for example, operating room or pediatrics) for best practices.
catherine ryan gregory

Written and reported by:

Catherine Ryan Gregory

Contributing Writer


apryl mcelheny

With professional insight from:

Apryl McElheny, MBA, MSN, RN, CASC, CIC

Clinical Director and Administrator, Laurel Laser and Surgery Center; and CBIC Board Member