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.
Pneumonia, influenza, catheter-associated infections, COVID-19: These are just a few of the medical challenges infection control nurses battle daily.
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.
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.
Licenses and Certifications
Most infection control nurse positions require not only an RN license but also certifications to demonstrate your knowledge of 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.
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.
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:
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 at risk of contracting, communicable diseases such as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis
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 earn a median income of $75,330, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most infection control nurses are RNs, although you can also work in this role—and increase your earning potential—by earning a BSN, 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.”
“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 7% by 2029, according to the BLS. That is nearly double the average overall job growth rate of 4%.
The BLS predicts that demand for infectious disease nursing will increase 7% by 2029.
“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.”
“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: