In the United States, infection control nurses are a critical defense against contagious diseases that can proliferate in medical facilities. In contemporary health care settings, nurses often assume nontraditional roles such as medical sanitation and waste management. These responsibilities require nursing professionals to understand and comply with infection control protocols that protect patients and themselves from emerging health care threats.
An Overview of Infection Control Certification
The American Nurses Association (ANA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and as many as 20 nursing organizations have partnered to form the Nursing Infection Control Education Network (NICE), which aims to empower nurses in protecting patients and themselves with real-time data and infection control training. The objective of the training is to improve compliance with infection control practices and heighten the confidence of nurses who work with patients who have contracted highly infectious and dangerous diseases.
Candidates who successfully pass the certification exam demonstrate that they possess proficiency in the real-life implementation of infection prevention and control as well as health care epidemiology. The board designed the certification as an assessment for individuals who are responsible for infection prevention and control initiatives in various facilities.
To qualify for initial certification, health professionals must meet several requirements, such as including experience in infection prevention and control at his or her current workplace with the individual’s employer listing this responsibility within his or her job description. Additionally, certification candidates must have earned a postsecondary degree at an accredited two- or four-year higher learning institution.
The board also recommends that certification candidates have two years of experience in each of the following three areas: identifying infectious disease processes, conducting surveillance and epidemiologic investigations, and preventing and mitigating the proliferation of infectious agents. There is no specific period that constitutes sufficient experience, however. Finally, certification candidates must meet two of five remaining criteria: employment in the health care field; management and communication; education and research; environment of care; and cleaning, sterilizing, disinfecting, or inducing asepsis in the caregiving setting.
Along with their exam application, certification candidates must submit an attestation statement that is dated and signed by his or her current superior and includes college or university transcripts, a curriculum vitae (CV) or resume, and his or her current official job description.
How Nurses Mitigate the Spread of Infections
Nurses assume an important responsibility in preventing hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) by using evidence-based infection control practices, conducting infection mitigation research, and educating patients about how to protect themselves from infections. Additionally, nurses advocate for patients by supporting change initiatives that improve patient care standards.
The tools that nursing professionals use to promote patient safety vary. For example, they implement universal precautions to maintain a safe, sterile hospital environment. This prevents the spread of blood pathogens when medical professionals deliver treatments to patients. Nursing professionals also apply precautions to protect against infections transmitted through several other types of body fluids, such as cerebrospinal fluid, amniotic fluids, semen, vaginal discharges, and any other bodily fluids containing blood. It is suggested that nursing professionals wear protective garments when delivering treatment that involves possible contact with blood. Thorough handwashing is also suggested to prevent the spread of infections. Incidentally, this practice is the most important intervention available to practitioners.
Creating a Safe Environment
To maintain a safe treatment environment, nurses practice several bedside interventions. Additionally, hospital administrators support patient safety by establishing a workplace culture where managers do not penalize employees for reporting errors and near misses. Instead, administrators nurture an environment where employees feel comfortable with providing such information. This open environment makes it easier for health care administrators to identify opportunities for organizational improvement.
Despite the current organizational culture, all nurses should become familiar with their employers’ error-reporting policies and procedures. Additionally, nurses should make safety a part of their daily work ethic. Finally, by focusing on tasks, nurses can reduce errors and increase patient safety.
Effective training can improve infection control in hospitals and increase nurse knowledge and confidence when treating infected or possibly infected patients. Additionally, nurses who learn infection control practices can serve in a leadership role by showing peers how to deliver treatments safely. However, it’s a continuous safety state of mind that makes the caregiving environment safer for all stakeholders.
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