Infection Control Nurse (ICN) at a Glance
What’s the Demand for Infection Control Nurses?
As we’ve seen in widespread outbreaks, like Ebola, and global pandemics, such as COVID-19, the more experienced people we have in infection-related positions, the better. And while such massive infection threats thankfully may not be common, ICNs are still indispensable members of everyday medical teams, ensuring that our healthcare centers are safe and sanitary for everyone who walks in their doors.
How Do You Become an Infection Control Nurse?
An Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the standard minimum requirement for ICNs, but many employers prefer prospective hires to hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN). As with most nursing specialties, before entering a specialized field, you must first spend at least one year working as a registered nurse to build a solid base of hands-on experience. Then, once you have the necessary education and training, you’ll need to pass a certification exam, courtesy of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Once complete, you’ll be ready to begin your journey as a registered Infection Control Nurse.
Remember, the more informed and engaged you are, the more valuable you are in any healthcare situation. Your skill at communicating best practices and potential risks, and your ability to come up with effective plans of action during infection-based emergencies, will make you essential to whatever institution you’re working in.
Quite often, if people are having difficulties or admissions, they will call us for ideas on medical countermeasures or on clinical management."
The role of an Infection Control Nurse can vary depending on where you’re working, but the overarching responsibility is infection prevention and management. It’s your job to stay informed, be proactive and communicate effectively with your patients and colleagues.
As an ICN, you’ll analyze infection data, facts and trends, and share your findings with other healthcare professionals. This can mean reading academic articles, connecting with colleagues who may have relevant findings, and staying up to date on any announcements via the CDC. Information is your friend! Make time to stay as up to date on new practices and findings as possible, so you can be prepared for anything.
You’ll educate your colleagues and patients on how to control and prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases. In this role, you’ll create and share sanitation plans to be implemented at your healthcare facility, and any other relevant community locations. If an infectious disease poses a threat outside the walls of these facilities, you’ll work with your community leaders to educate the broader public on how to ensure their health and safety.
As one of the most informed professionals on this topic, it’s also your responsibility to teach and reinforce infection control practices to fellow and future ICNs, and other medical professionals. In this capacity, you’ll act as a liaison between practicing medical officials and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is where clear and effective communication skills are of the utmost importance, as you can profoundly influence how doctors address a potential infectious threat.
As an ICN, you’ll also work with scientists and doctors to study and identify the bacteria of infectious diseases and find new ways to treat or eliminate these illnesses. This research relies heavily on your ability to understand the composition and origins of potentially infectious pathogens, and can be the key to creating new practices that can better protect present and future patients.
As relied-upon problem solvers, Infection Control Nurses are usually among the most impactful innovators. Whether it’s coming up with new handwashing practices or working with scientists to design new protective gear, ICNs are constantly creating new and safer ways to practice medicine and protect their patients.
Ambulatory and Outpatient Care CentersICNs can function in ambulatory and outpatient care centers as both hands-on nurses and general consultants. In these centers, which tend to have lots of traffic, it’s especially important to have ICNs on board who can monitor and implement proper sanitary practices.
Home Care & HospiceHome care and hospice services have grown quickly in recent years, because evidence shows that shorter stays in hospitals and ambulatory centers greatly reduce the risk of infection. As a result, ICNs are being leaned on to bring their expertise from large healthcare centers into patients’ homes—educating them and their caretakers on continued safe practices, and assisting in creating viable prevention plans.
HospitalsIn hospitals, ICNs work to maintain best practices throughout the building. This means keeping all employees up to date on proper sanitation practices, new findings that they should be aware of, and working with hospital administration to implement measures necessary to ensure patient and staff safety. During mass outbreaks, like COVID-19, Infection Control Nurses are called on to help adjust these measures to best address the infection at large.
Long-Term Care CentersIn long-term care centers, ICNs mainly function as Infection Preventionists. These centers are usually occupied by people with a range of health risks, and it’s the job of the ICN to make sure no patient’s safety is being overlooked with the current sanitary practices. This is a very strategic role, and requires constant adjustments and oversight depending on the patients under their care.
Get an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Depending on if you choose to earn your ADN or BSN, your core academic journey to becoming an Infection Control Nurse can take two to four years. If you decide to pursue your education further by earning your Master's in Public Health (MPH), this will add two to five years, based on the intensity of your program.
Pass the NCLEX-RN and work as a Registered Nurse.
To become an ICN, you must have at least one year of experience as a Registered Nurse. That’s before you apply for an MPH program, if that’s the path you choose to take.
Work as a staff nurse in Infection Control.
This is the time to observe and learn from ICNs to see how to best execute the many demands of the job. Be attentive and engaged, and use the knowledge you gain to inform future decisions.
Pass your Infection Control Certification Exam from the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Passing this exam shows future employers that you’ve mastered core competencies, and know best practices surrounding Infection control and preventive care. This is a field with rapidly changing information, so it’s important to make it clear that you’re informed on all aspects of modern methods of care.
You’re ready to work as a ICN.
Now you’re about to join the ranks of some of the most innovative and forward thinking individuals within the medical field.
You’ll be a constant and valued resource to your colleagues, patients, and communities.
American Journal of Infection Control
Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
American Society For Microbiology (ASM)
The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)