According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 out of 31 patients contracts a healthcare-associated infection while they are hospitalized. This data suggests something that frontline medical workers know all too well: a certain amount of health risk is associated with hospitalization. That is why infection control nurses are so important to the healthcare system.
Infection control nurses (also called infection preventionists or infection prevention nurses) play a critical role in identifying and preventing infectious diseases, viruses, and bacteria in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Nurses and other frontline healthcare workers come into regular contact with patients who can potentially make them, and other patients, ill. This is why infection prevention is a top priority.
Infection control best practices ensure medical staff stay healthy so they can continue doing what they do best — deliver high-quality healthcare. During a pandemic or widespread outbreak, working in a hospital puts nurses and other frontline workers at great personal risk of exposure. Infection control nurses help mitigate that risk.
Although a master’s in nursing (MSN) exceeds the minimum education requirement to become an infection control nurse, it can be an ideal educational path for those interested in taking on this challenging role. An advanced degree can also open other career opportunities in healthcare leadership.
Learning the role’s duties and responsibilities, how to become an infection control nurse, and the profession’s salary ranges, can help you decide if it’s the right path for you.
What Is an Infection Control Nurse?
The core job function of infection control nurses is to mitigate the risk of exposure to infections inside a hospital or healthcare facility. They devise and implement prevention-based methodologies that minimize healthcare workers’ and patients’ chances of encountering infectious agents. Some of the most common methods infection control nurses use include the following.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): PPE is designed to protect nurses and other frontline healthcare providers from coming into direct contact with viruses, bacteria, or diseases. Common PPE includes masks, gloves, goggles, gowns, and protective face shields.
- Proper disposal and sanitation procedures: Infection control nurses devise a system of safe disposal for single-use PPE equipment. They also thoroughly disinfect equipment and resources that are repeatedly used, such as blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, beds, and hospital rooms. Strict handwashing and self-sanitation procedures also apply to all hospital staff.
- Proper patient placement and transportation: Infection control nurses keep infectious patients isolated from uninfected patients, thus mitigating the risk of transmission. Infection control is also a concern when moving patients within a healthcare facility.
- Proper handling of needles and other sharps: Needles and other sharps pose one of the largest risks of infection in a hospital or healthcare facility. Infection control nurses ensure they are properly handled and safely disposed of after use.
- Vaccinations: To be able to fight against diseases and viruses, hospital staff need to be protected from them. A key element of the infection control nurse role is making sure healthcare workers are properly vaccinated.
Infection control nurses must also monitor worldwide health developments to prepare for mass outbreaks of infection. Their work prevents facilities from being caught off guard when dealing with patients who are infected with a novel virus. Although infection control nurses mainly operate in hospitals, they also work in hospice care centers, outpatient care centers, and other healthcare facilities.
Infection Control Nurse Salary and Job Outlook
In the wake of the Ebola virus, COVID-19, and other pandemics, hospitals and other healthcare facilities have learned the value of infection control nurses. The role offers competitive salaries, and the job market is promising.
According to the compensation website PayScale, the median annual infection control nurse salary was approximately $73,400 as of July 2021. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t report specific data for infection control nurses, it reports that registered nurses as a whole made a median annual salary of $75,330 in 2020, with positions expected to increase by 7% between 2019 and 2029. Salary can be affected by factors such as education, experience, region, and the hiring facility.
How to Become an Infection Control Nurse
The minimum education requirement for infection control nurses is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which generally takes two years to complete. However, most healthcare facilities prefer candidates with at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. A traditional BSN program takes up to four years to complete.
Graduates then need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become registered nurses (RNs). After that, they need at least one year of basic nursing experience before applying for a specialized position in infection control. After earning on-the-job experience in infection prevention (either one year of full-time experience, two years of part-time experience, or 3,000 hours), RNs can sit for the Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC) exam to become certified by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Passing the CIC exam certifies an RN as a full-fledged infection control nurse. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) provides educational resources for those preparing for the CIC exam.
Although a career in infection control nursing is possible with an ADN or a BSN, considerable value may be gained by pursuing further education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
What Can I Do with an MSN Degree?
An MSN can open the door to several career opportunities. This advanced nursing degree further develops nurses’ abilities to treat patients and prepares them to take on leadership roles. Some of the most common positions that MSN graduates can obtain with this advanced degree are:
- Infection Prevention and Control Manager
- Infection Prevention and Control Director
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Clinical Research Specialist
- Nursing Supervisor
Salaries vary based on education and experience level, employer, location, and other factors. For instance, earning an MSN can lead to higher salaries. According to PayScale’s June 2021 data, those with a BSN degree made a median annual salary of approximately $87,000, while those with an MSN made approximately $96,000.
Many Paths to Success
Infection control nurses are critical to ensuring the continued safety of medical workers and patients by implementing proven methods to reduce the risk of exposure to bacteria, diseases, and viruses. They are vital to the healthcare industry, and their role is projected to continue growing in the coming years.
The best first step to becoming an infection control nurse is to pursue the right education. The Maryville University online Master of Science in Nursing provides graduates with the skills and knowledge to make an immediate impact in the medical field.
With courses such as Advanced Health Assessment, Health Promotion/Disease Prevention, and Health Care Policy, the MSN at Maryville offers students the foundation to successfully embrace a career in infection prevention.
Let’s be brave together. Begin your journey to becoming an infection control nurse today.