The Pulse | Friday, October 21, 2022
Tackling Infection Prevention, One Risk Assessment at a Time
Over the last several years, infection prevention has evolved and continues to grow in importance. In honor of Infection Prevention Awareness Week 2022, we spoke with Jill Holdsworth, MS CIC FAPIC NREMT CRCST, manager of the infection prevention department at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta.
Here, she shares how she got into the specialty, ways she’s seen the practice change, tips for tackling risk assessments and more.
When did your infection prevention journey begin in your career? What drew you to the specialty?
I started in 2009 as a patient safety officer in a rehab hospital, and I slowly started picking up the infection prevention job duties. To be honest, I didn't know infection prevention existed as a field, which is pretty incredible — I hear a lot of people fall into infection prevention as a career. I found it fascinating.
I got my board certification after a year and realized this is what I truly loved to do. After that, I decided I wanted to only concentrate on infection prevention.
How have you seen the specialty evolve?
There’s definitely more of a need and appreciation for infection prevention, especially over the last three years. We can't say everything is about the pandemic, but as more things become publicized, more people and patients are appreciative of the specialty of infection prevention and the expertise that the field brings.
Not only that, I think more students want to pursue a secondary degree and are more appreciative of the infection prevention career path. They're thinking, “I want to do that too, I want to help people and I want to learn.” It’s a really interesting field to go into. And we really need it, because more jobs have opened and a lot of people are retiring early. We need people who want to enter this field.
How do you tackle challenges and work toward improvement?
We're big supporters of doing risk assessments to learn what’s going well and what needs improvement. People will ask where to get risk assessments — sometimes you have to create them yourself. This is a great way to start working with somebody, too.
Start with something small and make it very tailored, not a huge 50 page document for the entire department. If the cleaning of the department is what you want to work on, focus on that. Then, once you do the risk assessment, you can form an action plan together.
Whatever project you're starting, make sure to get baseline data, too. That way you can track your progress and show your success. Sometimes it's hard to figure out what that data is, but if you miss the opportunity to get that baseline data, you can't go back. I'm glad somebody told me that once. I always try to think of it at the beginning of my projects.
Sometimes we've had to work hard to figure out how we'll collect that baseline data because there's not an electronic method, or we have to come up with a manual solution. It's worth it in the end but it can be very tedious figuring that out.
How can nurses become infection prevention advocates, especially if there isn't a dedicated infection prevention team?
Some of the best things you can do is educate yourself. Follow the CDC online and make sure you know what their recommended precautions are. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology’s (APIC’s) website has a lot of great information, too. Educate yourself with correct information — not necessarily what you’d find on social media. Find resources you trust and stay up on them.
It's hard to say you’re going to dedicate your time to all of this infection prevention knowledge when you have to do your regular job. It's hard, but if somebody doesn’t have an infection preventionist in their facility, they can make sure there's an Infection Prevention Champion. This way, someone has dedicated time to learn and can share that knowledge with everybody else.