Guest Author – Ann Marie Pettis, RN, BSN, CIC
Director of Infection Prevention, University of Rochester Medical Center,
Rochester, New York
Chair, APIC Communications Committee
I always wanted to be a nurse. You could say it was in my DNA because my grandmother and grandfather were both registered nurses, and my father was a navy corpsman in World War II. Being an “infection prevention nurse,” however, was not even on my radar. In fact, microbiology was one of my least favorite courses in nursing school, and I had no particular interest in germs.
Early in my nursing career, as a result of several Staph aureus outbreaks in the newborn nursery, I developed a close working relationship with the infection preventionist (IP) assigned to our unit. That relationship led to my recruitment to fill a vacancy in the infection control department. Ready for a change, and flattered by the IP’s confidence in me, I made the decision to “give it a try.”
Thirty-two years later, I remain amazed at the new challenges and opportunities for professional and personal growth that each day brings. In the field of infection prevention, you quickly realize that you are either moving ahead or falling behind. There can be no standing still in this age of mandatory reporting, evolving technology, and information overload.
My role as IP took me away from the bedside, but it provides me with tremendous satisfaction because I am a source of vital information to keep others safe from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Early on, I felt a bit like the “Maytag Repair Man.” It was a lonely job as we struggled to get others to pay attention to HAI prevention. It was a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” because the attention infection prevention is now getting can feel overwhelming. IPs who obtain the best outcomes for patients become students of the science of motivation. To achieve true success, one must be an influencer rather than an enforcer.
My most memorable opportunity came during the APIC 2003 Annual Conference when the Canadian Ministry urgently requested IPs to come to Toronto to assist during the SARS epidemic. The chance to serve with these healthcare heroes was both life-changing and a great honor.
Being an IP undeniably brings many challenges, but the privilege of impacting the health and safety of patients, staff, and the community by protecting them from infection more than compensates.