The Faces of Zero Infections

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Susan A. Dolan, RN, MS, CIC, FAPIC
Susan A. Dolan, RN, MS, CIC, FAPIC

Guest author: Susan A. Dolan, RN, MS, CIC, FAPIC,
2016 President of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)

October 16-22 is International Infection Prevention Week and this year’s theme is “Breaking the Chain of Infection.” As an infection preventionist (IP), my job is to ensure that we do everything possible to break that chain of infection. The aspirational goal is healthcare without infection. Zero infections. But, there are some days when I leave my workplace and wonder, “Did I make a difference today? Did I really prevent any infections?” IPs naturally focus on the healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) we weren’t able to prevent. But perhaps we don’t always stop to really appreciate what zero infections looks like in our daily world. Who are the people for whom we have prevented infections?

The answer to this question became very personal for me this past year. My husband Tom was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and had a 10-hour tumor removal and spine surgery with lots of complicated hardware, an ICU stay in a room previously occupied for months by a patient with CRE, mechanical ventilation, numerous catheters, radiation treatments, months of chemotherapy, too many procedures to count, a triple lumen central line, all culminating in a bone marrow transplant this past February—during the middle of respiratory season and a norovirus outbreak in the staff. As if the fear of losing a loved one is not enough, as an experienced IP, I could not help but be gut-wrenchingly consumed with the worry of Tom contracting an HAI and/or a community-acquired infection or being the recipient of a costly medication error. The glass felt more than half empty at times. Each minute of each day during this journey, I was his advocate, and during this time, I saw various safety and infection prevention bundles and practices being implemented in Tom’s care. Some perfectly and some not so much. Despite this, I began to see a glass that was more than half full, as evidenced by the state-of-the-art treatments and care he was receiving. I was now at the bedside—a place somewhat isolated from our usual daily work—where I could observe, discuss, and intervene in real time, as needed. With each passing day, as the germs were kept at bay, the glass became more and more full. Infection prevention does work! I am happy to report that during this journey, Tom developed no infections.

While we are most thankful for zero and hopeful for the future, it’s even clearer to me that we need to continue plugging away to improve compliance and elevate the science so we can see more faces of zero. Tom and the all of the other faces of zero are living proof that infection prevention can and does work. Visit and join our Twitter chat on Monday, October 17 at 2 p.m. ET (#IIPWChat) to learn how you can “Break the Chain of Infection.” Together, we can populate this world with more faces of zero—more faces like Tom’s.

Susan A. Dolan, RN, MS, CIC, FAPIC, hospital epidemiologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, is 2016 president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Ms. Dolan has contributed to advocacy, clinical practice, education, and research in the field of infection prevention for more than 20 years.

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

5 comments on “The Faces of Zero Infections”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Susan – your love, dedication and commitment to your husband’s safe passage through the hospital system is exemplary. I’m in awe! Your blood needs bottling! Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a pseudomonas aeuriginosa blood infection., which has infected my tibia. I have very strong grounds (circumstantial only) to believe that I received iv contaminated tap water enroute to hospital (instead of pain-relieving medication), after fracturing my femur at home. It is now proven that a local paramedic was diverting drugs for more than eighteen months, replacing the narcotics (fentanyl and morphine) with tap water. He replaced the tampered meds into the general supplies of at least six ambulance stations, including my local station.
    In Australia, ‘drug diversion’ is a term only known in legal/court circles, where it refers to a sentencing option for minor (first-time) drug offenders, diverting offenders through the mental health, rather than the criminal justice system.
    ‘Drug diversion’, as you know in USA well know, is a different, harmful, community health and safety issue. But I don’t need to tell you that!
    Drug diversion by HCW is probably as common here as it is there, but here in Australian hospitals or other health facilities, no-one recognises or understands the real dangers it represents to patients and the community.
    The paramedics who treated me were unaware there was a drug diverter in their midst even though management knew; they were placed in the invidious position of unknowingly administering tampered drugs to unknown numbers of patients.
    For the past two years, I have been attempting (unsuccessfully) to raise awareness of the problem; to press for patient follow-up and testing; for the education of HCW and Management; for fast-tracking registration and accreditation of paramedics, so in the future, they won’t be able to move on and continue their harmful behaviour.
    To date, my pleas have fallen only on deaf ears! As a former RN (OR) and retired Psychotherapist, I will keep telling and retelling my story, until I find someone with insight and understanding, power and responsibility to change the status quo.
    I hold a candle to CDC, Mayo Clinic and other researchers in the U S, whose research has educated me – about drug diversion and its antecedents and consequences, and stoked the fire in my belly to keep on fighting!
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    Barbara Cook

    Thank you for sharing your story. First I want to say All My Best to you and your husband. Secondly, thank you for sharing the story of your fear when you know the risks (my husband had open heart surgery 5 years ago, I understand being on the other side in ICU watching the staff instead of being the staff). Your post shows we still need to focus on education, education to the staff but also ongoing education to the pateints and their families to give them permission to Speak Up when they don’t see some one wash their hands or follow the correct procudure for caring for devices. When people know the risks they advocate for themselves and staff sometimes need those reminders to then reach that 100% compliance that we all want to see – so we can all be at Zero. Thank you again for sharing with us!


    Your recounting of this personal story at national APIC this past year brought me to tears. I was so moved by the love and sheer determination to protect your guy! We also remembered this story at our state meeting just last week in Columbia, SC when Linda Greene mentioned it again. It is one that will never be forgotten. Thank you for all you do every day in your job, as APIC President, and in real life. You are one of my heroes and wanted you to know it!

    Libby Chinnes

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Page last reviewed: October 14, 2016
Page last updated: October 14, 2016