Public Health Vs. Infection Control (Part 1)

This is a 3-part series written by Madison Moon and Alice Silva, who are both Infection Control Practitioners.

Healthcare Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention when it comes to career possibilities that public health students are exposed to. It is a field traditionally dominated by nurses and microbiologists, representing 82.2% and 9.9% of the infection control workforce respectively according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) 2017 MegaSurvey. Focused MPH programs tailored to developing skillsets in infectious disease prevention and control are slowly gaining traction, but generalized public health programs tend to touch lightly on concerns associated with clinical communicable disease management, physiology, pathology and microbiology if at all. When they do, they tend to leave out the associated procedures and analytic/decision making skills necessary to coordinate effective individual patient care planning. Public health programs also tend to lack the varying communication soft skills necessary to navigate sensitive organizational politics and initiate collaborative accountability strategies that resonate with the myriad of different backgrounds of staff and patients in healthcare settings.

Thankfully, graduates of public health programs have some enormous advantages when practicing IPAC’s daily evidence-based and improvised solution planning efforts. Application of big-picture solution planning and effectively communicating the very real risk of small breaches becoming critical incidents is a key requirement to develop effective infection control programs. The clinical aspects of infection control can be learned quickly by keen public health professionals eager to identify the relative risks and liabilities linked with managing patients. These patients have varied communicable disease considerations and are in close-quarters with fellow patients, often with immunocompromised conditions related to their hospitalization.

The stress, uncertainty, and inescapable overtime involved in managing one’s first outbreak, major practice breach, or heightened surveillance period is the standard trial-by-fire means of initiation for Infection Control Practitioners. These moments determine if they will enjoy the work or are going to burn out quickly. Anecdotally, we have witnessed that public health professionals thrive when putting in the hours necessary to initiate meaningful responses to healthcare-associated infection threats, explore root causes and advocate future mitigation strategies. As we gain additional colleagues with public health backgrounds across care institutions (currently representing 4.7% of the IPAC workforce according to APIC’s 2017 MegaSurvey and ~25% of our 30 IPAC staff at University Health Network), we would like to encourage public health graduates to consider applying their knowledge of public health sciences to the world of IPAC.

Part 2 and Part 3 of this series discusses pathways we took towards leveraging our focused public health studies in epidemiology and biostatistics towards niche contributions to infection prevention and control in acute care hospital environments.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

About the authors:

Madison Moon (left) is an Infection Control Practitioner in the Solid Tumour and Clinical Trial Oncology program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network. Madison holds an MPH from Walden University and is currently pursuing a DrPH with focus on infectious disease surveillance. At UHN, Madison leads the VIRUS@IPAC working group aimed at improving the Infection Prevention and Control department’s surveillance and response capabilities. Madison has experience working with health agencies in the community, municipal, and non-profit sectors. He is the editor of the upcoming Industry Innovations bi-annual publication by IPAC Canada.

Alice Silva (right) is an Infection Control Practitioner in the Surgical Program at Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network. Alice has her MPH in Epidemiology from Queen’s University. At UHN, she is a part of a Quality Improvement working group within the General Surgery department that looks at how NSQIP data can be used to identify areas of concern and implement appropriate interventions. Alice has experience working with health organizations at local, provincial and federal levels.  She has interests in infectious disease epidemiology, infection prevention and control, quality improvement, and cats.


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