How to Become an Infection Control Nurse

An infection control nurse is a specialty nursing role focused on identifying and controlling outbreaks of infection in a healthcare setting. Analytical and managerial skills are used to plan and manage infection control activities. In addition, these types of nurses may educate individuals and groups about how to prevent infections. 

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, infection control nurses are more important than ever. This guide covers the path to becoming an infection control nurse, from educational requirements to career outlook. 

What Is an Infection Control Nurse? 

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse in this specialty, you may want to learn more about the typical infection control nurse job description. An infection control nurse—sometimes called an infection prevention nurse—is a registered nurse who specializes in preventing the spread of disease and caring for patients with infectious diseases. 

Infection control nurses develop infection control plans and protocols based on best practices and implement them in their institutions. They may also work as consultants to other healthcare professionals. 

The infection control nurse or infection prevention nurse implements procedures and monitors the effectiveness of those procedures. If an outbreak does occur, they are often asked to manage the situation.

Educating colleagues and patients is a key part of controlling outbreaks of infectious diseases. These types of nurses often share information from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and they may also analyze their own data to identify health trends. An important aspect of the job is communicating with colleagues, other providers and the public about potential infection risks.

Common Steps to Becoming an Infection Control Nurse

Your journey to become an infection control nurse starts with earning your degree as a registered nurse. After gaining on-the-job experience, you can pursue certification with a professional organization. At that point, you are qualified to work as an infection control nurse, although many individuals choose to pursue further training. Here are some common steps to becoming an infection control nurse:

Earn Your Nursing Degree

To pursue a nursing career in infection prevention and control, you need to become a registered nurse (RN). The minimum education required to become a registered nurse is typically an associate degree in nursing (ADN), but some institutions may require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

If you’re considering a graduate degree, the BSN route may better prepare you for further study. Whether you decide to pursue an ADN or a BSN, there are online programs available to complete your studies from home. 

Pass the NCLEX Exam        

After you’ve earned your nursing degree, the next step to becoming a registered nurse is to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) develops and maintains the exams for each state, and your state board of nursing will consider your NCLEX exam results when issuing you a nursing license. This is a significant step toward becoming an infection control nurse, as all registered nurses need to have a license issued by the state in which they work. 

Take the a-IPCTM or CIC® Exam

Registered nurses have two options for infection control nurse certification: the Associate – Infection Prevention and Control (a-IPCTM) exam and the Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC®) exam. Both exams are administered by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology

The a-IPCTM exam is the entry-level certification exam for registered nurses interested in pursuing careers in infection prevention and control, as well as others interested in learning more about infection prevention. There are no specific career or education requirements to apply for the exam. 

Registered nurses who meet certain requirements can take the CIC® certification. Applicants are required to hold a post-secondary degree in a health field, and need to have completed at least one year of full-time employment or two years of part-time employment in an infection prevention role. Completion of 3,000 hours of infection prevention work in the past three years is also acceptable. The CIC® certification is valid for five years after passing the exam.

Obtain an Advanced Nursing Degree or Further Training

Infection control nurses may choose to continue their education with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. MSN degrees and DNP degrees are designed to help nurses advance their careers by allowing them to focus on certain specializations. There are online programs for both types of degree that allow you the flexibility of advancing your education while continuing to work full time or part time.

The CDC also provides continuing education courses in infection prevention training. Ongoing education is critical for infection control nurses to stay on top of the latest research. 

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What Does an Infection Control Nurse Do? 

The role of an infection control nurse may vary depending on where you work, but there are some commonalities shared by most nurses who work in this field. Some typical responsibilities may include: 

  • Analyzing data on infections and diseases. 
  • Developing response plans for an outbreak in a healthcare facility or in the surrounding community to manage the potential impact of the outbreak.
  • Educating medical and public health professionals on infection prevention best practices, and helping professionals prepare for emergency situations.
  • Working with government agencies (such as the CDC) to implement and enforce best practices for infection control.
  • Studying bacteria and pathogens to prevent future outbreaks.
  • Assisting physicians and scientists in the development of new practices for treating and preventing disease.  

Where Do Infection Control Nurses Work?

The role of an infection control nurse may be completed in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Hospitals.
  • Outpatient care centers.
  • Nursing homes and hospice programs.
  • Long-term care facilities.
  • Public health departments.
  • Emergency preparedness organizations.

Infection control specialists, like other types of registered nurses, work in large and small organizations, at patients’ homes or other field locations. 

Infection control nurses who work in facilities that are open 24 hours, such as hospitals, may be required to work nights, weekends and holidays. In addition, these types of nurses may be called to work on short notice if an outbreak occurs. 

What Is the Career Outlook for Infection Control Nurses?

The job outlook for registered nurses is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS estimates that employment of registered nurses will increase by roughly 9% during this decade. 

The demand for nurses is increasing due to the growing number of elderly people who require more care. In addition, the financial pressures for healthcare facilities to discharge patients faster may mean that more patients will be admitted to long-term facilities, opening up healthcare jobs in these organizations.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for infection control nurses all the more apparent, and the prospects for this career look positive. As of May 2020, the median annual salary for registered nurses was $75,330, according to BLS data. The lowest paid 10% of registered nurses earned less than $53,410, while the top 10% earned more than $116,230. When you compare these numbers to the average annual wage for all occupations—currently $41,950—it’s easy to see the high earning potential of an infection control nurse salary.  

Infection Control Nurse FAQs 

Before you decide to pursue a career as an infection control nurse, it’s important to thoroughly research the role and its responsibilities. Below, we answer some commonly asked questions about infection control nurses, from education to job outlook to required skills.

Is a career in infection control nursing worth it?

A career in infection control nursing can be rewarding and lucrative, but it’s up to you to decide whether this career would be the right fit for you. Becoming an infection control nurse may require additional training and certification, and you’ll be expected to perform a broad range of infection control nurse responsibilities beyond average nursing duties. This career path provides an opportunity to be innovative and allows you to make a difference in the well-being of your community.

What skills are needed to be an infection control nurse?

Infection control nurse daily activities may include project management, organization, research and communication. Critical thinking skills and the ability to stay stable in emergency situations are also crucial for this role. Successful infection control nurses are detail-oriented and communicate disease prevention best practices effectively to ensure the safety of their patients.

Are there specific infection control nursing programs?

Becoming an infection control nurse typically requires a nursing degree, relevant job experience and an optional certification from the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, but there are a few nursing programs specific to infection control. While not required, these types of programs may help set you up for success in a nursing career in infection control. Alternatively, you have the option of pursuing continuing education through the CDC to learn more about this aspect of healthcare.

Last updated December 2021.