Infection Prevention Intern, Location: Yale New Haven Hospital, New Haven; Funding: YSPH Summer Fellowship Award
What is your career goal?
After graduating, I would like to work as an infection preventionist in a hospital setting and eventually gain my certificate in infection control (CIC). As a long-term goal, I would like to go back to school to earn a doctorate in public health.
What were your duties/responsibilities during your internship?
During my internship, I assisted in an outbreak investigation, assessed environments of care, conducted risk assessments using infection control risk assessment (ICRA), designed educational materials for providers, interpreted epidemiological data, and observed daily activities in different parts of the hospital. I had the opportunity to observe infection prevention precautions in unique environments of care, including the operating room, emergency department, psychiatric units, ambulatory care sites, and dialysis facilities.
What did you take away from your experience as an intern? What was the value of the internship to you?
Before starting my internship, I was tentatively considering infection prevention as a career because I didn’t see many infection preventionists with a background like mine. However, I was surprised to learn how valuable an environmental health background is for infection prevention work, from knowledge of air sampling to occupational health. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to experience the job firsthand, I am confident that I’d like to work in infection prevention again.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your internship? What was the most challenging aspect? The most surprising aspect?
Seeing that the interventions we helped implement result in lower hospital-associated infections over time inspired me. As someone who has had loved ones acquire nosocomial infections [infections originating in a hospital] in the past, I felt a real sense of purpose being a part of preventing one more infection.
The most challenging and exciting aspect was grappling with unknown variables. When starting an investigation, you rarely have all the answers. It was an engaging challenge to problem-solve when there were still gaps in what we knew.
I was most surprised by how many fields infection prevention intersects. For instance, an infection preventionist requires knowledge of construction, occupational health, environmental health, sterile processing, and emergency management, just to name a few things. Because of the position’s diverse skill set, you’re always learning!
How did your first year at YSPH prepare you for this internship?
My epidemiology classes up to Epidemiology II have helped me interpret and utilize epidemiological concepts fluently. SIR [Susceptible, Infected, and Recovered] models, epidemic curves, and Gantt charts are just a few of the epidemiology concepts I encountered interning in infection prevention. My elective choices during my first year added to my skill set as well.
In my first semester, I took Intro to Occupational and Environmental Medicine, where I learned about biological and chemical hazards that can be applied to a health care setting. What I learned about air sampling, personal protective equipment, and risk assessment in class was advantageous when assessing occupational health challenges in a hospital.
In my second semester, I took Health Care Epidemiology, which was directly related to my internship. In class, we reviewed past outbreaks and practiced creating an infection prevention response in groups. Groups would hypothesize possible sources of infection using the information given, and then design a hypothetical intervention. This way of practicing prepared me best for problem-solving when there was limited information. We even took a field trip to Yale New Haven Hospital to learn about infection prevention practices among specialty populations.
What would you say to a student who’s considering a similar internship?
If you have an interest in this field, are a lifelong learner, have an investigative spirit, and like being on your feet, you should definitely apply for an internship in infection prevention. There is a great need for infection preventionists from a variety of backgrounds – your unique background and interests would be a valuable asset. It’s a joy to see how public health changes lives in real-time every day.