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YON 2020 Day 82: Irena L. Kenneley, PhD, APHRN, CNE, CIC, FAPIC

An Associate Professor with the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, Irena L. Kenneley, PhD, APHRN, CNE, CIC, FAPIC, is also a Fellow in the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. She discusses the role of an Infection Preventionist, which is especially relevant during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

All nurses are responsible for and trained to prevent the spread of infectious disease. As an Infection Preventionist, I specialize in preventing the spread of infections caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi. No two patients are alike and similarly no two pathogens manifest the same course of disease. Infection Preventionists work diligently to prevent outbreaks from occurring in all healthcare settings. It is an Infection Preventionist’s job to perform and educate others on how to prevent and contain outbreaks and to prevent further infections from occurring.


Keeping my enthusiasm alive has not been difficult. Medical care has become increasingly complex with multiple invasive procedures performed on a routine basis. This increases the risk of our patients developing an infection. Many of these infections (up to 70 percent) are preventable. Research has shown that Infection Preventionists make health care safer and more affordable by preventing patient suffering, loss of life, and lowering the cost of health care.


We are currently in the middle of a pandemic attributed to the coronavirus outbreak. One of the most critical roles of the Infection Preventionist is instructing healthcare workers about the proper principles and practices relating to infection prevention and control — especially as an increasing number of healthcare institutions and accreditation agencies are more closely examining the competencies of healthcare professionals.


Healthcare is complex and nursing practice is constantly evolving. Lifelong learning gives nurses critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary to resolve issues we may encounter in the care of patients. None of us has ever lived through this type of pandemic before! Lifelong learning is inherent in the field of nursing, and especially in public health nursing from the perspective of emerging pathogens. As an advanced practice public health nurse, I know that a large segment of the patient population is over age 65, and there are more chronic health conditions today. Nurses must have the necessary expertise to care for patients and help them manage their illnesses. The current coronavirus pandemic underscores the need for continuing education and lifelong learning for all nurses.

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