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COVID-19 Spotlight: Natalie Lopez, CHES®, Infection Preventionist

 

Natalie Lopez

COVID/CHES® Career Profile: Infection Preventionist

Due to COVID-19, now more than ever, health education professionals are using their experienced and specialized training to protect their communities. CHES® and MCHES® who have specialized training in the areas of community program development and management, certified health education specialists are becoming increasingly more necessary to prevent the spread of COVID.

We spoke with Natalie Lopez, CHES® and Infection Preventionist at Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center, to learn more about how certification has impacted her ability to assist her community with COVID prevention programs and efforts. 

HEALTH EDUCATION CREDENTIALING

 

What led you to a career in public health and prevention?

Natalie:  When I was attending community college, I aspired to go to medical school, but I didn't really know what major to pursue. I loved anthropology because I think humans are fascinating. There is so much to learn from us, which is why there are subspecialties to break down the topics. The cultural and biological aspects of anthropology were specifically of interest to me, and they will always be. However, at UCLA, I quickly realized that medical school was not the path I wanted to take, and I honestly was not doing that well in school. Outside of personal problems that affected my grades, I came to realize that I really did not want to make a career out of anthropology. 

How did you decide to pursue a career as a health education specialist?

Natalie:  Upon graduating, I realized that I had zero clue as to what I wanted to do next. My interest in healthcare remained strong, and with that in mind, I felt like public health fit the best with my interests and allowed me to have more options while figuring out what I really wanted to do. 

READ MORE: How to Become a Health Education Specialist

I took an introductory undergraduate course to ensure I had a true interest, and I fell in love. My professor had direct experience working for the CDC, and her professional experience made me realize that the possibilities would be endless with an MPH (and also how very cool of a job she had!). Long story short, I excelled in the class, received a recommendation letter, and was accepted into the MPH program at CSUN. I loved every class, especially the epidemiology courses.

What led you to a career as an Infection Preventionist?

Natalie:  During a temporary internship, I literally searched every job opening in all the surrounding hospitals, and one thing stood out and sounded incredibly interesting: Infection Prevention and Control

It was actually interesting to know that there was a department dedicated to infectious diseases in a hospital and never having heard of such after working in a hospital for so long. I found two positions nearby - one at Northridge Hospital and one at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. Northridge required an RN license, so I didn't qualify, but there were no restrictions for the position at Hollywood. The hiring manager turned out to be an MPH too! I got an offer shortly after and I have a friend for life. She actually recommended me for my current position with Kaiser. 

What are the job duties of an Infection Control Professional?

Natalie: Pre-COVID, my responsibilities involved a daily review of lab cultures to ensure proper isolation of patients cared for by clinicians. The lab cultures also gave insight to potential hospital-acquired infections. 

Once these are confirmed based on the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) definitions, they are reported directly into NHSN. We have a data mining software that is extremely helpful at filtering out important labs, which is crucial when trying to get ahead of anything that is contagious like chickenpox, measles, or tuberculosis. This helps prevent outbreaks and exposures in our facility. 

We look for patterns with microorganisms to ensure the transmission of microorganisms do not occur in those admitted to our facility. With each situation, such as a hospital-acquired infection, we investigate and try to problem-solve. We constantly give recommendations to improve employee and patient safety.

How has your career in healthcare changed as a result of COVID-19?

Natalie: Nearly all my responsibilities have changed since mid-March as a result of COVID-19. The day-to-day surveillance of lab cultures was delegated to another person while I focus on anything related to COVID-19. The concerns related to this pandemic have been never-ending. There are constant questions related to what the latest science is. 

Every department in the hospital and in the ambulatory clinics have requested in-service to discuss the latest on COVID-19 and how to protect themselves. Many departments requested walk-throughs of their operations to review patient workflows and what type of personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary for the different types of procedures. I have to be the voice of reason with PPE, but my opinion has not been favorable at a time when everyone wants an N95! 

 

This time has really demonstrated that sometimes over-detailed education materials are not best. When people are reacting to fear, the last thing they want to learn is about complex mechanisms of how microorganisms are transmitted. They need simple, concise information on what is really needed for one's own protection.

 

Do you think your role as a Prevention Infectionist may be permanently altered due to COVID?

Natalie: I am certainly concerned that things may change completely. I would be surprised if they did not. I think in the healthcare setting, we are going to really have to rethink our approach on PPE. Realistically, we should expect everyone to be concerned about doing patient care without PPE. 

READ MORE: The Value of Health Education Credentialing

Before COVID, we would say you should wear PPE as needed based on exposure risk to blood and body fluids -but, now, as a result of the pandemic, people will always worry that you just don’t really know. Their fear will be that a pandemic could happen again, and this is something that we will continue to deal with.

The role of Infection Preventionist is crucial to every healthcare facility, but the effectiveness of the program relies heavily on leadership and resources. 

I ultimately envision something bigger for Infection Prevention. I have frequently felt that infection prevention is needed outside of healthcare settings, and I think this pandemic has shined light on that. In healthcare, we truly need infection prevention to be part of the administrative suite.

Advantages of CHES® Certification for Healthcare Professionals

Thousands of healthcare professionals like Natalie have chosen to pursue CHES® certification which provides specialized training in the areas of:

  • Program Research and Planning
  • Program Implementation and Management
  • Healthcare Data Evaluation
  • Community Advocacy
  • Leadership and Management
  • Ethics and Professionalism

Are you interested in learning more about how to gain the skills and information you need to succeed as a public health education professional? NCHEC offers certification for healthcare professionals working in a variety of roles. Learn more about CHES® and MCHES® certification today.

How to Become a Health Education Specialist

Posted by Jessica Wessner at 6:00 AM
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