Becoming a Nurse Epidemiologist
|Degree Level||Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree; employers may prefer nurses with bachelor's-level training|
|Experience||3-5 years of clinical experience|
|Licensure and Certification||Licensure required in every state; voluntary certification available|
|Key Skills||Patience, compassion, and emotional stability; ability to juggle multiple tasks; attention to detail; critical-thinking and communication skills; knowledge of infection control measures; expertise with hypodermic needles, catheters, spirometers, and related nursing equipment; knowledge of electronic medical record software|
|Salary||67,490 (2015 median salary for all registered nurses)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online job postings (December 2012), Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, O*Net Online
Nurse epidemiologists who work in hospitals strive to provide optimal patient care while reducing the risk of infection for patients, staff members, and visitors. These professionals conduct epidemiological investigations, review patients for potential infection control risks, and monitor patient care activities to identify risks of infection transmission. They may also work with other departments to create relevant policies and procedures.
As with other medical professionals, there is a risk of exposure to infectious diseases when working with ill patients. Nurses usually work at least a full-time schedule, though hours are frequently more than 40 per week and often include longer than 8- hour shifts. Additionally, work schedules in hospitals may include evening, overnight, and weekend shifts.
Nurse epidemiologists must have some key skills to work in this profession. They include:
- Ability to juggle multiple tasks
- Critical thinking
- Attention to detail
- Communication skills
- Emotional stability
- Knowledge of infection control measures
- Expertise with hypodermic needles, spirometers, and other nursing equipment
- Knowledge of electronic medical record software
Nurse epidemiologists are registered nurses, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $67,490.
Get a Bachelor's Degree
Aspiring nurses must complete an accredited program in nursing, and many employers of nurse epidemiologists prefer candidates who hold a bachelor's degree. Nursing programs include coursework in anatomy, biology, chemistry, nutrition, behavioral sciences, and psychology. In addition to classroom lectures, hands-on clinical experience in a supervised hospital setting is required.
Every state requires nurses to be licensed, and employers of nurse epidemiologists prefer applicants who hold registered nursing licensure. After graduating from an accredited nursing program, aspiring nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam takes several hours to complete and covers safety measures, infection control, health information promotion, and basic patient care.
Registered nurses usually gain professional experience before specializing in a sub-field, like epidemiology. Most RNs start out as staff nurses in community health centers, clinics, or hospitals. Job duties include taking patient histories, administering medications and treatments, observing patients, maintaining accurate charts, and teaching patients and families about injury or illness management.
Employers usually require applicants for nurse epidemiologist jobs to have some experience in controlling and preventing infection in a hospital or clinic setting. Nurses may consider attending their hospital's Infection Control Committee meetings or looking for job opportunities in their facility's infection control or epidemiology department.
In most states, nurses need to maintain their licenses by earning continuing education credits. Aspiring nurse epidemiologists may consider taking seminars or courses in infection control.
The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (CBIC) offers the Certified in Infection Control designation. Although it's usually voluntary, many employers prefer hiring certified nurse epidemiologists; some employers require it.
Applicants for this credential must have a current license or certification in a healthcare profession. Although there is no set amount of prior experience required, the CBIC recommends having at least two years of full-time experience in infection control. Applicants are required to pass an exam that covers six core competency areas, including identification of infectious disease processes and epidemiologic investigation.
The CBIC does not accept continuing education credits; individuals must take a certification exam every five years. The CBIC allows re-certification candidates to take either a proctored exam or a more challenging at-home exam.
Although having an advanced degree is not a strict requirement for nurse epidemiologists, nurses with experience, certification, and an advanced degree may have a competitive edge in the job market. To be eligible to enter a master's degree program in epidemiology or public health, a bachelor's degree is required.
To sum up, a nurse epidemiologist must first become a registered nurse by completing a nursing program and gaining licensure. Then with clinical experience in a sub-field like epidemiology, an RN can become a nurse epidemiologist.