Shawna Paro, BSN, RN, CIC is one of only 6,000 nurses worldwide who are certified in infection control and epidemiology – and it’s a specialty that has grown on her.
“I never imagined I would be specializing in infection prevention. I kind of fell into it,” the Winchester Hospital senior infection prevention specialist said. But as staff nurse and member of the patient quality improvement council and nursing practices improvement council, she became involved in lot of infection prevention initiatives. She found her niche in infection control when she realized the difference she could make in so many lives.
“It’s about preventing infections and developing a program based on what’s new in the literature and what’s groundbreaking, so you can help your organization improve so patients stay healthier,” Paro explained. “I used to think that infection prevention was a lot of data entry and chart review, but it’s really a lot of talking and teaching the frontline nurses and other staff so they know what to do to prevent infection.”
Although infection prevention is important, it is a hard niche to get into because it’s so broad, Paro said. “You dip your fingers into absolutely everything: from facilities and crawling through spaces to identifying points of penetration for mold, to going into operating rooms and monitoring the compliance of surgeons and nurses with reference to sterilization,” she said.
Paro, who has worked at Winchester Hospital for over a decade, started as a staff nurse in the intensive care unit and was promoted to nursing supervisor. She has watched the hospital’s infection prevention program grow and improve over the years.
“Winchester Hospital is cutting edge when it comes to infection control. The Infection Prevention specialists take best practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, and the World Health Organization and implement them. That’s what makes a good infection control program.”
Paro said her biggest area of focus is hand hygiene, which is the benchmark for preventing infections. “About 85% of infections are carried on providers’ hands. Everyone knows they have to wash their hands before they touch patients and when they leave the room – it’s all those times in between. I want to make both healthcare workers and patients aware of the importance of hand hygiene and how it affects everyone,” she said.
Here are three things patients need to know about infection prevention, according to Paro:
- Speak up about hand hygiene: If you don’t see your doctors or nurses wash their hands, ask them about it. “We want patients to feel empowered and secure enough to advocate for themselves,” Paro said.
- Look up hospital safety and quality scores. “Know you can go online and review our scores,” Paro said. “I don’t think a lot of patients know that we’re all ranked on Hospital Compare, Leapfrog and other quality sites. We publish our information to be very transparent. Know that you can make an informed decision when you are choosing who is going to be your healthcare provider.”
- And finally, stay home when you are sick. “This is not just during flu season. If you are not feeling well, you should not be out shopping. That’s how things spread rapidly,” Paro explained.
The married mother of one – a son – keeps busy. In her spare time, Paro is enrolled in a master’s program and teaches nursing students at Salem State University.