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  • Writer's pictureLilian Chiwera

My journey to SSI surveillance & prevention passion

I started my professional career in pharmaceutical industries doing quality assurance / microbiology jobs. One of the highlights of this career was being involved in the validation of a new intravenous fluid (IV) manufacturing plant and associated quality assurance of production processes thereafter. This was a very intense and rewarding experience that made me to especially appreciate microbiology as a subject. ‘One mistake during the manufacturing process and subsequent quality assurance processes could be catastrophic.’ Soon or later, I’d be inspired to change the course of my career to become a nurse so I could actually see how IV fluids were used in real practice. I have to acknowledge that after qualifying as a nurse and starting my job in theatre recovery and cardiac intensive care units (ICU), I was rather obsessed with cleaning in between patients and remember politely asking theatre staff to wait until the bed space and equipment were clean and ready for the next patient. Interesting to note that today we actually have a #CleanBetween campaign being championed by Clinell™ which is aimed at improving patient safety through good environmental and equipment cleaning. I had such a fantastic time in cardiac ICU & recovery where I worked with one of the best multidisciplinary teams in the world. I remember being given tickets for the London eye by our management team as a 'thank you for being a good girl’ in a previous year :-).

My cardiac and general intensive care nursing experience gave me an insight into potential infection prevention & control (IPC) challenges and complexities in critical care and ward settings, especially around hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and surgical site infection (SSI) risks. For someone who used to oversee staff hand plating and sterility testing of pharmaceutical products in my capacity as a pharmaceutical microbiologist, I was reassured and delighted to learn that all aspiring link practitioners had hand plating at the start of their infection control link courses and had several other infection control sessions that enabled them to 'visualize' possible consequences of poor hand hygiene practices. This experience would in turn empower them to challenge poor practices when doing their clinical duties. Furthermore, the infection control teams were very active and visible, always championing good IPC practices to promote patient safety – phew! After a couple of years working in critical care settings, I applied for a role as SSI surveillance team leader within infection prevention and control team with a heavy heart since I was enjoying front line nursing very much. I 'fell in love' with my new role and continue to enjoy working with multidisciplinary teams and some of the most respectable individuals I never thought I would meet and work with in my life. I feel that my extensive clinical experience and the support I received put me into the best possible position to embark on an enthralling IPC (SSI) surveillance and prevention career. Hats off to everyone who's been part of my journey so far. I consider myself blessed to have an opportunity to work with managers who allowed me to grow into a role that I am still evolving in up to this day.

I have been in SSI surveillance and prevention since 2009 and hope to continue for a very long time. Over the last 11 years, I met some fantastic professionals via social networks e.g. twitter, via conferences and other various networking opportunities. I will mention names (with consent) of fantastic IPC individuals who inspired me in future blogs. The opportunity to attend networks, conferences and events, where I also shared work from my organisation enabled me to not only find lifelong friends, but also learn from the very best in the field and take back learning that influenced and / supported growth and expansion of our SSI surveillance work. I am very grateful to work colleagues, friends, infection control colleagues/leaders/champions and everyone from the following organisations / networks that I continue to work with in the infection prevention & control, surgical infection & SSI prevention, antimicrobial stewardship agenda etc:

1. Infection Prevention Society (IPS)

2. Hospital Infection Society (HIS)

3. Surgical Infection Society Europe (SIS-E)

4. OneTogetherUK

5. Cardiac SSI network

6 Oxford SSI

7. QIST and many others...

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