Infection preventionists had poorer mental and physical health due to stressors related to COVID-19

Findings from a first-of-its-kind study published today in American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) suggest that infection preventionists have experienced impaired mental and physical health as a result of stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, which assessed the health, well-being of infection prevention professionals and their relationship to workplace wellness programs, highlighted the need to correct systemic problems in hospitals and healthcare facilities that cause burnout and poor health, and to improve wellness programs and workplace culture.

Infection prevention professionals are responsible for reducing the risk of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in hospitals and other healthcare settings, including long-term care centers and outpatient surgery. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these professionals have had to deal with rapidly changing guidelines, dramatic increases in HAIs and workloads, and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and personnel, among other challenges.

Infection prevention professionals have been actively involved in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years, but there is still no study assessing their health and well-being and how it relates to wellness programs and workplace culture. This is important information because poor health and well-being among infection prevention professionals not only adversely affects them, but also negatively impacts the quality and safety of health care.

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk, PhD, chief wellness officer and dean of The Ohio State University College of Nursing and lead author of the study

Dr. Melnyk and colleagues designed a study examining the mental/physical health and lifestyle of infection preventionists during the pandemic and the associations of these factors with individuals’ occupational roles, perceived workplace wellness support, shift length and race/ethnicity. The survey was emailed to a random sample of members of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), the leading organization for infection prevention professionals.

Responses from 926 professionals indicated that the physical and mental health of infection preventionists was negatively affected during the pandemic, and that individuals’ professional roles, the level of support they received at work, and the length of their shifts were main factors. Specific findings include:

  • A large number of respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected their mental (74%) and/or physical (60%) health.
  • Levels of depression, anxiety, and burnout among respondents were 21.5%, 29.8%, and 65.2%, respectively.
  • Most respondents say the pandemic has negatively affected their sleep (77%), physical activity (64.5%) and healthy eating (61.1%).
  • Front-line practitioners (74.1%) and infection prevention administrators/directors (76.3%) experienced more negative mental health impacts than peers in other roles (eg, educator, researcher, public health practitioner).
  • Infection prevention professionals working 9-11+ hours per day were more likely to report poorer physical/mental health during the pandemic than their peers who worked <8 hours per day.
  • Infection prevention professionals with organizational wellness support are less likely to report negative mental and physical impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study’s authors suggest that healthcare organizations take multiple steps to better protect the health and safety of infection preventionists, including correcting systemic problems known to cause burnout and ill health among staff (e.g., shortages of staff), implementing targeted interventions to promote resilience and self-monitoring care and introducing shorter shifts.

“Infection prevention professionals have played an important role in enabling healthcare facilities to deliver safe care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Linda Dickey, RN, MPH, CIC, FAPIC, APIC’s 2022 president. The fact that so many people are showing symptoms of burnout is troubling and should prompt employers to adopt wellness promotion programs to retain these highly skilled professionals.”


Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)

Journal reference:

Melnik, BM, et al. (2022) Associations between infection prevention professionals’ mental/physical health, lifestyle, shift length, race, and workplace wellness support during COVID-19. American Journal of Infection Control.

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