• Infection Control Plus-Article

APIC 2013: Our past heroes define our future

Saturday morning and we anticipate an expectant silence will hang in the air as almost 4000 members and guests gather at the world’s largest single infection prevention event, APIC 2013. This APIC is especially poignant for here we celebrate forty years of progress in the prevention of healthcare related infection yet at the same time we are no doubt saddened by the millions of others for whom we could not prevent infection.

Fitting for a major milestone APIC’s keynote plenary session opens with a combined presentation from 12 of our field’s historic and contemporary leaders. Each in their own right having made remarkable achievements in either science, practice or leadership. Individually each is a hero, collectively they represent a coalition of enquiring minds and dogged determination. Their unrelenting pursuits of improvement have provided contemporary infection preventionists and the next generations with a solid scientific base. As well they have given us hope that despite the emergence of ever-increasingly complex and resistant pathogens with technological improvement and better understanding of impediments to practice, healthcare consumers may once again hope for infection-free healthcare.

At the risk of overlooking significant achievements of any one or more individuals this blog briefly highlights the contributions of a few of those 12 leaders. In doing so Infection Control Plus offers its gratitude and respect to all 12.

Best known as the former Director of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr Julie Gerberding has made a remarkable and unparralleled contribution to improving the health of people around the globe. CDC is the world’s leading public health agency and  Gerberding’s appointment in the early 2000’s was testimony to her earlier work in HIV/ AIDS prevention and her subsequent seminal findings regarding prevention of sharps injury to healthcare workers. In 2003 Gerberding lead CDC’s response to SARs providing a calm and dignified leadership whilst many of the world’s public health workforce struggled to arrest this new and frightening foe. Now leading worldwide vaccination efforts for a commercial organisation Gerberding’s contributions to public health and infection prevention are unrelenting and likely to remain so for many decades more.

Few people realise that like many successful leaders Dr Gerberding has had mentors. It is fitting therefore that at the APIC 2013 event she is joined on stage by her mentor, Dr Richard Wenzel. “Dick” Wenzel is one of the most humble leaders in infection prevention. Factual, succinct and dry witted Wenzel’s accounts of early and mysterious healthcare associated outbreaks make for compelling copy. Those accounts have thrilled audiences in presentations in several continents. They have revolutionised the way we protect against and respond to many of the silent and often elusive pathogens that challenge and frustrate us almost daily. After decades of hunting and busting “bugs” Wenzel most recently applied his scientific and epidemiologic experience to the writing of a mystery-like novel whose storyline closely follows some of Wenzel’s more interesting investigations. As a scientific writer several editions of Wenzel’s classic infection texts have lined the shelves and now the tablets and digital memories of thousands of infection preventionists. Professor Wenzel we thank you for the gracious and inspiring ways in which you have shared your knowledge.

Sharing knowledge is the hallmark of several of APIC’s hand-picked panel none perhaps more than Dr Marguerite Jackson now retired but previously head of infection control in a large San Diego hospital. On the heels of the bloodborne viruses of the 1980s Jackson and her peer, Patricia Lynch, introduced a confronting new approach to infection control designed to protect healthcare workers on every occasion of patient contact. The Lynch/ Jackson model of Universal Precautions encouraged healthcare workers to assume that every patient presented a possible risk of infection and as such required workers to ensure appropriate measures were consistently applied to avoid direct contact with potentially infected blood or bodily fluids. More rigorous than previous measures, and with the potential to alienate patients, at the core of the model was the reminder to always treat patients with care, respect and dignity. Those three qualities exemplify Jackson’s lifelong contributions to healthcare and as she and many others within our field age and unfortunately transition from care provider to recipient our hope is that they continue to reign supreme.
True leaders don’t reign. Instead they graciously conduct their business inspiring with their strategic pursuit of goal-driven outcomes. No APIC President before nor since has exemplified this style of leadership better than Denise Murphy. APIC President in 2008 Murphy’s term much like her career reflected her unrelenting and selfless drive to grow the profession. Under her watch APIC’s budget increased substantially, innovative new partnerships blossomed and membership soared. More importantly Murphy’s Presidency gave the average APIC member hope. It showed us that with courage and conviction each of us could potentially unlock the leader within. Many of us owe Murphy great debts perhaps none more than I. For your lifelong commitment to infection prevention Denise and your unwavering support from the sidelines, from out-front and from across vast seas and oceans my sincere thanks and deep gratitude.

Crossing vast distances to spread the messages of infection prevention is a skill well practiced by Barbara Soule, a Past APIC President currently employed to head up the Joint Commission International’s infection prevention program. Over her extended career Barbara has visited and observed infection prevention practices in every corner of the world. In each her gentle and encouraging ways have inspired new generations of infection preventionists. Nations and world regions previously without formal infection prevention programs have embraced Soule’s enthusiasm now contributing much original science and information in our expanded view of the larger infection prevention world. Few infection preventionists have the winning combination of diplomacy and humility. Barb Soule you have these in spades and they may just be the greatest gift you give us. Thank you.

Other infection preventionists pursued both the world and the science, none perhaps as doggedly as Dr Carla Alvarado. Originally a lab-based healthcare worker alongside the famous Dennis Maki, Alvarado’s early contributions centred around disinfection and sterilisation with special focus on endoscopy-related infection prevention. Late in her career Alvarado changed course choosing instead to explore the then newly evolving field of human factors engineering. Her work around human factors brought fresh new perspective to how we approached common infection prevention issues of the time.  Her impact is symbolised by the many infection preventionists who now seriously question theirprocesses and workflows.

For the work of Jackson, Soule, Alvarado and others to reach the world for almost thirty years we relied almost solely on the esteemed publication, “The American Journal of Infection Control” (AJIC). As our profession’s official vehicle for scientific distillation AJIC continues to be at the very backbone of what we do and how we do it. For almost twenty years AJIC has been edited by Prof Elaine Larson from Columbia University, New York. Like her generational peers Larson’s contributions to the field have been selfless and unrelenting. Few infection preventionists will ever live long enough to contribute either the hours or the insights of Larson. Although humbly downplaying her role as the original contemporary advocate for hand hygiene with work pre-dating Pittet and the World Health Organisation, Larson’s legacies to the field and to individuals are impressive. She continues to groom aspiring young academics and always with grace and humility. Always willing to  question, Larson has helped us push through new frontiers, to rethink how and why our constituents and peers behave in particular ways and to more deeply consider the best ways to motivate and reward them. Respected the world over, it is easy to understand why Larson along with many other of Saturday’s speakers are in fact APIC’s international treasures.

Of course in singling out specific individuals there is always the risk and danger of overlooking the contributions of others who whilst not being individually recognised on stage tomorrow have nonetheless made significant contributions to our field, our now middle-aged profession and importantly helped improve the healthcare for patients the world over. These additional folks include but are not limited to Dr Bill Rutala, Dr Marty Favero, Judene Bartley, Pat Lynch, Gina Pugliese, Theresa Horan, Grace T Emori, Bob Gaynes, Denise Cardo, Carol O’Boyle, Candice Friedman, Mike Bell, Trish Perl, Phil Carling, Tammy Lundstrom, Russ Olmsted, Michelle Pearson, Bill Jarvis, Bob Weinstein, Phil Carling, Wing Hong Seto, Moi Lin Ling, Marcia Velmonte, Dr Nordiah Jalil,  Patricia Ching and the many others the world over who have made a difference. You give us at least forty great reasons to celebrate. Happy 40th birthday APIC.

By | 2017-08-03T14:10:50+00:00 June 8th, 2013|Conferences, Events, History, Leadership, Mentoring, Networking|

About the Author:

As Executive Director of Infection Control Plus Pty Ltd, Cathryn Murphy PhD provides independent consulting services to a range of clinical, public policy and commercial clients throughout the world.