Medical professionals who work for the detection, deterrence, management, and elimination of diseases have some of the most difficult jobs in the medical field. On a daily basis they must be familiar at a moment’s notice with diseases both common and rare, and both easy to handle and dangerous to manage. For these individuals it is important to remain current with industry standards, both for the safety of patients and for their own safety. The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemology (CBIC) exam, administered by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemology, Inc., provides a way for medical workers in the area of infectious diseases to demonstrate their qualifications for executing tasks that require the utmost of care.
The CBIC exam is taken on a computer at an official testing location. These locations are found throughout the country (there are about 150 locations), so check the CBIC’s website to find a testing center near you. It can be taken Monday through Saturday except on holidays. This means you will not have to wait for several months for an exam date to come up. You will, however, have to wait for your application to be processed and approved. International applicants can submit a formal request to be assigned a testing location overseas. On top of regular fees ($350) for the exam, these international applicants will have to submit an extra $35 fee. Arrangements can also be made for applicants with special needs.
Once you fill out and send in all of your application material, it should take no more than two weeks for you to receive notification of your eligibility. If you are eligible, you will schedule an appointment and time for your exam online or over the phone. Given the numerous days on which regular testing can occur, you may be able to set up an appointment for the same week in which you are notified of qualifying. This depends on the number of people who have already signed up and the number of vacancies available. You could have to wait much longer if there are no available slots in the near future, but this is rarely the case. Your status as an eligible candidate will remain current for 90 days. After this time has elapsed, if you have not made a testing appointment you will have to repeat the application process.
The CBIC exam will be taken over a computer with a time limit of 3 hours. The test will be comprised of 150 questions, with only 135 questions counting towards your actual score. The other 15 will be used for evaluation. The topics covered will include identification of infectious disease processes, surveillance and epidemiologic investigation, preventing and controlling infectious agent transmission, employee and occupational health, management and communication, and education and research. Prior to the official CBIC exam a practice exam will be administered. This practice exam will also be done over the computer, and it is not mandatory to take it in order to gain entry into the actual exam. It will, however, give you a good idea of what to expect. It will also allow you to work through any nervousness before starting the test you will be scored on.
After the exam you will receive your results in about six weeks. Your score report will clearly indicate whether you have passed or failed. Individuals who do not pass the exam can send in another application along with another check for fees and take the test again if they are deemed eligible. It should be noted that the CBIC exam can be taken no more than four times per year. If you successfully pass the exam you will be certified for five years. Before the five years has elapsed, you will have to be recertified by taking the online Self-Achievement Recertification Examination (SARE). Then you must send in an application, fees, and documentation of your job to gain the recertification.
CBIC Exam: Eligibility and the Application Process
In order to qualify for the CBIC exam, several conditions must be met. Education alone is not enough to deem a candidate eligible for taking this exam. You must hold a job in the field of infectious diseases. The exam is geared toward the applicant that has had about two years of work experience, but there is no minimum amount of time in the work place necessary to apply. If you have held your job for less than two years, however, you may find that your level of knowledge is not where it needs to be in order to pass. Most people who apply will have worked in a hospital setting, but if you are self-employed, have on hand a list of your past clients, their addresses, the type of service they were rendered, the dates service was rendered, and the length of time you spent working with them. You will not be required to submit this information up front, but if you are self-employed you may be randomly selected to submit it.
In terms of education, there are two routes you can take to qualify for an exam slot. You can obtain a baccalaureate degree in an area related to your field, or you can obtain a license attesting to your position as a physician, registered nurse, clinical laboratory scientist, or medical technologist. Keep in mind that on top of this educational experience you will need work experience to even be considered for candidacy.
There is no getting around the required work experience; it is mandatory. There is, however, another option for applicants who do not have the required level of education. These applicants can send a formal request to the CBIC Executive Office to obtain a waiver application. This application cannot be found online, but the address for the CBIC Executive Office can be found at the CBIC’s website. You will fill out the waiver form and send it in along with a $30 fee and you will hear back within four to six weeks. Waiving education requirements does not always work, but if you are confident you have the necessary amount of knowledge to take and successfully pass the exam, this is an option.
If you think you meet all eligibility requirements, you are ready to apply. An application can be downloaded and printed off at the CBIC’s website, or you can apply online. To apply online go to the website for the Applied Measurement Professionals, Inc. (AMP). Click the “Candidates” tab and find the CBIC exam out of the list of possible exams you can apply for. Fill out the application as indicated by the instructions and submit it. You’ll find out soon after this, typically within two weeks of submitting your application, whether or not you qualify. If you qualify, you will have 90 days to sign up for a testing location and time. You will have to pay your application fees via credit card if you apply online.
If you choose to fill out a paper application, download and print it off from the CBIC’s website. Fill it out as directed by the instructions. Send in the application by mail along with a check or money order for fees. You will hear back within two weeks of the receipt of your application whether or not you have qualified. As with the online application, you will then have 90 days to schedule a testing appointment.
After you make an appointment, you will need to show up at your testing location on the appropriate date and at the appropriate time with a non-programmable calculator and two forms of identification, one of which must be government-issued and with a photo. The primary identification could be a driver’s license or passport, and the secondary form of identification could be a student id, for example. Electronic devices are not allowed in the testing area.
CBIC Exam: Study Strategies
The CBIC exam is not easy. It draws from a number of different areas and requires your thorough comprehension of everything from the transmission of particular diseases to the public instruction on serious risks of infection. One of the best ways to prepare for this exam is by simply getting experience in your field. There is a reason that it is standard practice that only professionals who have been working a minimum of two years apply for this exam. As you work, you pick up on standards and protocol and they become ingrained in your memory. This means that you’ll have less to study when it comes time to prepare for the test; you’ll already have some relevant information learned from experience. If you have not accumulated much work experience, there are certain ways you can study that will boost your chances of success. Let’s face it—even if you have ten years of work experience, you’ll still have to study.
Pick the appropriate material to prepare for the exam. Look through infectious disease reference books and start highlighting and making flashcards. Reference books will be the best place for you to learn directly about infectious diseases and their processes. Highlight anything that seems important, but don’t make flashcards of every term you see. Assess for yourself which terms or phrases are more important and write them clearly in large letters on your flashcards. Consult them daily, each day adding any new ones you have made. For a full understanding of health codes and standards, read journals related to your field and the standards guidelines found at websites for organizations like the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. (APIC). Flashcards will also work well for standards and health codes.
Form a study group. Preparing with other people for the exam will keep you on a study schedule and will give you the chance to see things from a different perspective. There are many different ways people learn, and while you may have a set way of approaching material for an exam, it could be that an area that is proving problematic for you will clear up when seen from the angle of study another student takes. Do not let a study group become a social meeting. Use it as a chance to challenge yourself. Compete (in a friendly manner) with your peers to better yourself and your knowledge base.
Buy a study guide. The CBIC does not sell or endorse any particular guide, but there are a number of companies you can find online that sell study guides for this exam. Buying a study guide can help you in a number of ways. It can put you on a study schedule based on the amount of time you have left until the exam date. It can move you methodically through material that will be presented on the test, and it may give you sample questions for each topic. Sample questions will give you an idea of what to expect and a chance to test how much you have already learned. The problem with a study guide is that it can’t encompass all the information you need to know. Using a study guide in conjunction with reference books, journals, and standards guidelines is the best option.
Take the CBIC practice exam over the Internet. This exam is composed of 70 questions that are similar to those you will encounter on the real CBIC exam. You can see what the real test will be like, thus reducing your nerves the day of the exam, and you can see how well you do with a time limit and realistic questions. If you can, take the practice test once, figure out your problem areas, work on those, and then take it again to reassess yourself. Keep in mind that practice exams are not free.
Continuing education is required for most jobs today. For medical professionals who are CBIC certified, this is no exception. Continuing education (or recertification, in the case of CBIC certified individuals) is for the benefit of the certificate holder. If it was not required to renew your certification, your being certified would be of no value—there would be no standards upheld that you could be measured against. After twenty years, your title would be arbitrary and hold no meaning. By getting recertified, you are restoring your CBIC certification to what it was the day you got it. You are reestablishing your credibility and qualifications for your job, and you are taking the opportunity to learn new things that may be affecting your field. You are giving your patients an extra reason to feel safe.
When you first pass the CBIC exam and become certified, you will have five years until you need to be recertified. The recertification process takes place over the CBIC’s Self-Achievement Recertification Examination (SARE). This is a computer based test. You will take it online in the location of your choice. You can take it at home if you prefer that. This test is composed of 150 multiple-choice questions similar to those you encountered on the first exam. The content topics are even the same as those on the original exam, but there is one principal difference. This is the insertion of questions dealing with changes in the field. You may find questions about new products, changes in standards, and alterations in healthcare practices. The best way to keep up to date and prepared for such questions is by subscribing to and regularly reading journals that are published in your field.
In terms of difficulty, the SARE is more difficult than the initial test you took to become certified. If the initial test assumed you to have a minimum of two years’ work experience, at the time you take the SARE it is now expected that you have a minimum of seven years’ work experience. While the test may be more difficult, keep in mind that you are learning more and more each day that you work. As long as you keep abreast of changes in your field and study to refresh your knowledge, you should be able to do fine.
In order to sign up for the SARE, you will need to download and print off an application from the Candidate Handbook, which can be found at the CBIC’s website. It may be more accurate to say you are purchasing the SARE rather than signing up for it. You’ll send in your completed application, along with the necessary fees for taking the test, and wait about four weeks. After the four weeks are up, you should get an email confirming your purchase of the recertification test. Follow the instructions provided in the email to log on to take the exam. You will be required to create a username and password.
Once you start the SARE, be aware that it is not necessary to do it all in one sitting. You will be given a certain allotment of time based on when you ordered and received confirmation to take the test and when your five year deadline is up. There is no time limit in the sense that you have to sit down at the computer and finish the entire test within three or four hours. Every time you log out during your window of time you are eligible to take the exam, your previously recorded answers will be saved, and when you log in again, you will pick up where you left off.
If you do not pass the SARE, you will not be able to retest, and you will lose your certification. This means you will have to take the original certification test again. First-time application, fees, and documentation of your job status must be sent in if you miss the certification deadline and want another chance to take the SARE.
CBIC Exam Content: Topics I & II
There are six topics that will be covered on the CBIC exam: identification of infectious disease processes, surveillance and epidemiologic investigation, preventing and controlling infectious agent transmission, employee and occupational health, management and communication, and education and research. These are broad topics that touch on many different areas. Looking at each topic individually will give you a better idea of what to expect on the CBIC exam and what material to focus on in your preparation and studying.
- The first topic is the identification of infectious disease processes (18 questions). There are several areas in this topic on which you will be asked to demonstrate your knowledge and comprehension. You must be capable of reading, understanding, and conveying the results of diagnostic reports. You must know environmental factors that suggest the presence of microbiological organisms and whether these factors indicate the necessity of close observation or not. You will be expected to be able to distinguish the differences between contamination, colonization, and infection. You must know which types of tests are appropriate for the detection of infectious processes and why. Recognition of the way certain diseases are transmitted, the signs of their presence, their incubation periods, and human vulnerability to them will be imperative to this portion of the exam as well. These are just a few of the things you will be expected to know under this first topic.
- The second topic you will be tested on is surveillance and epidemiologic investigation (38 questions). This portion of the exam will cover four basic subsections: the design of surveillance systems, the collection and compilation of surveillance information, the interpretation of information obtained from surveillance, and outbreak investigation.
- The design of surveillance systems entails your being able to coordinate a surveillance plan appropriate to a given situation, such as identifying a population and determining the services that need to be rendered to that population. It also entails the evaluation of this plan, the reading of lab results, and the accruing and sorting of information in order to determine rates of infection. You’ll be expected to incorporate your reevaluated surveillance plan into a hospital-wide setting. Through your surveillance plan you should be able to identify serious diseases that pose threats of transmission and determine what measures to take. These questions will typically give you a hypothetical situation that requires your thinking creatively to choose the correct answer.
- The collection of surveillance information involves your organizing and studying the results of your surveillance plan. Once the information gathered from your surveillance plan is organized, you will use this data to find out how often an infectious disease is appearing in a population, the rate of transmission, and whether it is something to worry about or not. Again, you can expect a hypothetical situation that you will have to work through. You need to be able to take many factors into account and think on a variety of levels to successfully complete these questions.
- Another subsection under the topic of surveillance and epidemiologic investigation is the interpretation of information obtained from surveillance. You’ll need to know how to look for patterns and statistical regularities and irregularities. Be able to compare this to findings in other plans, write a clear report of your findings complete with any necessary tables and graphs, and adjust your plan if needed. This is not to say you will be writing out any reports or drawing graphs in your exam; you will be asked questions that require you to demonstrate your understanding of how to do these things.
- Finally, you will be tested on outbreak investigation. Here you will be given hypothetical situations that you must think through in order to determine if an outbreak of an infectious disease has actually occurred. You’ll demonstrate your understanding of how to define an outbreak, publish your findings, and carry out methods that will help in the control and monitoring of an outbreak.
CBIC Exam Content: Topics III & IV
The first two topics covered in the CBIC exam are identification of infectious disease processes and surveillance and epidemiologic investigation. While it may seem that these are the most important parts of the job description for a professional working for the prevention and control of infectious diseases, there are certain policies and protocol for reducing the likelihood of a disease being communicated, and these are just as important, if not more important, than initially identifying a disease in the first place. The third and fourth topics covered by the exam are the prevention and control of infectious agent transmission and employee and occupational health. These topics are important for two reasons. They ask you to demonstrate knowledge that could be vital to your own safety in a job that puts you in close contact with serious diseases, some of which are communicable. Aside from keeping yourself as safe as possible, the knowledge you will demonstrate in these areas will also prove your ability to work with the public and keep it safe even when there is a threat of outbreak.
The questions covered under the preventing andcontrolling the transmission of infectious agents topic include the standard policy and protocol regarding the prevention and control of infectious diseases and the participation with hospitals and health agencies to establish plans that can be implemented quickly in the event of a public outbreak of an infectious disease or agent. You will also need to know about basic sanitation and disinfection, health care settings ranging from intensive care units to operating rooms, the risks of infection common to certain devices and processes in the health care setting, and the protocol for getting rid of equipment or instruments that have become contaminated. There is a lot going on here, and you need to fully understand everything that deals with the prevention and control of transmission of infectious agents. This means you need to know much more than the diseases themselves and their processes. You need to know about every area of the hospital, the equipment in those areas, and the risks associated with those areas and the equipment in them. In terms of sanitation and basic disinfection, you will be asked questions about keeping yourself free from contamination in the work place (sanitizing hands, for example) and the proper way to disinfect medical apparatus. There will be 39 questions under this topic.
The employee and occupational health portion of the exam will cover a range of factors you will need to take into account in the health care setting in order to ensure the public safety of employees, patients, and visitors. You’ll be questioned on how to screen for diseases and implement immunization programs, how to control possible contamination situations, how to statistically analyze the spread of infection in hospitals, and how to detect the risk of outbreak in a health care setting. There will be 10 questions on the exam drawn from this topic. Although it may not constitute the bulk of this exam, the material that falls into the employee and occupational health category is important for you and the patients you work with. Take this topic seriously and learn as much as you can on it for your own benefit.
The third and fourth topics of the CBIC exam, preventing and controlling infectious agent transmission and employee and occupational health, test your knowledge of ways to recognize and eliminate risk of infection in a healthcare setting. The remaining two portions of the exam cover management and communication and education and research. More than anything else, these last sections test your understanding of how to be a leader and communicate with those people you are leading.
CBIC Exam Content: Topics V & VI
The first four portions of the exam cover the identification of infectious disease processes, the surveillance and epidemiologic investigation, preventing and controlling infectious agent transmission, and employee and occupational health. The two remaining CBIC portions cover management and communication and education and research. Here you will be assessed on your ability to work with people. Professionals who work for the control and prevention of infectious diseases must be able to lead, communicate, instruct, and convey research to a team of other professionals working under them. They must also be able to communicate with and instruct patients. The last portions of the exam will challenge you in these areas.
The management and communication portion of the exam comes out to 16 questions. Under this topic you’ll receive questions that assess your leadership abilities. You’ll answer questions that center on the hypothetical planning of an Infection Prevention and Control Program within an organization or health care setting. Some general examples of what to expect include how to gauge your organization or hospital for risk of infection, how to create, maintain, and, if necessary, modify a mission statement for your organization or hospital that has clear goals, and how to choose particular resources and staff members over others for the implementation of your plan. You must be able to demonstrate your ability to evaluate your Infection Prevention and Control Program and make changes where necessary for its betterment. This means not only being able to take actual results of your program into account, but the feasibility of its working under a certain budget as well.
Communication is an important part of your job description if you are a medical professional dealing with infectious diseases. Whether it is the exchange of information between you and other hospital staff members or an outside organization, it is imperative that you are able to express accurately and succinctly any of your findings in the workplace that may have serious consequences. Expect questions requiring you to demonstrate your knowledge of how to communicate certain findings in your work—both in written and verbal form—to the appropriate body, be that an organization or supervisor. You’ll also need to know the proper procedure for communicating this information. Other bodies you will have to communicate with include patients and Risk Management, and then you’ll need to know the proper protocol for conveying results and findings as well. Finally, you will be given questions on the next logical step following management and communication: taking the feedback you receive and implementing quality improvement projects, complete with charts and diagrams where appropriate.
The last portion of the exam covers education and research, which comes out to 14 questions. The education portion of this topic will directly deal with different ways and methods you can use to teach different audiences about infection prevention and control. This audience may be a patient and his family, hospital staff, or an external organization. Some of the formats of teaching are lecture-based instruction, workshops, and one-on-one teaching. Know about how to approach these types of instruction, how to recognize signs of the success or failure of your instruction, and how to modify your teaching plan if you are not succeeding. In many ways this topic of education follows naturally from questions surrounding your communication capabilities. You cannot teach if you can’t properly express information according to the audience and required style of instruction.
Research is another part of your job description if you work with infectious diseases. Expect several questions on the CBIC exam asking you to assess results gathered from research. These questions will require critical reading and interpretation on your part. You’ll also be expected to know how to use research findings once you have interpreted them. For example, know how to make findings a part of your regular hospital practice and how to instruct others about them.