Nurses Spotlight: Barbara M. Topf, RN, MA

We interviewed Barbara M. Topf, RN, MA, an early pioneer in the field of infection control. She has co-authored several articles about infection control as well as presented nationally to nurses, physicians, and surgical assistant students on the topic and was an active member of the Association of Practitioners in Infection Control. She received a BS in Nursing from the State University of NY at Buffalo and an an MA in Nursing from New York University. While now retired, she shares with us why she feels that "once a nurse, always a nurse" rings true to her.

Why did you choose to become a nurse?

It sounds corny, but I always wanted to be a nurse. I can't remember when I first thought about it; but whenever anyone asked, that's what I answered. Looking at what I've done with my life, I think it must have been a desire to help others.

How do you try and create a great patient experience?

I think it's important to explain to patients what is going on and to answer any questions they have, to help them feel more comfortable in a stressful situation.

What do you think are some of the most challenging aspects of meeting patients needs?

Finding the time to talk to patients is becoming more and more difficult as patient care becomes more technical. (More machines and devices to calibrate, calculate, decontaminate, interpret, hook up, discontinue, etc.) Also, there may be a lot of specialists involved in a patients care and it may fall to the nurse to be sure that someone is coordinating that care.

How would you describe the ideal hospital environment?

I'm not sure how to achieve it, but it would be great if all sorts of supplies were available in a patients room or right outside, but not so out in the open that they would have to be discarded when the patient is discharged. It would save a lot of time spent retrieving items and allow more time for patient care. Also, better placement of hand hygiene facilities would make it easier for both patients and staff to sanitize their hands at appropriate times.

Who are your career role models and why?

I entered the field of infection control when it was in its infancy so I didn't really have any role models in that area. The first few nurses to publish articles about infection control were my heroes. Also, there were clinical nurse specialists in the medical center I worked in who showed me how to fill that role as an Infection Control Nurse. For instance, I learned how to develop collaborative relationships with physicians and the importance of being respected for your knowledge not your power.

Why do you love being a nurse?

I think the desire to help people is at the heart of being a nurse. Although I am formally retired, I firmly believe that once a nurse, always a nurse. I currently volunteer with several people-oriented organizations and find it hard to say no when a need exists. I also loved Nursing because as a nurse, you can care for the whole patient and can coordinate different aspects of patient care.

People used to ask me if I had been born 20 years later, would I have become a physician. I answer no; I think Nursing is an important profession (for the reasons stated above) and is not secondary to medicine.