LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Mary Virgallito fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a registered nurse. But then she wanted more. So she went back to school to become certified as an infection preventionist.

“Every hospital has an infection preventionist,” she says. “[The] COVID-19 [pandemic] has actually made our job come to the forefront.”

Virgallito now stops germs from spreading at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, part of Keck Medicine of USC, in Glendale.

“I feel like I can save more lives doing this than I could doing patient care at the bedside.”

There’s no detail too insignificant for an infection preventionist.

“You’re looking actually everything in the hospital does,” she says. “From how we make food and deliver it. What happens to the patient’s trays.”

They watch, they teach.

“The equipment that goes into a patient’s room, how do we clean that and reuse that? How the nurses interact with patients, what is she or he touching?”

They monitor, they investigate.

“What are they putting on, how are they taking it off? Is it done so in a fashion that’s safe where they don’t contaminate themselves?”

Of all the STEAM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — Virgallito relies most on science.

“I was always a science nerd. I loved biology,” she says. “Never when I got my nursing degree did I ever know that this was actually a career I could choose.”

Even before COVID-19, the demand for superbug fighters like Virgallito was high.

“There are doctors and nurses facing a new threat we’ve never seen before,” she says.

Now it’s more urgent than ever.

“Infection prevention touches every single aspect of what we do in a hospital. It’s really a cool thing to do.”

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