Editor’s note: Allison Rak is the CEO of Vatoca, an insights and innovation firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Years ago a friend was hired for an entry-level job at a government agency. Her first role was pretty mundane – she was assigned to study satellite images of caves in Afghanistan. A few months into the job, 9/11 happened and Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding in one of those caves. Suddenly, much to her surprise, my friend’s obscure expertise became one of the most relevant skill sets around.

Another friend is a sociologist with a Ph.D. on race. He’s been studying and teaching on the subject for years, and recently launched a consulting firm dedicated to teaching individuals and corporations how to recognize their privilege. His work has always been relevant and interesting, but is suddenly extraordinarily valuable and in-demand.

For years, I’ve been doing research with a relatively obscure subset of the health care industry: infection preventionists (IPs.) These are the folks whose jobs and lives are dedicated to reducing and eliminating the spread of infection in health care settings. Like my friends mentioned above, their work has always been important and valuable, but as our world has suddenly changed, IPs’ place in it has changed as well. If you aren’t yet aware of what an IP does and why you should be talking with them, now might be the time to learn. 

When I first started working with IPs they were called ICs or ICPs, which stood for infection control practitioners. An individual hospital tended to have one or two ICs – often working in a closet-like office in the basement of the building – who seemed to spend a good portion of their day monitoring people’s compliance with protocols such as hand hygiene. An IC may have been a bit of an unsung hero who toiled away serving an important, if unappreciated role. 

Over the past 10 years or so a series of regulato...