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The Illinois Poison Center – Literally a “SPI’s Nest” of Activity

Posted: January 24th, 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

No, the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) is not a clandestine arm of the CIA, FBI, or KGB. However, it is staffed by a team of well qualified “SPIs” around the clock.  So, what exactly is a SPI you ask? In the poison control center business, SPIs are “specialists in poison information.”  These are the qualified pharmacists, nurses, and physicians who are in the IPC to answer your emergency and non-emergency questions on our toll-free national hotline- 1-800-222-1222. There is a common misconception that our call center staff are volunteer operators who work on an as-needed basis. The truth is, these experts are full-time, specially trained professionals who absolutely love what they do. Pretty cool, huh?!


Now you might be asking why we call ourselves specialists in poison information and not the alternative “poison information specialists”. Well . . . basically the acronym “PIS” left a lot to be desired.  So, SPI was the next best choice.

All SPIs who have at least one year of poison center hotline experience and have handled at least 2,000 human exposure cases, are eligible to take a national certification exam offered by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC).  This certification exam covers many different poisons (plants, drugs and medications, bugs, mushrooms, chemicals, etc) and their treatments and antidotes.  It is a rigorous exam and ensures that poison centers across the country are staffed with hardcore poison experts. We are proud to say that 100% of all IPC staff are certified SPIs, or as we call them, C-SPIs.  The IPC is a regional certified poison center and we are required to have at least one certified specialist on duty around the clock.

Currently, all C-SPIs must re-certify every 7 years. In May 2012, four IPC staff members are up for re-certification, and the all night, all day study sessions have already begun. We are confident they will perform very well on this exam. Another fact reflecting the excellent quality of our professional staff is that the IPC’s SPIs consistently achieve among the highest test scores on this national exam (there are 57 poison centers in the country).

We also wish to aim the spotlight on another group of IPC call takers, namely our PIPs.  No, these are not the singers who accompanied Gladys Knight back in the 1960s.  Rather, they are trained allied healthcare professionals whose expertise is primarily handling lower acuity (i.e. less severe) calls from home and school environments. Years ago, personnel in this position may have been called poison information technicians, but then again being called a “PIT” is not a glamorous title.


And just to make the alphabet soup thicker and more complicated, two of our staff are board certified in clinical toxicology as diplomats of the American Board of Applied Toxicology (D.A.B.A.T.), or as we call them, “A-BATS”.  There are only 85 ABATS in the entire country (5 in the state of Illinois), so it’s an honor for two of them to be a part of our team. Additionally, the IPC is expertly managed under the medical direction of two very qualified physicians who are board certified in medical toxicology by the American Board of Medical Subspecialties (ABMS).

So why are we going through the effort of explaining all this professional nomenclature to you now?  We plan on focusing on various individuals in some of our upcoming blogs and highlighting their areas of expertise in our “Meet the Expert” series in March during Illinois Poison Prevention Month (stay tuned!).  Therefore, we thought we would give you the general overview of our staffing structure and an idea of the qualification individuals that answer your calls every hour of the day, every day of the year.

Now, when you call the IPC you have a better idea of who is responding to your emergency question and offering you some helpful advice.  Feel free to tap into this expertise whenever a poisoning emergency or question arises.  We look forward to serving you.

If you should require the assistance of one of our poison center experts during a poison emergency or just to ask a question call us anytime – 1-800-222-1222.

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