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Lessons from an SPD Educator: Educating Employees on Overnight Shifts

By: Casey Czarnowski, BA, CRCST, CSPDT, CIS, CER

July 8, 2020

All the facilities where I have worked have operated around the clock. Staffing of the department is required at all times and we have dedicated overnight staff to cover the department. When I took my first job as Department Educator, I did not know how I was going to bring continuing education (CE) and certification examination study to the overnight staff, whose shift ran from 10:30 p.m. to 7a.m. I assumed that recorded presentations, slideshows assigned in an online learning platform, and independent study of the certification text would be sufficient. I was wrong.

I was doing a great job with certification preparation for the day and evening shifts. We were steaming right along! I brought in engaging presenters for inservices on the fundamentals, which helped the technicians on the day and evening shifts to better understand their work. I was proud of the continuing education I was bringing to the technicians…until the department’s leadership brought me in for a 6 a.m. meeting. The overnight crew had some things to tell me.

While we did not hire into the night shift, all three of the technicians still had to take their facility- required certification exam. They were also very engaged in the work they provided for their patients – and they wanted to have the best knowledge to do their jobs. Unfortunately, they did not have a supervisor to go to with questions. The overnighters told me that their workload did not allow them to watch recorded presentations, and so the learning platform assignments just sat there, unattended. Fortunately, departmental leadership was involved in the conversation from the outset; although it initially made me a bit uncomfortable, it was good that the overnight crew involved them right away. At that meeting, I apologized and promised the overnighters I would come up with solutions within two weeks.

Working as a team with engaged departmental leaders, I addressed the two major concerns of the overnight crew. We first agreed to have me come in for part of a weekly 6 a.m. meeting that was already established between leadership and overnight staff. This would be an opportunity for me to have regular contact with the crew. Second, I agreed to establish bi-weekly certification study groups at 9:30 p.m. with the staff to give structure to their study, with the overnight technicians agreeing to come in early, off the clock, for the sessions (facility policy did not automatically grant worktime study for technicians). Our staff inservices were a trickier matter. We preferred to bring in Subject Matter Experts to provide fundamentals inservicing for CE credits. We did this on a monthly basis at the 3 p.m. huddle when day and evening staff were gathered. I began asking if our presenters could make themselves available for a 5:30 a.m. presentation; most of them were happy to arrange flights or travel to accommodate, and they were pleased to make as many educational contacts as possible during their trip to our facility. When they could not accommodate our schedule, I either recorded their presentation or requested their slide deck and presented the information myself during our newly-established 9:30 p.m. study group. In my situation, I was fortunate that the department’s leadership agreed to offer the overnight staff one hour of overtime per month for these CE presentations. Alternately, a facility could ask staff to cut an hour during the pay period to compensate.

My overnight crew was pleased with the changes that were made. They were happy to enhance their work with expert knowledge and all of them passed their certification exam!

I encourage anyone reading this who works in a 24-hour department and is in charge of continuing education or certification preparation to enlist the help of the department’s leader(s) to maintain meaningful contact with all shifts (even if it means changing the way you do your work or the hours you serve).

Casey Czarnowski, BA, CRCST, CSPDT, CIS, CER, is the Sterile Processing Educator at Stanford Health Care in the San Francisco Bay area. He also teaches the Central Services Technology program at Skyline College in San Bruno, Calif.