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Lessons from an SPD Educator: Don’t Leave Technicians on Their Own to Prepare for Certification

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

June 22, 2020

At two of my previous facilities, we typically hired new technicians with no experience, and we had the opportunity to “train them up.” Both hospitals were enlightened enough to require certification for Sterile Processing (SP) technicians and the new employees were given two years to become certified (and they studied a text to prepare themselves for the examination). At the second of these two facilities, I was hired as Educator and was in charge of new hire orientation and tracking progress of new employees as they worked toward certification. I believed that all new employees would be able to succeed in their studies, using the texts we provided for them, and make comfortable, consistent progress toward their certification exam preparation. But I was wrong.

As new employees worked in the department, they heard stories from more experienced or traveling technicians about how challenging the certification exam was. Those stories from their colleagues -- coupled with the perceived pressure of passing a test to maintain their position and generalized test anxiety -- led us to lose some new hires during the orientation period, simply due to the fact of the looming certification exam alone.

New hires were not permitted to use on-the-clock time for certification study, except during very rare downtimes. Fortunately, I had a weekly orientation meeting in place that brought all new employees together each week. I decided to use part of the orientation meeting to study the IAHCSMM Central Service Technical Manual and I assigned a new chapter to the group each week. We did a straight chapter rotation through the book, with new staff jumping in wherever the group happened to be. Although this meant that some new employees were beginning their text studies later than others, it still proved beneficial because they were studying a well-written educational resource and learning concepts for tasks that they would soon perform. Because our orientation period was 20 weeks long and the Central Service Technical Manual is 26 chapters, all new staff learned most of the chapters in a scheduled and structured format with a knowledgeable facilitator (me) leading them through it. They also learned valuable study techniques that helped them with the remaining chapters. As a result of incorporating certification text study into our weekly meetings, the number of new hires leaving the job over test anxiety dropped to zero. Also, new technicians had concentrated theory study that increased their understanding of the work and specific tasks they performed.

I encourage everyone reading this who is responsible for new hires and whose facilities have a certification requirement in place to work with departmental leadership to establish a regular group study offering to help guide the new employees toward certification and practical knowledge success. In my experience, this approach helps alleviate anxiety, establish good study habits, and deliver theoretical knowledge in a structured way that will not only help technicians attain their certification, but deliver great quality within the department.

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.