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Lessons from an SPD Educator: Why It’s Best to NOT Start Initial Tech Training in Decontam

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

May 13, 2020

Serving in the Sterile Processing department (SPD) for many years in an area of the country without post-secondary programs for the discipline, I became accustomed to starting new, inexperienced technicians in the decontamination area. I agreed that starting them in the most difficult area would be a trial they needed to pass. I believed that if a new technician could handle three weeks of Decontam, they would be suitable for the job and have the worst of the training behind them. I was wrong.

The technical nature of the work in Decontam [made more difficult by demanding physical work and heavy lifting and the challenges of trying to explain concepts through the social and communication barrier of personal protective equipment (PPE)] meant a dismal experience for both trainer and learner. While not common, we did lose good people to the hot, heavy conditions of Decontam. Further, it was difficult for even experienced and trained preceptors to introduce new technicians to the department while in Decontam, and some refused to train the first week of a new hire’s orientation.

When I accepted the gift of a new Educator position at a new facility, part of my role was to build up a permanent staff, replacing the traveling technicians who had been staffing the department. After my first new hire left after his first day in Decontam, I saw that I needed to try a new way. I changed the order of the orientation period so that instrument inspection came first, with decontamination second. Putting Inspection first allowed the new hire to be at the center of the department, seeing and interacting with all other work areas. Experienced technicians handle urgent tasks and turnover, leaving the new person to be able to work at his or her own pace. Without the barrier of PPE, new hires can meet their teammates face to face and get to know them in an easy way. For technicians who are totally new to the work, the instrument inspection duty allows them to become familiar with the basics of the tools with which they will be working. As a result, they become more effective when they begin the work of cleaning the instruments.

By starting the orientation period in a low-impact, centralized duty, we stopped losing new people to the work of decontamination. By the time they began to train in that duty, staff are already familiar with it and are more ready to jump in and learn. Our preceptors were happier to train new technicians who had a foundation of instrument care to build upon, and none of them refused the duty thereafter.

I encourage everyone reading this who is in charge of the orientation schedule for inexperienced new hires to not start them in the most difficult job of decontamination. Find a central duty in your department, which does not require as many PPE requirements, and begin your staff training there. Allow new hires to work at their own pace, with a trainer who is not required to advance the department work. Allow new hires to meet their teammates, and have their teammates get to know them as well. Doing so will build a stronger 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.