Infection Control Today - 03/2004: An Instructors Guide

An Instructors Guide to SP/CS Certification Success

By Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CSPDT, CRCST

Healthcare providers have acknowledged with increased frequency that quality patient care flows far deeper than just direct patient contact. The behind-the-scenes unsung heroes of sterile processing/central service (SP/CS) are an integral part of the prevention of cross contamination. Recruitment, training and retention of SP/CS staff can be such a daunting task that managers must assume a proactive approach if they are to provide a high quality product to their customers on a consistent basis. But how can this be accomplished within the assiduous, high-stress environment of sterile processing?

Certification requirement is the key. If certification is not a requisite at your facility, it should be. Not only does certification of your technicians demonstrates to your customers that your staff has achieved an exceptional level of knowledge and expertise, it provides assurance that industry standards of infection control are not merely text in a policy manual, but standard protocol in your facility. Finally, certification inhibits complacency and allows your staff to endeavor to improve processes through continued education.

To achieve certification, you will need to conduct in-house training of your technicians to prepare them to pass a nationally recognized certification exam, thus confirming expertise in the field. Employing a simple four-step process, which I have found successful in the instruction of adult learners, can heighten the efficacy of your training.

Step One: Instructor Preparation

To maximize your effectiveness you need to execute the following steps prior to initiating the first class:

  1. Read and delineate the entire textbook. This will serve as your lecture notes. A thorough knowledge of the text content is imperative.
  2. Complete all work in related study guides.
  3. Research the primary areas of sterile processing (i.e., microbiology, anatomy/ physiology, decontamination, assembly, instrumentation, sterilization, sterile storage and distribution). Acquire additional literature to reinforce the text material.
  4. Formulate post-tests for all hand-outs.
  5. Compile at least two midterm exams and a final exam in multiple-choice format to provide an opportunity to identify student progress and yield time to rectify any deficiencies encountered.
  6. Construct outlines of pertinent hands-on lab studies. Certification study guides can identify key techniques.
  7. Prepare visual aids to demonstrate topics of prominence.
  8. Elicit assistance from vendors to reinforce text information further. Instrument repair companies are lucrative resources.
  9. Compile a syllabus of planned lessons for each class.
  10. Finally, be prepared. In fact, advocate your students to challenge any answers to exam questions. This promotes involvement of the students and allows them to secure a firm grasp of the material.

Step Two: Student Preparation

The first class meeting is the most crucial. It is reasonable to postulate that the students in your course have probably not recently been in a formal classroom environment. Your responsibility is to not only alleviate their stress, but to afford them techniques for studying the material to increase their effectiveness. Listed below is a 10-point handout that I review at the outset of the first class. These techniques bestow the students with competent study habits to allow them to ascertain the information essential for success.

10 Rules for Effective Learning

  1. Find a quiet place to read or study. Your mind cannot concentrate on more than one concept at a time. Do not read/study with the radio or TV on. Everyones situation is different. You must find a way to allow yourself quiet time.
  2. Read each chapter one or two days before class. Read from start to finish without interruptions, as this will provide an overall picture of content. Do not take notes at this point.
  3. Come to class prepared to listen and participate. If you have a question and do not ask, that question is sure to appear on the certification exam.
  4. Do not attempt to write notes on everything that is said in class. I will be handing out my lecture notes to utilize for studying.
  5. After the lecture on a chapter, re-read the chapter. Read at a slower rate and take notes/highlight at this point, if desired.
  6. Come to lab studies prepared to participate. The best way to learn is by doing.
  7. Ask questions! Remember that any question you have now will definitely appear on the certification exam.
  8. There are four ways to learn: reading, listening, watching and doing.
  9. Study! Begin to study at least one week before any exam. Waiting until the last night has never worked and will never work.
  10. Relax and have fun. If you have prepared yourself for the exam, you should pass.

Two aforementioned items must be discussed at this point. First, you may dispute that providing written lecture notes to the students is advantageous; however, you are teaching this course, thus you possess (or you should possess) a singular knowledge of the material. Who better to furnish the students with a logical outline of the information to augment their learning? In addition, I also dissuade the practice of note taking during class. It is nearly impossible for the student to write notes fast enough during class that will actually prove beneficial at a later point. And if the student is diligently writing, how efficiently is he or she listening to your lecture?

After discussing this information you must now present the requirements of the certification board to the students. Once again, your duty as the instructor is to replete the students with a full understanding of the certification exam requirements to prepare themselves adequately for success. You are also establishing the groundwork for continuing education of your technicians to stay abreast with current technologies.

Step Three: Instruction of Material

Presentation of the material must embody all three of the principles of auditory, visual and tactile techniques. Each individual will bring to class their own unique process for learning. In addition, adult learners have personal lives which may impose distractions to learning. By incorporating all three educational methods you guarantee that the material is presented in a manner that can be easily assimilated.

  • Auditory. Auditory instruction commences with requiring students to read each chapter prior to the lecture. Lecturing on the material supplements their reading and entitles students to acquire an overall picture of the text. Discourage frantic note taking at this point in class. Remind the students that they will receive a copy of your lecture notes, thus copious notes are not essential in class. This promotes active participation of the students during lectures. When you can institute a verbal interaction between the students it not only increases retention, but it detains their interest. The most rewarding comment I received from a former student was that I made the class interesting, even during the tedious chapters. Two techniques that I utilize to spice up my lectures are first to add humor whenever feasible. Humor keeps the students attention and encourages participation and interaction, which assists in retention. Next, you need to correlate the concepts of sterile processing to real-life experiences that can allow the students to comprehend the material. For example, when discussing distribution methods, it is beneficial to equate the concepts of par levels and reorder points to grocery shopping. The students realize that they are already managing distribution methods each time they procure a list concerning common household items. This protraction of the important points of your lecture will heighten the students understanding of the material being presented.
  • Visual. Visual presentation of the material is the next step. Visual instruction does not merely entail overhead slides of lecture notes. In fact, I do not employ overheads, at all. Overhead slides of lecture notes further abet note taking, thus defeating the purpose of student participation. Visual instruction is lab study. Subsequent to a lecture on the decontamination area, my students spend the next class in this area at an actual facility. Demonstration of all the material and techniques allows the students to qualify the concepts that have been discussed in class. Visual learning techniques also take the form of homework assignments. Although certification exams utilize a multiplechoice format, it is beneficial to incorporate essay or short answer questions for homework. These types of questions require the student to read fully the text and formulate the important concepts. When complete, answers to essay questions also provide a comprehensive study tool.
  • Tactile. Tactile learning is the hands-on method. This technique is by far the most efficacious and meaningful learning tool when instructing sterile processing concepts. Your lab study should comprise at least one-half the time allotted to the students actually executing the techniques. The students will learn by doing. An excellent hands-on technique that I apply for identifying processing errors is to assemble various items in peel-pouch, sterile wrap and rigid containers and deliberately commit numerous errors in processing (i.e., partially sealed pouches, missing tamper locks, etc.). Be creative. After the students have had an opportunity to examine the items, you can utilize their answers to stress the proper processing techniques. It is gratifying to see comprehension in your students when they begin to recognize that the concepts that you have been attempting to teach them are indeed being realized.

Step Four: Exam Preparation

The final step in the process is assuring that your students are prepared for the stress of certification exam day. At least three formal exams should be given in a multiple-choice format. Review the certification boards test requirements and conform to them during your exam. This will permit the students to emulate the pressure and stress of exam day before it transpires. And it will afford you the opportunity to identify and correct any deficiencies. Exam questions need to be arduous and constrain the student to discern fully the concepts and not just memorize answers. Your exams will also later be utilized as a learning tool. Encourage the students to debate any incorrect answers that they believe are, in fact, correct. This advocates the student to gain an astute knowledge of the material. Ask why or why not when reviewing questions. For example, knowledge of proper placement of a biological test pack is not sufficient. However, if the student can construe why a test pack is put near the drain they have taken ownership of the information. Finally, change the wording of the questions during review and prompt students to explain how and why the answer would be different.

In conclusion, providing your technicians with a formal instructional program not only contributes to an improvement of certification passage, but you will also be assured as to the level of knowledge they have attained. By applying the principles discussed in this guide, we have achieved a 100 percent pass rate for the 35 students who have participated in our certification prep course. Your customers will realize the benefits once staff comprehends why it is necessary to adhere to protocols of infection control.

Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CSPDT, CRCST, is supervisor of surgical processing and support services at Akron General Medical Center in Akron, Ohio. In addition, he is the instructor of the sterile processing/central service course at the University of Akron.

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