Certification: End of the Road or Just the Beginning?
By Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CSPDT, CRCST
The importance of certification for sterile processing/central service staff has continued to gain in popularity as healthcare providers have recognized the integral role that SP/CS technicians play in the prevention of nosocomial infections. Clinicians, such as surgeons, registered nurses and surgical technicians, constitute the first line of defense to cross-contamination by adherence to requirements of aseptic technique. But, the battle against pathogenic microorganisms originates long before the instrument or medical device is in the hands of the direct patient care provider. SP/CS staff should strive for perfection when performing the duties of decontamination, assembly, sterilization, and distribution of sterile supplies.
SP/CS management must take a proactive role in the education and training of new and experienced technicians so that several goals are realized. First, the technicians must be successful in achieving a certification status preferably on the first attempt. Repeated failure will demoralize the technician and may also increase your facilitys education budget. Second, and most significant, you need to ensure that the technicians are understanding and practicing the techniques and concepts in the workplace. A successful passing score on their certification test is desirable, but it must be stressed to the staff that the utilization of these skills and techniques to break the chain of disease transmission is the real intent. certification, training, and education are extraneous if the technicians continue to perform duties incorrectly simply because it has always been done that way. Practice what you preach. Finally, the achievement of certification status is not the end of the road; it is actually the beginning. Providing assistance and encouragement to your technicians in their pursuit of continuing education units (CEUs) is essential to the continued efficacy of your department. All too often I have had technicians comment that once they have passed their test that the real work is done. The contrary is true. Medical procedures are constantly in transition, as is equipment utilized to perform them. New pathogens are discovered and old ones change. New sterilization methods continue to be introduced. The work is far from done. Complacency cannot be allowed to reside in the minds of your staff. To prevent this from occurring, you must become involved, and in fact, lead the way, in assuring that your staff stays abreast with the advancements in the medical profession. What follows is a list of recommendations of the process that I have developed to provide staff with an organized approach to managing their recertification and continuing education.
Tracking Certified Staff
Once the number of certified technicians begins to rise, you will find it necessary to construct a database to track each individuals progress. certification dates and re-certification dates will vary; thus it will prove beneficial to have a record of both. I constructed a simple table on Microsoft Word with columns for in-service name, date of in-service, grade, number of CEUs and approval code, if needed. In addition, the technicians re-certification date is listed, as are lines for appropriate signatures. Re-certification dates can vary from one to five years depending on which certification agency you choose to support; therefore utilizing the above table will prove helpful in coordinating the growing number of certified staff that your department will employ. When a technician completes a CEU requirement, they need to bring the corresponding documentation to you. The appropriate information is entered into their respective chart and an updated copy is submitted for their records. In addition, it is imperative that you stress to the technician that they should keep any original documents such as certificates which may need to be turned in at re-certification time. The ultimate responsibility for meeting the requirements of the certification board is on the technician, not you. This point needs to be made clear to avoid any confusion at a later time. In addition, I have found it useful to submit an updated copy of each technicians in-service record on a quarterly basis. Regular updates to their current CEU status will afford the technicians the opportunity to stay on top of their requirements. Waiting until the last minute will cause the technician to scramble to obtain the required CEUs and will be detrimental to the goals of continuing education.
Providing CEU Opportunities
When the decision was made by your facility to pursue and require certification of your technicians, you obviously recognized the importance of providing your customers with the highest quality service. A well-trained and certified staff will not only increase compliance to the protocols of infection control, but it will heighten the respect received from your customers. Once certification is achieved, it is to your advantage to provide CEU opportunities that will be both pertinent and worthwhile to the duties that the staff performs. Continuing education topics should be chosen to introduce new concepts and techniques or to reinforce previously learned ones. To accomplish this goal, there are several options available. Before utilizing any of the sources below, it would be prudent to contact the appropriate certification agency. Specific requirements for CEUs are listed on the Web site for both agencies. Now is the time to determine whether or not the CEU medium that you plan to apply is appropriate.
The first available resources are self-study tests in professional journals, like ICT, that contain monthly articles on relevant topics that continue to challenge the technician to further their education and expertise. Some self-study articles only qualify for CEUs within a given time frame, so check the requirements of the certification agency before offering these educational opportunities to your staff. Seminars are another practical source for CEUs; they provide an excellent avenue to obtain multiple points in one day. You must support your staff in attending these educational events by planning ahead. Post all informational pamphlets in the employee lounge and assist the technicians in completing the registration requirements. Allocate specific funds to be budgeted each year to reimburse staff for seminar fees and travel expenses. Time away from work must also be granted to enable staff to attend a seminar. Seminars usually provide a valuable mix of old and new topics that will suit your goals of continuing education.
Another lucrative resource is the instrument and medical product vendors with whom you interact on a daily basis, as some have inservice programs that have already been pre-approved for CEUs. Take advantage of their expertise. Review the content of each vendors inservice before it is given to insure that the intent of the presentation is for educational purposes. Finally, CEUs can be obtained by utilizing the knowledge and experience of your department management and the management of other hospital departments, such as surgery.
Surgical managers and specialists are quite receptive to furthering the education of your staff, especially when they realize that the end product will improve the service they receive. In addition, involvement of your customers in the education and training of your staff assists in building an environment of cooperation and mutual respect. Your employees begin to realize the importance of the job that they perform and the consequences if short cuts are taken. Your customers will begin to value and revere your staff as the professionals that you want them to be. If department inservices are used for CEUs, there are specific guidelines that must be followed. Objectives of the inservice must be clearly stated in writing. In-service credit is usually granted as one CEU for one hour of instruction. A post-test must be administered which demonstrates assurance that the technician has learned the appropriate skill or knowledge. Finally, an approval code must be obtained, if necessary, to register the in-service with your specific certification agency. Consult the respective Web site of the certification agency to determine the requirements, if any, for obtaining in-service approval.
I always will be a proponent of certification for SP/CS staff. The importance of infection control is too critical to allow staff to cut corners and compromise the safety of the patients. Managers also cannot assume a passive approach to the attainment and maintenance of the certification of their staff. I am not asserting, however, that you must assume all of the responsibility for the each technicians certification. The ultimate responsibility to maintain his or her certification status must remain with each technician. However, you have made a commitment to raising the level of competency and expertise of your department by requiring certification, thus you need to assist and guide them in the direction that you know will produce a consistent quality end product. By incorporating the aforementioned recommendations, the management of your staffs certification does not need to become a full-time endeavor. It will, however, allow your customers to reap the benefits of a department of professional and qualified technicians.
Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CSPDT, CRCST, is director of materials management/CPD at Robinson Memorial Hospital.