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By Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CRCST, CSPDT
The ultimate goal of any sterile processing department is the elimination of pathogenic microorganisms on equipment and instrumentation. Given the continuously changing arena of medical and surgical techniques, sterile processing technicians must exhibit a commitment to keep pace with the multitude of innovative advancements. What can be done to assure that complacency does not function as the guiding force in your daily operations? Certification is the key. Certification not only demonstrates that your technicians possess high standards of infection control, but it imparts a means by which your staff members are required to constantly strive to enhance their skills.
This philosophy of high standards of performance is especially true for the members of the Clinical Processing Department (CPD) of Robinson Memorial Hospital, located in Ravenna, Ohio. The CPD staff of 12 technicians and one supervisor provides sterile processing support for the entire hospital, including seven surgical suites. Although the CPD staff members have always aspired to perform their duties at the highest level, none held certification status. That was about to change; the entire department made a pledge to demonstrate their level of expertise by becoming certified this past year.
Preparation for the upcoming certification exam began with the department director conducting weekly lectures on relevant topics important to success in sterile processing. Initially, anatomy, physiology, and microbiology were reviewed. Acquiring a proficient knowledge base in these areas is imperative to understanding the protocols for the prevention of cross-contamination. Awareness of how microorganisms function and modes of transmission provide the tools required to comprehend important concepts such as portals of exit/entry and standard precautions. Lecture material also encompassed the five main areas of sterile processing: decontamination, assembly, sterilization, sterile storage, and distribution.
In addition, the instruction of the material relied heavily on participation. Constant interaction between the instructor and the technicians was crucial to success; given the years of experience among the CPD staff, as old habits are hard to break. At times, common practice in the workplace does not equate to standard procedures. This reality further depicts why certification is essential. Technicians who are not certified have no reason to repeatedly search for continuing education opportunities. Thus, new techniques and concepts that have evolved are not learned and do not become an element of their daily infection control practices.
The final aspect of certification preparation entailed cooperation from three vendors who provided educational training to the sterile processing professionals supplementing their lecture and class participation. Advanced Sterilization Products, Mobile Instrument Service/Repair, and Spectrum Surgical provided expertise on topics of interest to which the staff did not have direct exposure. Their assistance allowed the technicians to adequately prepare themselves for certification exam topics that were not presently being performed at the hospital.
After instruction was complete, the technicians were finally prepared to test their knowledge and skills by completing the certification exam given by the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution. All 14 members of Robinson Memorial’s CPD staff were successful in passing this exam on their first attempt. This accomplishment needs to be emulated at other medical facilities across the nation. Sterile processing managers need to take a proactive approach and pursue certification of their staff, not because it is, or may be required, but because it portrays the exceptional degree of pride and expertise in the service your technicians convey your patient-care providers.
Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CRCST, CSPDT is director of materials management/CPD at Robinson Memorial Hospital.