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Certification: End of the Road or Just the Beginning?
By Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CSPDT, CRCST
The importance of certification forsterile processing/central service staff has continued to gain in popularity ashealthcare providers have recognized the integral role that SP/CS techniciansplay in the prevention of nosocomial infections. Clinicians, such as surgeons,registered nurses and surgical technicians, constitute the first line ofdefense to cross-contamination by adherence to requirements of aseptic technique.But, the battle against pathogenic microorganisms originates long before theinstrument or medical device is in the hands of the direct patient careprovider. SP/CS staff should strive for perfection when performing the duties ofdecontamination, assembly, sterilization, and distribution of sterile supplies.
SP/CS management must take a proactive role in the educationand training of new and experienced technicians so that several goals arerealized. First, the technicians must be successful in achieving a certification status preferably on the first attempt. Repeated failure willdemoralize the technician and may also increase your facilitys educationbudget. Second, and most significant, you need to ensure that the techniciansare understanding and practicing the techniques and concepts in the workplace. Asuccessful passing score on their certification test is desirable, but it mustbe stressed to the staff that the utilization of these skills and techniques tobreak the chain of disease transmission is the real intent. certification,training, and education are extraneous if the technicians continue to performduties incorrectly simply because it has always been done that way. Practicewhat you preach. Finally, the achievement of certification status is not theend of the road; it is actually the beginning. Providing assistance andencouragement to your technicians in their pursuit of continuing education units(CEUs) is essential to the continued efficacy of your department. All too oftenI have had technicians comment that once they have passed their test that thereal work is done. The contrary is true. Medical procedures are constantly intransition, as is equipment utilized to perform them. New pathogens arediscovered and old ones change. New sterilization methods continue to beintroduced. The work is far from done. Complacency cannot be allowed to residein the minds of your staff. To prevent this from occurring, you must becomeinvolved, and in fact, lead the way, in assuring that your staff stays abreastwith the advancements in the medical profession. What follows is a list ofrecommendations of the process that I have developed to provide staff with anorganized approach to managing their recertification and continuing education.
Once the number of certified technicians begins to rise, youwill find it necessary to construct a database to track each individualsprogress. certification dates and re-certification dates will vary; thus itwill prove beneficial to have a record of both. I constructed a simple table onMicrosoft Word with columns for in-service name, date of in-service, grade,number of CEUs and approval code, if needed. In addition, the techniciansre-certification date is listed, as are lines for appropriate signatures.Re-certification dates can vary from one to five years depending on whichcertification agency you choose to support; therefore utilizing the above table will prove helpful incoordinating the growing number of certified staff that your department willemploy. When a technician completes a CEU requirement, they need tobring the corresponding documentation to you. The appropriate information isentered into their respective chart and an updated copy is submitted for theirrecords. In addition, it is imperative that you stress to the technician thatthey should keep any original documents such as certificates which may need tobe turned in at re-certification time. The ultimate responsibility for meetingthe requirements of the certification board is on the technician, not you. Thispoint needs to be made clear to avoid any confusion at a later time. Inaddition, I have found it useful to submit an updated copy of each techniciansin-service record on a quarterly basis. Regular updates to their current CEUstatus will afford the technicians the opportunity to stay on top of theirrequirements. Waiting until the last minute will cause the technician toscramble to obtain the required CEUs and will be detrimental to the goals ofcontinuing education.
When the decision was made by your facility to pursue andrequire certification of your technicians, you obviously recognized theimportance of providing your customers with the highest quality service. A well-trained and certified staff will not only increasecompliance to the protocols of infection control, but it will heighten therespect received from your customers. Once certification is achieved, it is toyour advantage to provide CEU opportunities that will be both pertinent andworthwhile to the duties that the staff performs. Continuing education topicsshould be chosen to introduce new concepts and techniques or to reinforcepreviously learned ones. To accomplish this goal, there are several optionsavailable. Before utilizing any of the sources below, it would be prudent tocontact the appropriate certification agency. Specific requirements for CEUs are listed on the Web site forboth agencies. Now is the time to determine whether or not the CEU medium thatyou plan to apply is appropriate.
The first available resources are self-study tests inprofessional journals, like ICT, that contain monthly articles onrelevant topics that continue to challenge the technician to further theireducation and expertise. Some self-study articles only qualify for CEUs within a giventime frame, so check the requirements of the certification agency beforeoffering these educational opportunities to your staff. Seminars are anotherpractical source for CEUs; they provide an excellent avenue to obtain multiplepoints in one day. You must support your staff in attending these educationalevents by planning ahead. Post all informational pamphlets in the employeelounge and assist the technicians in completing the registration requirements.Allocate specific funds to be budgeted each year to reimburse staff for seminarfees and travel expenses. Time away from work must also be granted to enablestaff to attend a seminar. Seminars usually provide a valuable mix of old andnew topics that will suit your goals of continuing education.
Another lucrative resource is the instrument and medicalproduct vendors with whom you interact on a daily basis, as some have inserviceprograms that have already been pre-approved for CEUs. Take advantage of theirexpertise. Review the content of each vendors inservice before it is given toinsure that the intent of the presentation is for educational purposes. Finally,CEUs can be obtained by utilizing the knowledge and experience of yourdepartment management and the management of other hospital departments, such assurgery.
Surgical managers and specialists are quite receptive tofurthering the education of your staff, especially when they realize that theend product will improve the service they receive. In addition, involvement ofyour customers in the education and training of your staff assists in buildingan environment of cooperation and mutual respect. Your employees begin torealize the importance of the job that they perform and the consequences if short cuts are taken. Your customerswill begin to value and revere your staff as the professionals that you wantthem to be. If department inservices are used for CEUs, there are specificguidelines that must be followed. Objectives of the inservice must be clearlystated in writing. In-service credit is usually granted as one CEU for one hourof instruction. A post-test must be administered which demonstrates assurancethat the technician has learned the appropriate skill or knowledge. Finally, anapproval code must be obtained, if necessary, to register the in-service withyour specific certification agency. Consult the respective Web site of the certification agencyto determine the requirements, if any, for obtaining in-service approval.
I always will be a proponent of certification for SP/CSstaff. The importance of infection control is too critical to allow staff to cutcorners and compromise the safety of the patients. Managers also cannot assume apassive approach to the attainment and maintenance of the certification oftheir staff. I am not asserting, however, that you must assume all of theresponsibility for the each technicians certification. The ultimateresponsibility to maintain his or her certification status must remain witheach technician. However, you have made a commitment to raising the level ofcompetency and expertise of your department by requiring certification, thusyou need to assist and guide them in the direction that you know will produce aconsistent quality end product. By incorporating the aforementionedrecommendations, the management of your staffs certification does not needto become a full-time endeavor. It will, however, allow your customers to reap the benefits of a department ofprofessional and qualified technicians.
Richard P. Blasko, MBA, CSPDT, CRCST, is director of materials management/CPD at Robinson Memorial Hospital.