top of page

90 Days of Sterile Processing Glory: Taking Dominion of SPD Onboarding

"How long does it take to train an SPD instrument technician?"

I always have to hold back a laugh when hospital administrators ask that question. It's like asking how long it takes to train a Hollywood stunt man -- honestly, the longer the better, for all parties involved. Stunt work is dangerous. It may look like they're just jumping off a platform onto an air mattress, but it's the skill that makes it look easy, not the job itself. The more practice they get, the smarter, safer, and more skillful they become.

And the same is true for training skilled CS/SPD technicians in your department. Unfortunately, when your administrator asks how long it takes to train one of these CS stuntmen, you can't be honest and say "forever." With limited time and resources, most hospitals just can't afford an extended orientation process for frontline instrument technicians. So what are you to do? How do you take the raw material of an earnest, critical thinking new hire and turn them into the next Sterile Processing Leonidas, to stand against the invading forces of bioburden (and win)? Here are a few onboarding-weapons to help equip your preceptors and newbies for the coming microbial war:

1) Preceptors as Culture-Warriors

Before your new hire ever walks through the door, you must ensure your preceptors understand the real scope of what they are being asked to do. Almost anyone can communicate technical facts to someone else. "Touch this button to turn it on." "Tape it there and place the label here." But that's not the extent of what you need from a trainer preparing your new technician to become the next weapon of mass microbial destruction. Almost as important as communicating the technical information (times, temperatures, volumes, testing instructions, etc) is the cultural training that must take place. Going back to the Leonidas example, what made the Spartans such a fearsome opponent wasn't just what they knew about battle, it was their culture of supreme bravery and unmitigated brotherhood. Make it clear to your preceptors and your new hire that you expect to see cultural adoption to "our SPD way" of doing, talking, leading, and growing. We're not in the business of creating know-it-all lone rangers. We need competent, dependable, team-minded CS soldiers.

2) CS/SPD Boot Camp: Teaching Warrior-Learners

So, with culture laying the foundation of your training program, let's get to some technical details on how to actually do it. As mentioned in the intro, true CS/SPD training never ends. We are to be life-long learners at our trade. However, to have a life -long learner, you first have to develop a love and respect of learning in general. Keeping with our theme, this means your first 90 days of onboarding glory should be spent teaching your new hires to become warrior-learners. You need to introduce and drill them in every area of the department they will be responsible for and exposed to - from decontamination to sterile storage, from viewing surgical cases to spending time on the instrument repair van. There will never be a better time to mold their perception of the value you place on your department's role as the heart of the hospital than their early days on the team.

Here's an example of one of our 90 day training guides:

Obviously this layout will look different for every department, depending upon the particular scope of your team. One important column to note on this "training matrix" (as we call it) is the blue section on the right-hand side labeled "CRCST Chapter Completion." These are the chapter assignments in the IAHCSMM CRCST textbook for uncertified new hires to complete at weekly intervals throughout their first 90 days of orientation. This technical reading is then bolstered by hands on explanation, training, and yes, culture creation. By the end of their training period, they should be ready to sit for the exam and earn their industry credentials. And you should have a new technician well on their way to becoming a warrior-learner.

3) The Battle of Thermophiles: 300 Department Need-To-Knows

One final idea that may be of use in your microbial battle-planning is coming up with a CS-battlefield checklist of sorts, or what we call our "Spartan 300 Checklist." This is separate and in addition to our department competencies and standard operating procedures (SOPs). You may have noticed the light red column in the training matrix pictured above had due dates for portions of the Spartan 300. Here's a few examples of what made the list: