Throughout my career as a Sterile Processing manager and later system director, finding qualified technicians for our departments was always a challenge. Even finding professionals with previous hospital experience was not always a winning situation, when certain bad habits had to be unlearned and it wasn’t always clear why the technician left their old job in the first place. This dynamic led me to an early interest in collaborating with local training programs and technical colleges to hire brand new technicians right out of school. While there was always training to be supplemented for new graduate hires, these eager young professionals would often become some of the best technicians on our Sterile Processing team.
In building these collaborative relationships, our departments would serve as training grounds for the clinical portion of these programs – giving the next generation of SPD technicians hands-on experience in a controlled setting. Anytime you have extra bodies in a department, it obviously adds complexity to the process and will impact your workflow in a number of ways. But the minimal impact that this clinical training program had, would later pay tremendous dividends in allowing our departments to have a kind of long-term interview with the students to see which ones best fit our department culture, and which ones showed the greatest promise for career growth.
Out of these experiences, I have become an ardent proponent of integrating education into the hospital setting. But that’s my perspective from the inside. To give insight from the other side of the equation, I interviewed Julie Hamrick BBA, CST, CRCST, the CEO and Chief Academic Director of the Silicon Valley Surgi-Tech Institute (SVSTI) for her perspective as an industry educator and clinical coordinator for future Sterile Processing technicians in California. Here is what she had to say:
What is the current state of Sterile Processing education in the industry? Or perhaps a better way to phrase this is, what need are professional training programs addressing in the SPD space?
Julie: There is a need for Sterile Processing technicians in the current market. I have many connections reaching out to me for graduates that have experience. However, they aren't willing to hire new grads with no experience nor will some of them even consider taking students for their extern rotation.
The current state of Sterile Processing courses is not that great. In the Bay Area there are many schools and only a couple that have a good reputation. From my understanding several schools in the local area concentrate on the students passing the certification test and not necessarily providing them with the basic skills to be successful at their externship. These programs that send students out to medical facilities that have not even wrapped a tray, know the parameters, sterilization, assembly etc. make it difficult for the employees that train them. It slows down the employee’s production time and can even cause errors to be made. My thought is to prepare the student to the ability to actually offer a service to the employee and to the employer as soon as they walk in the door.
What do students get in a program that they would not in self-study or on the job training?
Julie: Students in a Sterile Processing Course, such as SVSTI, will benefit from a blended program more so than self-study or on the job training. I had a student previously in the program that tried to do the self-study and she said that she couldn't stay focused and needed to be pushed. Also, with self-study, the student has to find their own clinical site to complete the hours needed for the hands-on experience which can be challenging in itself. On the job training will give the students the hands-on experience but depending on who is training them and where they are can determine what materials/standards that are taught.
With programs such as SVSTI students will get both the best practices/standards and the hands-on skills needed to be successful for optimal student outcomes.
What are some of the challenges that these training programs (and their students) face when trying to work with and in healthcare facilities?
Julie: Some of the challenges for training programs such as SVSTI are maximizing the student intake for extern rotation. It's also challenging in today's market to find a job as a new graduate with only educational experience. I really feel there are too many programs in the area that have provided students that didn't meet the facilities standards and gave them a bad taste in their mouth so to say. This makes it hard for newer schools such as SVSTI to try to turn their personal opinions around about this type of educational experience.
I try my best as a CEO to produce top notch students and am trying to figure out an entrance system to ensure that every student has the passion to learn to be successful. Not being able to control everyone's work ethics can be challenging however, I am always looking for ways to improve my educational programs to ensure that each of my affiliates are getting a potential hire.
Why is it beneficial for departments to be proactive in collaborating with their local programs?
Julie: It is very beneficial for SPD departments to collaborate with local programs for many reasons. One of them is to bring the communities' needs to the educational programs. As we all know the industry is always evolving and I personally love to go out in the field to see the new ways different facilities are doing things. It is also important to collaborate with medical facilities to try to reduce their employee retention. If a local program places a student that matches the needs of the facility it can be beneficial for both parties. The facility trains a new employee and a new graduate student places a permanent position.
What makes a great externship -- both as a student and what makes a great extern department manager?
Julie: A great externship experience from a student's perspective would be a chance to learn the best practices needed for the best student outcomes and ultimately obtain a permanent position with that organization that trained them. This is obtained by willing employees that have a positive disposition about teaching and an eager student.
A great externship from a manager's perceptive would be an eager, dedicated, hungry, and humble student who shows up on time and has good communication skills. They want someone who is a team player and that is self-sufficient once taught what is expected from them. The manager wants that student to be a great representation of their facility.
If you’ve never had Sterile Processing students complete externships in your department, I hope this article challenges you to give it shot. Not only are you investing in their future, you are also investing in your department’s future as well.
Be bold, and be willing to collaborate for clean.
What say you?
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