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The Truth About CEUs: Why Your Sterile Processing Team Deserves More...Education

Before there is an insurrection from the accreditation wing of the Sterile Processing world, let me just come out and offer a disclaimer right here at the outset -- I support continuing education credits. I think they give our industry, in particular, a helpful dose of standardization and incentive for growth in knowledge and professional expertise. And just like the rest of you, I meticulously keep track of my own annual CEUs for re-certification submissions every year for my CRCST, CIS, CER, and CHL credentials. So this post isn't as much an argument against a CEU-culture in toto as it is a plea for CEUs to be a single pillar, not the foundation, of our overall conception of Sterile Processing education. 

So, with that out of the way, what's my beef with a solo CEU-culture? Allow me to argue the case:

A Part, Not the Whole: The Risk of CEU Mission Drift

The mission and purpose of most industry continuing education units (CEUs) is to keep the individual holding a particular certification or license up to date with a baseline knowledge of current standards and best practices. And as I noted in the introduction to this post, that is not, by itself, a bad thing. Particularly for industries such as medical device reprocessing where regulations and technology changes at a rapid pace, it is important that certification holders retain the value of that credential year after year. CEUs provide that on-going, education-centered value.

The problem comes when that mission for credentialing consistency begins drifting into areas where is should not be, or at least where it should not be the authoritative force for gauging educational value. If you've made it this far and are still asking yourself, "What in the heck is this guy talking about?," let me get a little more practical about how this CEU mission drift occurs.

Education in the Trenches

Every Sterile Processing professional knows that learning is a big part of the job, especially during your first 90 days as a new technician. There are thousands of instruments to learn, processes to master, documentation habits to create, and on and on. During these periods of orientation most departments dedicate time, personnel, and training materials to ensure the new employee is properly acclimated to their position. But then what? What happens on day ninety-one?

First, learning continues because, in one sense, learning is inevitable. As the British author and theologian, GK Chesterton argued, "It is impossible for anything to signify nothing," and in the case of education, it is impossible for humans not to learn something from anything. We learn good ways of doing things and bad ways of doing them, quick ways and circuitous ways, simple ways and complex ways, right ways and wrong ways -- but we learn, nonetheless.

And secondly, in many CS/SPD departments, after day ninety-one the main thrust of structured education is picked up by CEU programming. The more certified your department is, the more likely this is to be true. Your primary "educational" events or inservices carry with them the accredited stamp of "good for 2 CEUs!" So you learn about the care and handling of stainless steel instrumentation a couple of times a year, sprinkle in some laparoscopic testing in-servicing, with a pinch of the fundamentals of steam sterilization. Again, all of these are positive and often profitable educational opportunities for your team, but I want to argue for something more.