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Lessons from an SPD Educator: Linear Training can Create Learning Roadblocks

By: Casey Czarnowski, BA, CRCST, CSPDT, CIS, CER

May 27, 2020

A linear training program is a relatively simple concept: new workers go from one duty to the next, learning along the way to do the best work they can in that particular duty. During my first job as shift supervisor, I scheduled new hires in this linear way, creating blocks of training they would master before moving onto the next. This was an easy process for me and for my preceptor team, and it was an easy process to explain to our inexperienced new hires. I believed this was the most efficient way to orient new, inexperienced technicians. I was wrong.

A linear training schedule can mean a new employee might spend weeks in that training before they return to actually do the work in which they’re being trained. I saw new employees become frustrated when the new knowledge that they gained took the place of the knowledge they attained when training on a previous duty. Additionally, at the end of a two-week training period in a duty in which they were proficient, many mistakes were being made when they left the orientation period and began independent work. Satisfaction was low and mistakes were high.

As the duty scheduler, I decided to try something different. I incorporated a concept known as “interleaving” to ensure that new staff did not forget the training they received during our four-month training period. After beginning with instrument inspection, the new hire would proceed logically to decontamination; however, the three-week decontamination training also featured a one-week return to instrument inspection after the second week. This allowed the new hire to take a break from working in personal protective equipment, while immersing them again in their training on inspection. This had the notable added benefit of enhancing the trainee’s experience training in decontamination by illustrating how closely the two jobs are intertwined. After completing decontamination and sterilization training, the new hire embarked upon six weeks of training on dispensing and case picking. In the middle of this training section, the new hire again enjoyed a return to instrument inspection; it was a great way for them to remember and apply their skills, while also getting a break from the high-stress duty of taking phone calls from the Operating Room.

By interleaving training, the new employee never felt far from a duty in which they had already trained. Each return to the inspection process felt like a break from their orientation schedule and benefited the employee’s resiliency in moving forward with the program. Trainees were able to put to use the experience they had gained on a regular and scheduled basis and, more importantly, errors decreased as these technicians did not spend months between the training and actual practice of a task.

I encourage everyone who is reading this and who is in charge of the training schedule of new and inexperienced technicians to study the benefits of interleaving, and to consider incorporating them into the orientation schedule. This will enhance employee engagement and reduce the incidents of errors when the employee enters the count.

Casey Czarnowski, BA, CRCST, CSPDT, CIS, CER, is the Sterile Processing Educator at Stanford Health Care in the San Francisco Bay area. He also teaches the Central Services Technology program at Skyline College in San Bruno, Calif.