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By By Tony Thurmond, CRCST, CIS, CHL, FCS

Sterile processing (SP) professionals must continue acquiring knowledge and education to build their skills and help them complete their complex daily tasks to the very best of their ability.

This article reviews several questions related to continuing education (CE), and how SP professionals can set their own high expectations and draw the greatest value from CE content, Note: The true value does not lie in the credits one receives from completing CE offerings; fulfilling CE credit requirements to maintain certification status is important, certainly, but the core value lies in our ability to strengthen our knowledge, skill sets and professionalism in the name of patient safety.

What is CE?

CE, as it relates to health care, refers to a specific form of education that helps those in the medical field maintain competence and learn about new and developing areas within their field. CE is a vital tool for all health care disciplines, including SP, because it keeps us strong in knowledge and skill. It is what is required to give our patients any chance of success. ANSI/AAMI ST79, Section 4.3.1, states that “Education, training and standardized work practices decrease the risk of operator error during reprocessing and helps ensure that personnel are conversant with the latest data and techniques.” It further states that continuing education is required at regular intervals to review and update knowledge and skills and to maintain competency and certification. Without CE in medicine, the chance of patient successful outcomes becomes less of an attainable goal. It is a standard set forth in ANSI/AAMI ST79, whether you are certified or not.

Who needs CE – and why?

Every SP professional (technicians, leaders, educators, etc.) needs CE to maintain competence and knowledge of the complex processes they do each day. Early in your career, you may have thought that only certified technicians, nurses, doctors and the like need CE; however, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Each person working in health care needs CE, whether they are certified or credentialed or not. If you are certified, you must submit your CE credits to maintain your certification(s). For IAHCSMM certification, CEs must be completed once a year. The number of CEs required is determined by the number of certifications held. Understandably, IAHCSMM requires the education be approved and verified.

What is timed value of CE?

The amount of credit earned during CE is based on the time committed to the education. For example, one hour of time committed to a CE will equal 1 CE (½-hour CE equals ½ CE credit and ¼-hour CE equals ¼ CE credit). This is the structure set forth by the accrediting agencies to show an individual has fulfilled the necessary time commitment to maintain their certification. Assuming you need 12 hours of CE to maintain your certification status – and assuming you are a full-time employee – that amount of CE is well less than 1% of the hours worked in a year (2,080). Is that enough? Do you feel that 12 hours of CE will fortify you to become the technician you aspire to be? What is the determined number of hours we as a profession would need to earn before each patient is truly considered safe? If we are truly committed to quality, safety and professionalism, 12 CE hours a year should not be the number we seek.

Where can I find CE?

CE is everywhere. The pandemic created the need for vendors and organizations to develop more CE to be delivered and earned online. It seems everybody has developed programs that are educational; however, some of these offerings fall in line with a product they promote or sell. That is fine if remains educational and doesn’t become merely a marketing or promotional tool.

Another concern is that some parties that offer CE content claim its worth two or three CEs, even when the time to complete them is much less than an hour. This is where integrity comes into question (for us as the student/participant as well as the presenter). Presenters that assign a larger amount of CE credit than for what the content actually delivers are watering down the system and cheapening the value of the content. If you, the SP technician, are willing to accept two CE credits for 35 minutes of material, I challenge you to ask yourself how you are truly benefiting. Although it’s certainly easy to take the shortcut, it’s important to understand that you’re also shortchanging yourself by not taking the opportunity to gain a more robust understanding of a subject.

IAHCSMM’s website has many outstanding CE offerings, including lesson plans, webinars and podcasts, and all are approved for CE credits. Local IAHCSMM chapters may also have scheduled meetings that include approved presentations for CE credit (these types of presentations provide a great opportunity to learn about a subject, while also networking with others who can share their personal experiences on various subjects. Learning through interaction such as this is valuable, even if it doesn’t provide CE credits.)

What should I look for in CE?

All SP professionals should be seeking educational opportunities that will help them advance for the betterment of their department, teams and customers. We should seek CE that helps us brush up on the basics, broaden our skills sets and sharpen our talents across all areas of the department. We should also seek CE content on subjects that don’t come as easily for us, so we can boost quality, safety and efficiencies. If you’re a technician with hopes of moving into a leadership role, for example, you can take leadership-focused CE (even if you don’t hold leadership certification such as the CHL). Again, you should also seek out appropriately timed subject and material to get the full value. While much of the CE out there is available at no cost, we should treat each lesson plan or subject as if we paid a premium price for it. This will make us value its content more, and the content will be of value to us and our patients.

It’s also important to look for CE material that is in line with industry-leading standards and guidelines. Without that, you may not be learning the best practices. And again: If the information you are receiving is promotional in nature or marketing-focused, the opportunity to learn is lessened.

When should I seek CE?

The quick yet accurate answer to that question is now (and frequently). CE may not always come to you; you will have to go out and get it. As a manager, it has been said to me many times that it is the hospital’s responsibility to provide CE to the employees. While I do agree that there should be organized and planned education for employees, I do not agree that the place of employment should provide all the education. We SP professionals have the responsibility to ourselves and our patients to continue advancing our education and building our knowledge and skill sets. Failure to do so makes for a stagnant technician who will not be prepared when obstacles – or new opportunities – come their way.

What if we set aside time once a week (or at other intervals such as 10 to 15 minutes a day), and we truly buckled down and completed one CE per week (an attainable goal)?. By the end of the year, we will have accomplished over 50 hours of education. Again, it does not have to be to earn credits, but rather to earn knowledge. Even if we did just that, we are still under 1% of the time learning compared to the time we are working.

What do you hope to gain from seeking CE? Do you hope to gain that competitive edge on your co-workers? Do you hope to impress your leadership to show that you are prepared for more responsibility? Whatever your goal, there will be two definite results from regularly pursuing CE. First, you will gain knowledge, confidence and the ability to employ protective measures when needed. Second, you will gain the ability to help give the patient the best outcome and success for their medical journey.

I hope all SP professionals accept my challenge of dedicating at least one hour a week (or 10 minutes a day) to CE. Each patient enters our facilities with the faith that the staff taking care of them is trained and knowledgeable on the work they do. It’s up to us all to do our best to give them that much- deserved peace of mind.

Tony Thurmond, CRCST, CIS, CHL, FCS, is an IAHCSMM Past-President who serves as central service manager at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

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