People learn in different ways (Sphero, 2020). Some are visual learners where they can watch a presentation and retain all the pertinent facts. Visual learners love charts, graphs and other “exciting” presentation means. Some learners do better with listening. Think of the college kid that can ace any exam as long as they were in class (and awake) during the lecture. While for others, reading and writing is the key. These are the notetakers with the 12 pack of highlighters, four notebooks, and a pile of flashcards. Another group of learners is the hands-on crew. They have to “do” to truly understand a task. As I frequently say, I have to make a mistake at least once before I fully engrain a task in my brain (I’m sorry autoclaved load sticker gun).

Working in SPD presents a unique environment that requires a very specific skillset consisting of many very specialized duties. Mastery of these responsibilities is critical to ensuring patient safety. If you forget to place indicators in your tray and then also choose an incorrect sterilization cycle, the sterility of a tray cannot be verified and the results could be disastrous.

Using hands-on learning in the SPD environment brings more sensory material into your brain to help process the information being taken in. When there are more senses involved in the learning process, the final picture is clearer and easier to recall in the same or similar situations in the future (Wortman, 1988). Bringing most of the senses into the sterile processing learning environment involves more areas of your brain in the successful retention of those key facts.

The sense of touch for example: “Wow! That tray is hot. It is definitely not ready to be released to the OR.” Or maybe it’s the sense of smell: “Nothing like the smell of a warm Bowie-Dick in the morning to kick your day off on the right foot.” The sense of sight: “Oh goodness – that is A LOT of water running out from the bottom of the washer. That is probably not a good thing.” Nothing like a sterilizer aborting and alarming to quickly awaken your sense of hearing – especially when it’s the beginning of your shift. That will also awaken your sense of dread “OH NO – NOT TODAY!”

Maybe the sense of dread is not one of the key senses you rely on while working in SPD and you probably shouldn’t be relying on your sense of taste – unless it’s SPD week and your manager has bought pizza from the best pizza joint in town. The other four senses are used oftentimes subconsciously throughout your day to process and lock in the complex knowledge that is required to be successful in the sterile processing environment.

Consider starting a load in the steam sterilizer. You load up the sterilizer rack with all your containers and peel packs. You grab your barcode scanner and scan all the items on the load. You verify that the number of items scanned is the same number displayed on the computer screen. You create the load by clicking on the “Send Scanned Data” button. You run around the front of the sterilizer rack only to hit your mid-thigh on the end bar that sticks out and double over in pain.

What have you learned with this hands-on exercise? Your sense of touch (in conjunction with your internal scale) verified that the containers were an acceptable weight. You heard that Cognex scanner beep when you scanned each container and peel pack. When you checked the computer screen, you saw that your number of items scanned matched the number displayed on the monitor. The sterilizer and your sense of touch (and pain) also reinforced a good lesson that you need to give those bars sticking out a much wider berth. After the load is complete, you will rely on additional information when reviewing your control biological, dropping and resulting your test biological, and verifying that your trays are adequately cooled.

While it might be possible for someone to verbally explain this process and for a new tech to understand and successfully perform this process, this is unlikely. Most people require verbal instruction, watching another person perform these duties, actually performing the duties themselves with close supervision, and then being able to gradually transition to independently performing the tasks on their own.

This hands-on approach to learning is the most effective and consistent training method in the Sterile Processing environment. For this reason, most CensiTrac training is done on the floor, elbow-to-elbow with the SPD techs. From initial implementation to annual onsite ServicePlus training, our expert trainers and educators will customize their training styles to best suit the SPD staff member’s learning styles. This will hopefully result in the most successful training for all involved.