How Sterile Processing Technicians Can Stay Sharp During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by: Alison Sonstelie, BS, CRCST, CHL, CIS
Sponsored by: oneSOURCE

We are in the midst of a COVID-19 “lockdown.” In many hospitals and surgery centers across the nation, elective surgeries have stopped. There is a great deal of uncertainty of timelines and projections for this being our new “normal,” ranging from 12-18 weeks to 12-18 months. Two things are certain:

  1. Patients will need surgery during this time, and
  2. Once we are in the clear to do all elective procedures, we will be busy!


Once we get through the woods of this pandemic, will you be ready? In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey says, “We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.” This is a time for improvement and development.

Hospitals and surgery centers are reacting to the scheduling changes by keeping their staffing levels the same, reducing work hours, repurposing technicians to do other essential tasks, or canceling contracts and essentially laying off their technicians. We’ll discuss some options to stay sharp for these scenarios.

If you’re still at work, most facilities have a reduced workload. We now have an opportunity to get to the things we’ve put off due to lack of time. If hospitals fill up as projected, we may also have an opportunity to learn different tasks outside of sterile processing. If you’re looking to make the most of your time, here are some ideas:

  • Cleaning: When was the last time your department got a thorough deep cleaning? Move equipment around so you can clean under and behind it and get in all the nooks and crannies. Empty out supply and instrument bins so they can be thoroughly cleaned and wipe off the shelves. Assembly tables can get dusty. You can clean out any drawers, bins, light fixtures, etc. If you have computers at work stations, now is a great time to blow out the fans and keyboards.

  • Checking for outdates and compromised package integrity: This is a task that is hard to complete during normal case loads. This is a great opportunity to go through your warehouse and look for supplies that are outdated or outdating soon, broken locks, and holes in wraps or pouches. If you have a clean core, make sure you check this area as well.

  • Organizing and labeling: Go through your storage areas and replace any missing or faded labels. This is also a chance to go through your department’s “junk drawers” and purge the things that are old or obsolete, and reorganize the items that are still used. If you have backup instruments that tend to get dusty, send them through the wash and put them away.

  • Optimizing your count sheets or tracking system: If you have flaws in your count sheets, this is a fantastic opportunity to dedicate time to fix them. Take pictures of the instruments and add it to your system. Make improvements now to get assembly humming when we’re busy again.

  • Training, competency, and policies: It’s a great time to update your department’s policies. Take some time to go through your existing policies, see what’s needed, and make changes. Training and competency testing can be developed, enhanced, and refreshed as well.

  • Learn a new skill: If the drastic projections become reality, we may be asked to step in to fill other roles like patient intake, supply logistics, environmental services, food services, etc. We are in this industry because we provide excellent service and we care about the patients our hospitals serve. We need to be ready and willing to step up and step in.

 

If you’re out of work, keep your chin up. This won’t last forever and there are some strategies for professional advancement you can do independently.

  • Brush up your resume: Take this opportunity to craft a resume that you’re proud of. Do some research on what employers are looking for during the hiring process and work on marketing yourself. There are some great resources online and on LinkedIn.

  • See if any hospitals are hiring technicians: This depends on your market, but some places are still looking for technicians. Theoretically, we could have technicians out sick for extended periods of time. Facilities should be thinking of this and planning ahead.

  • Apply for other hospital jobs: I’ll echo my prior statement here, we will need employees in other areas of the hospital. Not only will this help you get by with a paycheck, but it can help you build your resume and get your foot in the door. If there are any jobs that you qualify for in the hospital, apply!

  • Start the process for certification: If you don’t already have your CRCST or CBSPD, you have time to study. If you already have the basic certification, start the process for taking other certification exams. This will make you a more viable candidate when hospitals start hiring sterile processing technicians again.

 

Investing your time and effort into improvement and sharpening your skills will pay off when we get to the other side of this pandemic. I applaud the technicians and healthcare workers making sacrifices to provide patient care. Stay safe and keep up the great work!

Allison Sonstelie

Allison Sonstelie

Alison has held various positions throughout her career in Supply Chain and Sterile Processing. Her firm, NoCoast Consulting, provides education, audit and sterile processing/supply chain consulting services.

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