A new study sheds light on the education and career paths of sterile processors.

Patient Safety

Study: ‘Formal, Incentivized Education Pathways’ Needed for Sterile Processing Professionals

“To further support these indispensable professionals, it is incumbent upon the broader healthcare industry to establish formal, incentivized education pathways that will open up new opportunities for them."

Until now, there has been scant research on the educational background of sterile processing employees and its impact on career trajectories.

It turns out there is much variation in the formal training and certification levels of these essential member of surgical operations teams, according to a new study published in Perioperative Care and Operating Room Management.

“In most states, a standardized pathway to employment does not exist; rather, individual employers assume responsibility for SPD employee training,” the researchers wrote. “Employment requirements are variable, and certifications specific to this space do not correlate significantly with workplace roles or positions of leadership.”

The study was a partnership between Beyond Clean, a clinical education and advocacy group in sterile processing, and a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, based on email surveys sent to more than 50,000 sterile processing employees. There were 958 responses to the survey, which asked about certification history, educational background and work roles.

The Research Challenges Traditional Beliefs

Counter to long-held assumptions, formal training and certifications do not necessarily lead to career advancement in the sterile processing field, the surveys found.

Among the other findings:

  • About half had enrolled in a post-high school education program in sterile processing, with an average of 7.2 months of training
  • 92 percent held some form of sterile processing certification
  • Most reported engaging in self-directed learning on at least a monthly basis
  • Directors and managers were more likely to have a 4-year, master or doctoral degree than technicians

Many Sterile Processors Are Self-Motivated

Although the majority of survey respondents reported taking the initiative to do their own learning, there is “little financial or career incentive to obtain formal training or additional certifications that may improve the quality of sterile processing,” the researchers wrote.

Dr. Laura L. Bellaire, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, who was one of the study researchers and authors, noted that although the findings show a sterile processing workforce that is “resourceful and self-driven,” additional help is needed.

“To further support these indispensable professionals, it is incumbent upon the broader healthcare industry to establish formal, incentivized education pathways that will open up new opportunities for them,” she said in a Beyond Clean press release about the research.

The topic of sterile processing training is always top of mind in the industry, with manufacturing and reprocessing product executives repeatedly listing education as one of the most important strategies that should guide the field going forward.

Switching to single-use endoscopes, such as those offered by Ambu and other medical device companies, also has emerged on the list of strategies those experts identify as necessary for quality performance in healthcare.

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