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Strategies for Building an SP Education Program

The Importance of Clinical Education

Education and training can be delivered in a variety of ways in almost every healthcare environment. A mixture of experience and years of real-life examples are crafted into a curriculum that supplies what we know as “on the job training”. To gain the best results, there must be healthier training tactics in the sterile processing (SP) sector. When building an SP education program, it’s critical to take time in the development phase, creating a customized plan that works for that specific unit and that specific team. Making sure the process isn’t rushed even when feeling the pressures of increased surgical volumes and the revolving door of new team members.

Because of the technical and physical nature of SP, many institutions use a variety of applications when it comes to training their staff. Yes, there are the similar fundamentals that cover the SP baseline knowledge but there are also differences across the curriculum. Technicalities that influence the path of the education journey for most sterile processing departments (SPD) include variations in equipment, instrument and device inventory, tracking systems, experience levels, education levels, expectations and department layout. So how can an educator confidently create an educational program that is guaranteed to work?

Phase 1 - Baseline Building

Start by identifying the baseline. One of the best ways to do this is through direct observations, interactions, interviews and most importantly the review of earlier competency assessments. These are a few simple questions to ask as you prepare for initial baseline examinations.


  • What level of competence does the department currently have?
  • What level of competence does the leadership expect them to have?
  • What are the future goals of this department?
  • When were the most recent competencies completed?
  • Are there education files and records that meet guidelines and requirements?
  • Are there various levels of experienced expected to be trained, such as supervisors, leaders, mentors?


When finding the baseline and going through this assessment phase, be sure to document your findings, treat it like research. Make sure you stay positive while gathering information and always be supportive through the process. One of the biggest mistakes that can hinder the success of the assessment phase is not informing the team of what’s happening. Each employee should have access to their own competencies at any point, and you should plan to schedule these assessments with the team being aware, ahead of time. It doesn’t help anyone to blind side them or frighten them while observing. Ask your team members for their permission in showing you what they know, what are their strengths and weaknesses, and remind them they are the experts! This will help gain a true understanding of competency levels.

Phase 2- Method of Delivery

Another key factor to understand is the learning methods which work the best for each staff member.. This can be determined by supplying a learning style quiz to find each team members preferred method. This key element can help an educator decide the methods of delivery for each individual. Not all learners interpret information the same way, so it is vital to vary your delivery approach to adjust to each person’s learning method. There are several types of learners and you just might need to
incorporate a variety of methods into your program.


Some examples of these learning types include;

  • Visual – uses symbols, boxes, charts and colors in visual aids.
  • Verbal – prefers reciting information aloud, taking notes and passion for words.
  • Aural – sounds and music, hearing things and spoken instructions.
  • Physical- using body and sense of touch to learn by moving, building and hands on.
  • Logical- asking a lot of questions, natural thinker wanting to understand the complete picture.
  • Social – prefer to learn in groups rather than on their own, brainstorming with others.
  • Solitary – independent and introspective learning on their own time, journal taker.

Phase 3- Standardized Program

Today’s SP industry supplies education in a variety of ways, some of which are based on a general curriculum pertinent to achieving a certification credential. Many professionals are gaining their knowledge from online courses to technical training programs in college institutions while others are learning as they go. Some institutions are now offering internship programs that allow hands on experience at a dedicated hospital or care center- a facility level learning. These are all great ways to kick start your SP career but many of these are not standardized and use different resources. When creating a program at the facility level here are things to consider that will help to ensure your program can be used in all reprocessing areas throughout an organization. It’s important to develop something that can be shared and used by anyone who is completing reprocessing activities.


  • Incorporate a variety of resources into the curriculum ensuring each resource is up to date
  • Site all references in your program; for example if using standards in the program ensure you are citing the rationale and reference for the student to go back and review this critical tool
  • Ensure the policies and procedures of other departments are incorporated. Their department and infection control policies that will help teach the SP students more of the entire patient journey
  • Create super users, mentors and leads who can be facilitators and help during the implementation of the program - team work is key
  • Gain insight from the front line staff. The curriculum should answer the questions and challenges the team face regularly so building these difficult things into the program will help you stay proactive and not reactive
  • Have fun along the way. Make sure to engage the team together with activities and workshops that help them to learn and interact with each other building ever-lasting trust


Competence is critical in ensuring patients are cared for and devices are available and ready-to-use in a moments time. Having a confident and competent team, as well as the leaders of that team, can help drive a department’s morale and boost productivity. Understanding each team members strengths and weaknesses can also help drive success when building an education program.