by Heidi Riley
Susan Mackinnon, Supervisor of the Sterile Processing Department (SPD) at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, is planning for the future. “In the next few years, about 30 percent of our current staff members in this department will be retiring. We need to start gearing up to replace them.
“Since the last story in The Employment Journey appeared in 2017, we have hired many of the students who came through the program,” says Susan. “We don’t need more new staff every year, because this is the type of place that you don’t leave once you get a permanent position. But soon we will be looking for another intake.”
There are 42 Medical Device Reprocessing Technicians working at the QEH at present. Three other PEI hospitals employ MDPTs:
• Prince County Hospital has six to eight Technicians
• Kings County Memorial Hospital has one Technician
• Western Hospital has one Technician
What they do
“We are the first line of defence for infection control. We do the reprocessing and sterilization of all surgical instrumentation at the QEH related to all surgeries and clinics. After a procedure done in the Operating Room, in Ambulatory Care, or in Emergency, the surgical instruments are returned to the SPD to be properly cleaned, disinfected and sterilized, ready for re-use.
“We reprocess thousands of instruments every day. For example, one set of instrumentation for a knee or hip replacement can contain several hundred instruments.”
After the instruments are reprocessed, the Technicians rebuild the trays of instruments needed for each procedure.
“Everything has to be 100 percent accurate. If the tray is not correct and the instruments are not all there, the surgery will be cancelled.
“It’s a job that requires great attention to detail. You need to be a team player, but you also need to be comfortable working on your own. The work is very detailed, and we follow a very systematic process. Every step must be done in the same order and in the same way each time. The OR relies on us for consistency. If they are dealing with a major trauma, they need to know that the tray of instruments is correct every time.”
Technicians first manually clean the instruments. Then they use steam sterilizers, low-temperature sterilizers, and high-level washer/disinfectants to sterilize the instruments for infection control purposes. They disassemble and re-assemble the instruments so that every surface is disinfected. Then, they also inspect each instrument to make sure it works correctly, is safe to use, and can be used again.
“We work to exacting standards so that the Operating Room nursing staff can open up the trays and know the items are safe and sterile.”
“This department is a great place to be,” says Susan. “We are a very happy and committed group.”
Shifts are 24/7. “Week-ends can be as busy as weekdays, with traumas and car accidents. We are also on call for emergency procedures related to Endoscopy that may be performed in intensive care, where staff have to come in and take care of reprocessing the instruments used.”
Wages start at about $23/hr. It is a unionized workplace, and employees are entitled to benefits, paid holidays, and pension plans.
The impact of the job
“Hardly anyone knows what we do,” says Susan. “For many years, I was an OR and Intensive Care Nurse, but I never thought about where the instrument trays came from or how they were assembled.
“Staff play a big role in infection control. If we do not clean and disinfect the instruments properly, patients will get sick. We follow Canadian standards for medical device reprocessing, and every Friday we dedicate an hour to learning new processes and how to service new equipment.
“Our main focus is patient safety. We cannot afford to make mistakes, because the patients’ health is at stake. People wait for months or years to get surgery, and if the tray of instruments is not right, the surgery is cancelled. That is a big deal.
“There is a continual growing need for our services. All over Canada the significant role that Medical Device Reprocessing Technicians play has been highly recognized. It is a specialized area that needs specialized training.”
A number of institutions across Canada offer training for this role. The QEH works closely with Saskatchewan Polytechnic (SIAST). Admission requirements include a grade 12 diploma with English and Science credits.
The program offers online coursework in microbiology, infection control, decontamination, sterilization, packaging, and instrumentation, combined with hands-on experience. A preceptor who is a senior Technician supervises the students. Students visit the SPD at the beginning of each module and spend the day with the Technicians to see first-hand what they will be learning.
There is also a 400-hour unpaid practicum. “We make sure students meet all the competencies required by the practicum, so that when they graduate, they are qualified entry-level technicians,” says Susan. “We work hard to give students a great experience. We send them to the operating room to watch surgeries, so they can understand how important our role is.
“This profession is an opportunity for those who may not have entered the university or college stream. We want to attract recent high school graduates who have a good work ethic and are interested in a challenging career in Medical Device Reprocessing.”
For more information about the SIAST program, visit www.saskpolytech.ca/programs-and-courses/programs/Medical-Device-Reprocessing-Technician.aspx
“After graduating from the program, if a position for a qualified Technician is not available right away and the applicant seems like a good fit, we may bring them on casually as a porter or an aide until an opportunity comes up. We have a big staff, and everyone needs time off, so there usually is work available.
“There are lots of opportunities. The last two applicants who graduated from the program worked all summer as porters and aides and have recently been hired.”
Other skills needed
In addition to the education requirement, manual dexterity, physical strength, and good eyesight are also needed.
“Computer skills are becoming more important. In the next few years, we will be moving to a new system where we track every instrument used with each patient, so that we will be able to trace back, identify each item, and verify that everything we did was correct and all processes were followed.”
Financing your education
Tuition for the 10-month online program is about $2,800 to $3,200. Contact SkillsPEI at www.skillspei.com or Career Development Services at www.cdspei.ca to find out if you are eligible for financial assistance to cover the cost of the program.