Crafting a Useful Sterile Processing Department Orientation Program

Crafting a Useful Sterile Processing Department Orientation Program

Sterile processing departments are an essential part of keeping patients safe in healthcare settings. Technicians are responsible for taking precautions that prevent infections in patients. They sort contaminated instruments, decontaminate,  and sterilize instruments for future use. Some sterile processing departments also disinfect shared patient care equipment. Healthcare facilities fail without a well-trained sterile processing staff. Implementing a useful orientation program and promoting continued education for all your sterile processing department members is crucial in creating a safe environment for medical and surgical patients.

Continuing Education is Essential for SPDs

Most technicians don’t come from a healthcare or medical background in typical sterile processing departments in the United States. For this reason, your department must prioritize not only the orientation of new technicians but the continuing education of the entire sterile processing team as well. Proper sterile processing isn’t learned in a few short weeks. It requires continuous training and study, so your sterile processing technicians can protect patients in your healthcare facility from acquiring a healthcare-associated infection.

Standard processing protocols are constantly evolving as medical technology improves over time. It’s essential that your team is up to the industry’s standards at all times to ensure patient safety and cleanliness of the medical environment. Providing your sterile processing technicians with ample infection prevention onboarding time, informative orientation, and continued training throughout their time in the department can improve patient outcomes across the board at your healthcare facility.

According to research conducted at Rice University based on findings from 23,018 patients, advances in sterile processing education can contribute to achievements that include:

  • Reduced patient mortality rates of up to 13%
  • Reductions in medical errors up to 18%
  • Decreases in intensive-care stay lengths of 6%
  • Increases in patient satisfaction of 13%

Aside from these tangible benefits, you’ll also notice improved teamwork and the transferring of skills between your technicians. Continuing education for your sterile processing department helps create a safe climate for patients and professionals.

Implementing a Useful SPD Orientation Program

If you’re not entirely sure what a successful sterile processing department orientation program should look like, just remember these four essential components: time, supervision, experience, and review. With these key considerations factored into your SPD’s orientation program, you’ll see a vast improvement in your entire team’s workflow.

1. Allow Adequate Time for Training

Sterile instrument processing isn’t a simple or straightforward learning experience. Since the work of SPDs directly impacts patient health, it requires extensive time for training. Some sterile processing orientation programs can last upwards of 90 to 120 days. When human lives are at stake, you can never provide enough time to ensure your technicians are operating appropriately.

Allow adequate time throughout the orientation process to focus on key areas of responsibility for sterile processing technicians. These areas include:

  • Decontamination
  • Instrument assembly (prep and packaging)
  • Sterilization techniques
  • Case cart assembly

Education for sterile processing technicians is never-ending. If your orientation attendees are struggling with new systems and unfamiliar equipment, allow ample time for them to adjust to their surroundings and the latest procedures required in their place of work.

2. Provide Designated Supervision

Your sterile processing department should be chock-full of experienced technicians that can provide succinct directions and supervision to new team members. It’s not enough to simply regurgitate directions for important sterile processing procedures. Provide designated supervisors that ensure each step of the various sterilization procedures is completed correctly. With adequate supervision, you can catch and quickly correct any mistakes a new sterile processing department staff member might make.

3. Require Real-World Experience

No one learns anything from simply acquiring information through text and explanations. Allow your sterile processing technicians to apply their newly acquired knowledge to real-world situations. Always ensure adequate supervision when team members are training with live patients during their orientation. In other words, assess orientees competency in every aspect of instrument reprocessing.

4. Remember to Review

Orientation programs for sterile processing departments are often lengthy and supply a stream of new information to technicians. You can’t expect your new technicians to remember everything they’ve learned from start to finish without any time to review. Allow ample time to explain previous topics and answer questions your team members have before allowing them to work alone processing complex instruments for use on patients.


Sterile processing departments are an essential part of patient safety in clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Through the years, the various safety protocols for sterile processing procedures have changed significantly. It’s crucial to provide continuing education to your sterile processing department since everything they do can affect patients’ health. Sterile processing technicians with outdated knowledge can cause serious disruptions in healthcare offices and hospitals. Ensure that you’re always providing patients with the safest, most sanitary conditions possible by continuing to train your sterile processing department regularly. Contact an infection control expert like Luci Perri, with certifications in sterile processing and infection control, to help craft a useful orientation program that provides pertinent information to all your sterile processing team members, new and old.