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Fast training and good jobs await VCC medical device reprocessing technicians

Posted on March 10, 2020

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Originally published in The Georgia Straight

When Vancouver Coastal Health employee Samantha Shone graduated from high school, she was planning on becoming a nurse.

But an uncle wasn’t sure that she was ready to spend the next four years in university, so he suggested that she try a much shorter health care offering—medical device reprocessing technician training (MDRT) — at Vancouver Community College (VCC). It transformed her life.

VCC’s 16-week MDRT certificate program enables graduates who pass the certified medical device reprocessing technician exam to immediately land a decent-paying job.

About 14 years ago, Shone started at around $21 per hour for disinfecting surgical equipment.

Because she was working at St. Paul’s Hospital, she had a chance to observe other health care professions, including nursing, and consider whether she should change her occupation in the future.

“I ended up staying with medical device reprocessing because I got a full-time job and all these opportunities came up,” Shone said. “I’ve made a career out of it.”

Today, Shone is the B.C. provincial adviser to the Canadian Association of Medical Device Reprocessing, as well as the site lead at UBC Hospital. In this role, she supervises 30 full-time employees to ensure that all the equipment will be ready and sterilized for 30 to 40 surgical cases per day in the hospital’s eight operating rooms.

“This is the most unknown department, but every hospital has one,” Shone said with a laugh.

It’s not a simple job. Many items must be sterilized with steam, but there’s also low-temperature sterilization for certain devices.

“Our inventory is huge,” Shone said, “so keeping track of everything and making sure we are turning things around at the right time is a big job.”

Instruments range from a pair of scissors to a complex camera that might cost $20,000 or $30,000—and staff need to be aware of how these items are used.

An endoscope, for instance, requires high-level disinfection because if it’s not properly cleaned, it has the potential to pass a disease to another patient. “I can see the impact that my job and my department has on patient care,” Shone said.

She also said that medical device reprocessing technicians have to do a fair amount of heavy lifting, as well as troubleshooting and problem-solving.

So far, the highlight of Shone’s career has been co-authoring a study in the American Journal of Infection Control. It resulted from research conducted when she and other medical professionals travelled to Uganda.

“We held educational workshops to train the medical staff at Mulago Hospital in Kampala,” Shone said. “I went with a group of surgeons, nurses, and physiotherapists, and I represented medical device reprocessing.”

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Learn how you can become an important member of a health care team. VCC’s MDRT program is now accepting applications for September 2020.