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How Continuing Education Can Help You in More Ways Than You Think

Have you ever watched the movie Wayne’s World? Let’s revisit a scene in the classic movie.

Garth: Are you gonna marry her?
Wayne: Garth! Marriage is punishment for shoplifting in some countries.

We can also re-create the scene in a sterile processing (SP) setting.

Are you done with your CEs for the year?

Technicians: Continuing education is certification punishment in some companies.

We can all relate. We put off getting our CEs for the year or we attend the umpteenth in-service and forget to follow-up and get the certificate we need because our shift is over. Then, suddenly, our CEs are due in five days and it’s crunch time, so we mindlessly watch the same 10 videos as last year because they are free and we are pretty confident we already know the quiz answers. We learn absolutely nothing at all while continuing to marathon-watch our favorite show on Netflix on full volume, with the audio and education video on volume .5 so we don’t miss the prompt to endure the next monotonous slide show. Admit it, you’ve been there, done that.

Let’s visit some ideas we can all learn from this, aside from the fact that procrastination always feels easiest when you dread something.

Why is continuing education so critical in sterile processing and in any healthcare setting?
Continuing education is more than a continued certification; it’s essential for providing care at the highest level. There are three reasons why continual learning serves both you and the end user (the patient):

  1. Technology changes, and with it so does best practice.
  2. Continued education enriches your professional development, and your future self will thank you. Your learning effects your output, and your output, in turn, becomes a reflection of your value within your organization.
  3. When you learn, you are armed to help teach your counterparts, and it has an exponential effect.

When you learn, your brain changes
How does your brain change when you learn something new? Every time we learn something new our brain forms new neurons and strengthens the pathways, referred to as plasticity. Something called a dendrite receives signals which travel along the axon and connect with other neurons and dendrites. These signals can be so fast that sometimes our brain isn’t even aware it is happening.1

Memory can be both short and long term. It always starts out as short-term and some of it transfers to long-term memory. Sleep is what seals the deal, and transfers this short-term memory. In a company blog post, Christa Sterling with the Central Connecticut State University Office of Continuing Education explains, “Because of how memories have to travel across many synapses and neurons, degradation often occurs that can render memories incomplete once they are transferred.”1

Did you know that learning something new and exciting can release dopamine? This is why finding new CE opportunities in different modalities can be so pivotal, not only to your knowledge base, but to your ability to stay in it (without Netflix-watching distractions).

Why can CEs feel so daunting?
Because someone tells us it’s a requirement, not a learning of our own accord. And anytime we are told we have to do something, our willingness to freely absorb the information and care enough to execute it becomes almost nonexistent. It’s like a teacher asking you to write the same 50 lines over and over again; it starts to feel like a repetition that is punishment versus reward.

How can you keep interest piqued in continued education? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Shake things up. Try a different learning modality that resonates with you.
  2. Visit topics you know little about that spark a curiosity in you.
  3. Share what you learn with a co-worker or with your online audience.

These approaches not only keep you actually interested, but in teaching them, you are becoming more of an expert yourself.


    1. Sterling, Christa. “What Happens to Your Brain When You Learn a New Skill?” Central Connecticut State University Office of Continuing Education, July 25, 2017. https://ccsuconed.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-learn-a-new-skill

Rebecca Kinney has been working to improve patient safety in the medical arena for more than 13 years. She provides educational content on LinkedIn to help sterile processing and medical professionals gain knowledge as it relates to surgical devices, and her articles have appeared in Outpatient Surgery magazine. Her articles focus on the practical, hands-on knowledge operating room professionals can benefit from—never lacking in entertainment as she unfolds the true reality and struggles that are faced every day in the operating room setting. She is also a small business owner of a startup sales and marketing consulting agency.

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