Medical Assisting Students Learn the Science of Sterilization

This critical aspect of working in healthcare is built into the hands-on learning of this training program

Students in Ms. Miller’s Medical Assistant class are learning about sterile procedures – hands-on! They practice how to put on surgical gowns, gloves and masks to maintain a sterile environment to ensure patient safety. Hint: Read on to find out why everyone is holding their hands up like this!

One of the essential aspects of training to be a Medical Assistant is learning how to create and maintain a sterile environment, to ensure patient safety during procedures. The students in the Medical Assisting program at the American College for Medical Careers (ACMC) enjoy lots of opportunities to learn all of the various aspects of this important skill during their training.

Linda Miller, who has been an instructor on the Medical Assisting faculty at ACMC for the past two years, recently spent a session of her MA 126 class teaching students the ins and outs of various sterile procedures. This aspect of the hands-on Medical Assisting instruction includes gowning and gloving, so that students learn to assist in a medical or surgical procedure while protecting from bacteria or other microorganisms.

The students learn the steps to ensure that an environment is medically aseptic (free from bacteria or viruses), and appropriate for examinations in a medical office. Miller explains that this requires that the instruments be cleaned in a specific way. There are more extreme measures necessary to sterilize for a surgical procedure, she adds, which requires that everything in the environment be sterile. ACMC students learn the subtleties of both.

From gowning to gloving

Miller teaches students the sterile gowning process, which requires that every part of them be covered. She demonstrates how to do this correctly. When it comes to the techniques of gloving, to cover the hands, Miller teaches her students the correct way to put on and take off sterile gloves.

“The technique is different than the regular way you might put on gloves,” she explains, “because the outside of the gloves can’t be touched, so that it remains sterile.” The students also learn that, once they’re gloved, they must keep their hands above the waist and below their shoulders. This prevents them from accidentally touching any non-sterile objects, or even the front of their gown. Any of these actions can compromise a sterile environment.

Another aspect of the lesson is the sterilization of instruments, and the importance of keeping them aseptic. Miller shows students how to set up a tray of instruments for a procedure. “Once they learn how to set up the tray, we focus on how to make sure the instruments remain sterile during the procedure,” she says.

Practice makes perfect

As part of the learning process, Miller or one of her fellow instructors gives a lecture about each aspect of the topic, and then they demonstrate it themselves. Finally, they have the students show their ability to perform each of the techniques. Getting feedback is one of the most important aspects of this process. The instructors give detailed input on areas in which each student could improve. “We also give them the opportunity to do each element of the process multiple times,” she says, “so through repetition they’re gaining confidence in their abilities.”

At ACMC, every laboratory class (including phlebotomy, injections, pediatrics, geriatrics, and Electronic Health Records, to name just a few) has core competencies for students to practice. Miller or one of the other instructors observes each student one-on-one, and then checks off when the student can successfully complete each step. “We give the students as many chances as they need,” Miller says, “and we’re always available to work more intensely with some students who may need additional help.”

“These are skills that the other instructors may have touched on in various classes,” Miller says, “and once the students learn something, we try to come back to it again and again, to reframe it for them so they get different perspectives.”

Medical Assistant students learn about the sterilization of instruments, how to keep them aseptic (free from bacteria or viruses) and also how to correctly set-up a tray of instruments for a medical procedure.

The joy of learning

How do the students react to the sterile procedures aspect of the curriculum? “They love it,” Miller says. “The gowning is one of their favorite things to do. They love to get entirely covered up, from head to toe, including the required goggles, and take pictures of themselves and one another.” She emphasizes that the hands-on aspect is what they get excited about. “They practice these techniques, while also having fun,” she says. “It’s great to see them learning while they’re enjoying themselves.”

Every class in the Medical Assisting Curriculum has a hands-on aspect. “We think it’s the best way to learn,” she says, noting that the instructors all do what they can to convey the information in a variety of ways. “The hands-on work complements not only the lecturing and demonstrations, but also the videos we show and PowerPoint presentations we give,” she says. But it’s once the students get a chance to perform the techniques themselves, and learn from their mistakes, that they’re most engaged.

Preparing students for the workplace

Miller takes pride in being able to equip the students for their future work as Medical Assistants, and sterile techniques are the tip of the iceberg. “Pretty much anything they would be asked to do in a medical office, we prepare them to do here,” she says. The students practice on each other and, in the case of injections and other patient procedures, sometimes on mannequins.

“We make sure the students have the procedures down before they leave us,” she says. Students also train to do EKGs and spirometry, a test that measures the capacity of the lungs and is used with patients with asthma and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In Miller’s experience, the students genuinely enjoy all of these hands-on aspects of the training. “Initially, some students may be anxious about some of the procedures, such as phlebotomy,” she acknowledges, “but by the end of that section, once they’ve had lots of opportunities to practice, they’re loving it. We find that the students have developed a certain level of confidence because they gain experience learning so many things here, in a supportive learning environment.”

This article is part of the weekly blog of the American College for Medical Careers in Orlando, FL. We support all of our students as they strive to attain their career goals. For more about any of our professional training programs, visit us online or call 407-738-4488. We look forward to hearing from you!