SNV Story No. 3: Careum Bildungszentrum

Making the most of the available opportunities – with the help of standards expertise

Last year, the time had finally come: trainee medical-device technicians from the Careum Bildungszentrum (Training Centre) became the first students to receive the Federal Diploma of Vocational Education and Training (VET), graduating to become practitioners with extensive expertise. Anyone opting for this diploma course inevitably finds themselves confronted with all manner of standards. The fact that the Careum Bildungszentrum – whose foundations date back to 1882 – is the leading institution in this regard is underscored by the visionary and pioneering approach taken at the training centre.

Kastriot Markaj, a motivated assistant lecturer involved in the vocational training at the Careum Bildungszentrum, gave us insight into the relevant standards, the teaching and the future prospects of this profession. The Careum Bildungszentrum has a strong network of practitioners at its disposal and lives up to its guiding principle of “preparing trainees and students for professional practice”. This involves not just the teaching of in-depth theoretical knowledge, but also a strong practical focus.

What is your role at the Careum Bildungszentrum?
As an assistant lecturer involved in imparting professional knowledge, I am responsible for teaching a class of 13 trainees and thus have the opportunity to actively help shape this new profession. To this end, I also consciously incorporate my experience gained from working in the emergency room of the cantonal hospital in Baden. My aim is to ensure the utmost safety of employees and patients by means of clearly standardized, carefully executed processes and the professional handling of the requisite tools. It is about ensuring the health of everyone.

The first class of trainee medical-device technicians VET started in 2018. However, medical devices have been used in hospitals for decades. How did this training course come into existence, and why now?
The tasks performed by a medical-device technician VET didn’t suddenly become important only in the last three years. Tasks such as cleaning, packaging, sterilizing and storing medical devices have always been crucial. Staff were able to obtain their expertise in the specialist training courses I and II. What was lacking was a training course that covers the entire spectrum and consolidates the requisite expertise in a single specialism. The newly created training course leading to VET reflects the growing importance of the profession and meets the high standards required in the field. The course content and learning objectives were developed in close coordination with decision makers in the field, with schools, inter-organizational courses (OdA G), OdA Santé and the industry’s professional organization.

How much interest is there in the new training course?
Although awareness of the course is not yet widespread, school-leavers are showing very strong interest in this wide-ranging training course. Hospitals now have the opportunity to gain additional expertise, in the form of a sterile processing department, with this vocational training course.

Who is coming to you for training – newcomers to the profession or long-serving specialist staff?
We have both in our class. The majority are young people starting out in the profession. For them, there is no alternative to acquiring a proper technical grounding. The rest of the class is made up of experienced practitioners, who bring valuable practical knowledge with them. This diverse mix results in interesting discussions in the classroom, to everyone’s benefit.

What role do standards play in your course?
Standards, rules and action recommendations are the cornerstones of the training course.
Throughout the entire course, we invest a lot of time in familiarizing trainees with standards and teaching them to apply them in practice. One example are the cleaning and disinfection appliances, which, depending on their size, are extensively documented either in SN EN 13060 – Sterilization – Steam sterilizers – Large sterilizers or in SN EN 285 – Small steam sterilizers. Materials that come into contact with steam must be durable and cannot suffer any corrosion or loss of quality. Then there are the manufacturer’s specifications and application guidelines. Every device that the trainees get to handle is basically standardized.

How do you underscore the importance of standards to your trainees?
The trainees must understand that standards reflect experience and insights, and are periodically updated. They are therefore an essential basis for ensuring people’s safety and careful handling of highly expensive devices and tools. If you don’t apply standards or if you use them incorrectly, you actively endanger the health of everyone involved. This is why it is very good for everyone to know and apply the key standards and manufacturer’s instructions. This is the only way we can maintain high quality levels.

Do the standards scare off the trainees?
Quite the opposite. I see it time and again that the standards are received very positively. They are not just empty phrases committed to short-term memory – they convey safety. When you have acquired standards expertise, it later allows you to discuss things on an equal footing with your team in a professional setting. In the classroom, I also see that trainees use their newly acquired knowledge to critically engage with certain standards, query them and make improvements. Personally speaking, I can well imagine incorporating this experience into the standardization work.

There must be enough standards involved here to fill many books. How do you teach about them in a motivating and effective way?
With a good balance of theoretical and practical learning. This is because the information on standards is certainly very extensive. In the lessons, which we are structuring around the educational concept of the competencies-and-resources model, we ensure the practical relevance of the taught content. Dry theory alone isn’t useful for anyone – what matters is understanding the standards and being able to apply them in everyday practice. It is only when their practical relevance is clear that you can commit them to long-term memory. In our classes, we always have relevant examples to hand and also conduct the kinds of tests that practitioners also have to perform. A brief example is the Bowie Dick test, which is used to check the performance of medical-grade steam sterilizers. Our trainees have digital access to all the standards and can later continue to use this in their professional practice.

Why does the profession of medical-device technician VET have good future prospects?
The profession is developing in step with the tools and covers the entire cycle – from product manufacturing and purchasing with quality control through to distribution, sterilization, disposal or reprocessing. Alongside the technical elements, this also involves economic and ecological criteria. The VET provides graduates with a unique opportunity for rapid further professional development, thanks to their specialist knowledge and familiarity with standards – regardless of their age. This reflects how much they are appreciated from day one. The opportunities for launching their career upon graduating are very varied. Their knowledge is highly sought-after by manufacturers, hospitals, institutes and education providers.

You now teach about standards on a daily basis. Which guidelines do you adhere to as a lecturer?
We are bound by the stipulations of the VET ordinance of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). In addition, we are also guided by the teaching model of the Careum Bildungszentrum, which is regularly reviewed and continuously optimized. One thing I can highlight here by way of example is the rule “M4 Preparatory learning environment”. Among other things, this obligates me to carefully prepare the necessary materials and media and to ensure that my teaching remains engaging (e.g. through a variety of group-working scenarios). Our classroom with modern equipment and our large repertoire of teaching methods is outlined in rule “M11 Methodical structure”. In general, there are carefully crafted “scripts” for all our teaching plans. The “what” (i.e. the content) of the course is thus clearly defined; however, when it comes to the “how”, I have a lot of creative leeway as an assistant lecturer. This is what makes my work so interesting and varied.

What makes the Careum Bildungszentrum unique in your view?
It is the open, honest and respectful way we all interact with each other. The permanent support provided for the personal development of the trainees, students and staff. We create an environment rich in opportunities and creative leeway when it comes to developing professional skills and talent. The Careum Bildungszentrum is genuinely interested in constantly improving and draws on the feedback of staff, trainees and students in a transparent manner. I find the Careum Bildungszentrum to be highly innovative. Just recently, we introduced a new learning management system, which means we now have the digital tools for designing lessons and communicating.

To conclude with, is there anything else you would like to say about standardization work in Switzerland?
Although many things in everyday life are subject to standardization, very few people in Switzerland are aware of the valuable standardization work being done. Your stories really help to counteract this.

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