CLEVELAND — The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be devastating for families with hundreds of thousands of Ohioans still out of work.
But several industries are booming right now and healthcare is at the top of the list.
Reham Shoman is in her second semester in Tri-C’s Sterile Processing and Distribution program. Sterile processing is the process of cleaning and preparing surgical instruments for use.
“We’ll learn what they are, what they're used for, and then how to clean them and disinfect them,” Shoman said.
Shoman enrolled in the program last fall for a couple of reasons.
“I think it's easier getting a job sometimes when you have some sort of certificate or degree,” Shoman said. “I also have three kids so I want a good job that can bring in money.”
Healthcare jobs still in-demand during COVID-19 pandemic
Experts say working towards a job in healthcare is the way to go especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report from economic development group Team NEO says total job postings declined about 5% from March to October last year, but in-demand industries like healthcare and I.T. are growing.
“We've had almost fifteen thousand unique health care postings in just Greater Cleveland alone in the past 90 days,” Jacob Duritsky, the VP of Strategy and Research at Team NEO, said.
Team NEO says nursing is the number one in-demand healthcare job, but jobs that require less training are being sought after too.
Richard Blasko, University Hospitals’ director of central sterile processing, said jobs in sterile processing are in high demand.
He said people are generally skittish about working in the healthcare field, but that’s become even more common during the pandemic, which has made recruitment difficult not only in Northeast Ohio but across the country.
“It's a great time for an individual who's looking for a career path because sterile processing is not just an entry-level job. There is a career that you can progress through and you can also use it as a stepping stone to have other jobs within the hospital environment or tuition reimbursement that we offer. So I welcome anyone who's looking to make a career of it,” Blasko said.
How to become certified in sterile processing
It only takes a year to get a sterile processing technician certification at Tri-C.
“The sterile processing folks - those are really the unsung heroes of the operating room, they’re the backbone of the operating room,” program director Beth Stokes said.
Stokes worked at Southwest Hospital and in Barberton. She has been teaching at Tri-C for 15 years.
“The students are my passion definitely. It's just the giving back. You know what I mean, the opportunity to give back what I had,” Stokes said. “I mean they’re the future. I always tell them they're building my sterile army for me, so yeah that's the part that I enjoy the most.”
She said sterile processing can start out as a behind-the-scenes type of gig but can turn into a life-long career as it did for her.
“You can be a team leader, shift supervisor, a manager, the director,” Stokes said.
She also encourages older students to join the field.
“Oftentimes, I'm asked by an older student, am I going to get a job or will an employer still hire me? And the answer is a resounding yes because they can bring to the table other things that a younger student cannot. They have their prior work experience, they have their emotional maturity and they also bring their stellar work ethic that a younger student is not necessarily going to have developed yet,” Stokes said.
Job opportunities for sterile processing technicians
Shoman is now doing clinical training at Fairview Hospital as part of the program. She said she’s confident she’ll find a job after graduation in May and is excited to become part of a very important team.
“Without you decontaminating the instruments and prepping them and getting them ready. You can't send them upstairs for someone to have a surgery,” Shoman said.
Blasko said UH looks to hire people who are already certified in sterile processing, but they have entry-level positions where they will hire someone right out of high school. UH mandates that those employees become certified within two years of being employed.
From there, he said the career possibilities are endless.
“Once you get in the hospital, you can stay in sterile processing. We have different levels of technicians. We have education specialists. I have supervision. Or if you choose to go back to school, you can become a surgical technologist or a registered nurse,” Blasko said. “I've had individuals who have started in sterile processing and have gone on to be physician assistants and they're actually in the operating room assisting the doctors. So it is an extremely wide-open field.”
Tri-C’s sterile processing and distribution program starts in the fall semester of every school year. Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, only 10 students can enroll in the program per year.
Information on the program and how to sign up can be found here.
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