“To put it bluntly, my job is to kill microorganisms,” says Evan O’Donnell, a medical device reprocessing (MDR) technician at the IWK. “But a lot goes into making surgical instruments safe for use on patients coming into the IWK.”
As an MDR tech, O’Donnell receives medical devices that have been used on patients and ensures they are safe for use on the next patient coming into the health centre.
“Medical device reprocessing as a profession, is virtually unknown to the public,“ says O’Donnell. “It’s important for people to know that there’s a whole team of specially trained technicians, in every healthcare facility, who are dedicated to ensuring the items used in their procedures are properly maintained and safe for use.”
O’Donnell, himself, only discovered MDR’s existence while working as a student in IWK’s food services.
“I started working in the kitchen of the IWK while attending Saint Mary’s University and trying to find a career path for myself,” he says. “I’ve now worked at the IWK for 11 years and in MDR for 6 years. I love the atmosphere of the hospital and have developed numerous relationships with staff throughout its many departments.”
O’Donnell and the other MDR techs work with the operating rooms and many clinics within the IWK to ensure the entire health center has the devices needed to provide care for all patients coming to the IWK on any given day, whether it be for an ultrasound or an invasive surgical procedure.
“While we work predominantly behind the scenes I am motivated by the fact that I’m part of an overall team effort to provide the safest patient care possible,” says O’Donnell.
Interestingly the impact the pandemic has made on O’Donnell has been more prominent on his life outside the IWK.
“I fight microorganisms for a living, so I felt pretty comfortable working in a controlled environment,” says O’Donnell. “It was things like going for groceries that I suddenly found anxiety inducing.”
Evan O’Donnell describes what goes into making sure a medical device is safe for use:
First, items are processed through the Decontamination side of the department. This is where our team of technicians use enzymatic detergents and specialized washers to clean and disinfect surgical devices, and ensure they are safe to be handled for inspection on the Packaging side of the department. We also use specialized High Level Disinfectant solutions to reprocess delicate items, which cannot withstand the heat used in a traditional steam sterilizer.
Secondly, on the Packaging side of the department, we inspect instruments for cleanliness and proper function, then assemble them into sets to be used in specific procedures. Items are packaged by several methods (sterile wrappers, pouches or containers) in a way to maintain sterility until they are used on the next patient.
Third, items are sterilized, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, at varying times and temperatures in one of our hydrogen peroxide gas plasma sterilizers.
All items are logged and stamped with a control sticker, telling us when it was last processed and in which sterilizer. We run multiple daily tests on our MDR equipment, including placing a biological indicator on multiple sterilizer loads. Biological indicators are vials containing a harmless bacterial spore, which we then place into an incubator. Once the incubator tells us there has been no bacterial growth, we know the sterilizer has done its job and sterility has been achieved.