In this month's "Safety in the Laboratory" podcast, Pat Hlavka, CSP, Safety Coordinator in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP) at Mayo Clinic, sits down with Deb Hagen-Moe, Education Coordinator in DLMP, to discuss safety education resources and training. Deb has a variety of experience in education, with a focus on quality, training modules, and building professional skills. Listen now.
Have a safety question in mind for Pat? Let us know in the comments below on what you want to hear about in the next episode.
Pat Hlavka: Hi, this is Pat Hlavka, and I’m here today to talk with Deb Hagen-Moe about education in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. Deb and I have worked together developing safety training modules, communications, and awareness programs for clinical laboratory employees for a long time. I can always count on you, Deb, to keep me honest and keep me on track with feedback in where I need to improve presentations and communications. Deb, can you give us some information on your background in your role here in the department?
Deb Hagen-Moe: Hi, Pat. It is nice to join you here today. My background starts with a career in nursing as a hospital nurse, so I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. I have an advanced degree in adult education, and that’s what my current focus is. I have also had some experience as an emergency medical technician, so that’s where my passion for safety began.
PH: I love it.
DH: Yeah, I worked as a volunteer EMT, so I went on those ambulance rides and crawled in ditches and did all that wonderful stuff; so that’s where, again, my passion for safety comes from. What do I do currently? A little bit of this and a little bit of that. My primary focuses are on quality, so I do some presentations on quality. I create online modules. I also do a lot of SOFT skills, helping our laboratorians become full professionals. They certainly need their technical expertise; but how do they build their professional skills—coaching, things like that.
PH: Well, Deb, you and I have worked a lot, too, on some of the safety training modules that are out there for our folks to use, so we have had a lot of activity in that arena. What were some of the topics that we worked on that you might want to mention?
DH: Oh, we’ve done everything from waste management to chemical labeling, and one of our largest projects was the Hilton evacuation for fire safety. As some folks may know, the Hilton building is one of the largest laboratories in the nation. It is an 11-story building, and we have had the challenge of trying to do a fire drill to evacuate that entire building. It took us a few years, but we got it done, didn’t we.
PH: Yeah, we sure did, and actually we came up with a lot of great training opportunities during the course of that, too, so I always appreciate the feedback and opportunity to work with you, so lots of fun times and lots of burning issues. So as we delve into the topic of onboarding new employees and why it is so important, I just want to talk to you a little bit today about some of your thoughts on that process because I know that bringing in new employees into the lab can be a challenge to make sure that training is provided in a timely manner and that appropriate information is shared with them at the time they begin working, setting the tone, sharing the right information and the amount of information, and providing a welcoming environment to help make sure that they get a great start on the new job and get the safety information that they need. So my first question for you today is for someone who is responsible for orienting new employees into the laboratory, what are some good things that they should consider?
DH: Well I have three goals whenever I design a training or an educational event. They are pretty straightforward: 1) make it relevant, 2) make it memorable, and 3) deliver the information in small bites. So I am going to talk about relevance first. The first step in any successful training event is to understand who your audience is and what it is that they need to know. Not all audiences are the same. People have different educational backgrounds, work backgrounds, and life experiences. So one way that I get to know an audience is to ask them—what do you know about fire safety; what do you know about chemical safety? And based on the response, I start with topics that they are already familiar with, and then I fill in the knowledge gaps and explain how we do it here because it might be different than what they were doing at another location. I have initiated a conversation rather than having a monologue, so that new employee feels welcome, and they feel like they are being listened to; it starts to build a relationship, build some trust; but most important, I have engaged them in a conversation. They are part of the learning process. It is no longer a spectator sport. They are now an active participant.
PH: Well thanks, Deb. Okay, so another question for you. For new employees, there is a lot of new information bombarding them and it can be overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions on how to minimize the intimidation of this information so that they can learn better?
DH: You know when you are passionate about a topic—you know you are and I am too—it is very tempting to share everything you know.
PH: The data dump.
DH: Yeah! Hit them with the firehose; give it to them all. You know, that might meet your needs, but it might not meet the needs of the employee, so I like the rule of threes—you notice a pattern here with me. Start by identifying three things that new employee needs to know or do. Once I have presented those three concepts, I take a little pause. I might ask them—so what have you learned about A, B, and C? This gives the opportunity for the employee to pause again and reflect on—well, what is it that we talked about? What was said? It helps cement that learning by revisiting the topic and churning it through one more time. It also provides an immediate opportunity to correct; if they have got some incorrect information or incomplete knowledge, that is my example of a small bite.
PH: Oh that is a great suggestion. Okay, so there is key safety information that new employees need to have right away, such as hazard communication, emergency preparedness, blood-borne pathogens, personal protective equipment, and the list goes on. There is a ton of stuff, isn’t there? Do you have any suggestions how to make this information more lively, interesting, and personal?
DH: So we are up to my third concept—how can we make that learning memorable? Pat, which are you more likely to remember—something I tell you or show you, or something you discover on your own?
PH: Something that I discover, of course.
PH: So you are bringing me into the training, aren’t you?
DH: Yeah! Adults prefer to learn through self-discovery. Using multiple senses helps make our learning stick. So as part of the orientation to the work unit, you give them that tour, right, and you show them where the restrooms are and this and that.
PH: And fire extinguishers.
DH: Oh yes, you and your fire extinguishers and make sure you show them how to blast those things. But I like to follow it up with the scavenger hunt. Remember when we built those for the Hilton building?
PH: Yeah, that was a lot of fun.
DH: All you need to do—and you can do this yourself—get a blueprint for the laboratory or the work unit. You can get that from your building management or facilities or whoever has it. Then, create a small legend with all of the safety items that you want the employee to find, like the fire extinguisher, emergency exit doors, emergency eye wash stations. Pat, are there any others I am missing?
PH: Oh sure, of course, labeling.
DH: Ah, and then tell them to mark where each item is located on their little map and then send them out. If there is more than one person, you can send them in teams of twos; but that way, they get to explore. They get to look around and see and experience their environment in a little different way, and you can bet they will probably remember if they had to find it themselves. But we do not want them to get frustrated, so they have a ‘get out of jail card;’ they can ask somebody. We do not want them to get frustrated or overwhelmed; and then when they are finished, you bring it back, you review the results and, again, you can reinforce—here is where certain things are; and if they miss something, you can go and explore together and let them learn where it is. This is a self-paced activity, and it gives the employee a chance to solve the puzzle any way they want and, again, they are using multiple senses, which is very powerful.
PH: And I like that idea. You know, it keeps them involved, it gets them engaged, it keeps them awake, and they also get to bounce off of other people. That is a great idea. Thanks, Deb. So Deb, another question for you; it seems that I am always ending up using PowerPoint presentations when I do safety training for new employees and also for existing employees. Could I or should I be using another method to deliver safety information?
DH: Well personally, I love videos. We have got so many options for capturing video—you can use your phone, a tablet, cameras; so why not use them to our advantage for training. They do not have to be high-quality; think YouTube! Create a short video snippet of a common laboratory safety error, and then ask the audience—do you see any safety concerns? If the audience identifies the problem, well then dig a little deeper; ask them to explain—well, what are the risks? Is there a better alternative behavior? Again, this is another great example of hitting those three goals: 1) it is relevant, 2) it is memorable, 3) and it is in a small bite.
PH: So what are some of the challenges you have faced with regarding education for new employees, and how did you address those challenges?
DH: One challenge I think many trainers and educators face is ensuring that we are communicating effectively with our audience. Our workforce is multi-generational, it is multi-cultural; so to me, effective communication starts with that friendly face and a welcoming smile. Make that employee feel comfortable. Ask them—what do they know about the specific topic and then check in periodically regarding—how is the pace of the learning? Is it too fast, too slow? Take time to pause and review the content and ensure that what you are saying is making sense to them. Again, if you have an individual that English is not their first language, it may take them a little bit more time to process, or we are famous for using an acronym or a shortcut. Is this a term that they are even familiar with? And they are going to be too polite to ask, so catch yourself when you are using some of those local jargon and clarify for them—oh for those of you that may not be familiar with the Minnesota “hot dish,” this is what I mean when I say that. Again, make this a conversation and not a monologue. Do not ask—do you have any questions because, of course, they will not ask. Just reframe that—what questions do you have? Do you see the subtle difference? You are letting them know that questions are normal; they are to be expected, and then use that variety of learning strategies to meet the preferences of different learners—find a video, a game, put some things online, do some lectures, some case studies, ask them to interview an expert and report back; change it up, make it interesting to a lot of different learners.
PH: Sometimes I get struck in a rut. I know that is hard to believe, and I find it easy to just keep doing the same thing over and over and covering the same topics for our new employees. Should I assess the training method or the content periodically? And if so, do you have any suggestions on how I can do that?
DH: I think we are all guilty of being comfortable with the content and thinking it is good enough. One way that I assess the effectiveness of a presentation is to watch the audience. Are they awake, listening? Do they look bored? Are they starting to use their electronic devices or, worse yet, are they starting to nod off? Those are pretty immediate clues. Send them a short survey—ask two or three questions; that is a nice anonymous way to get some feedback. And a third one, which is a little more difficult, is asking a trusted friend to observe your presentation and get their feedback. Ask them to review your slides, give you some suggestions. Just be daring—try one new thing. Add that video snippet, get the audience to roll play, ask them to create a safety mnemonic, draw a picture of a laboratory safety activity, get them to wrap a key safety concept, be creative.
PH: So Deb, what have you learned from doing new employee training because I know you have been doing it for a while; what do you think?
DH: You know, if I am not excited and passionate about my topic, there is no way the audience is going to be either, and they are going to be snoozing or doing things on their electronic devices. So my job is to make sure that I am showing my enthusiasm for the topic. Give them a hook, get them excited, get them curious about that topic, make them curious about the topic, let them know what they need to know and why they need to know it. If I can do that, I feel like I have planted the seed for further learning and exploration.
PH: So are there any other resources or references that you would like to share with the others to create and update the orientation programs for new employees? Anything you suggest?
DH: My best advice is—do not be afraid to repurpose something that maybe someone else has, take a risk, try something new, shoot a video, create an activity, network with other people, check out the web; there are some great safety websites.
PH: Well thanks, Deb; thanks for your time today. I really appreciate it. Your passion, your excitement for education, and your dedication to our employees—that is awesome. You provided some great education tips in how to engage new employees and how to make sure that they have a positive message regarding their new jobs. I am going to apply these concepts to the safety training that I am doing so that I can make sure that the safety information I am sharing with them will stick with them for a long time after their orientation ends.