This article identifies five criteria for a certified internal auditor program of medical device lead auditors for quality systems auditing and supplier auditing. Five criteria are important to a certified internal auditor program:
- formal training by a qualified trainer
- an exam to demonstrate the effectiveness of training
- practical experience
- observation of actual audits by an experienced lead auditor
Internal auditors do not need a certificate from a third-party (i.e., someone other than your company or your customers), and training programs do not need to be accredited. Your company can save money and develop an in-house certification program. The only reason why third-party certification and accreditation are needed is 1) if your internal auditor procedure requires it, or 2) if you are training to become a third-party auditor working for a certification body or registrar. Therefore, I don’t recommend writing a procedure that requires a certificate from a third-party or an accredited program. Write your internal auditor training requirements to allow flexibility, but ensure you include each of the five elements listed above.
1. Formal training by a qualified trainer
Formal training is planned and has a documented curriculum. The curriculum can consist of one long course over several days, or you can limit the duration of each class to an hour over several months, and you can develop a schedule to fit individual needs. Training should be customized to a certain extent for each internal auditor, but most programs have at least one primary lead auditor course that everyone must complete. A qualified trainer must also deliver formal training.
2. An exam to demonstrate the effectiveness of training
I have written about the use of exams to document training effectiveness: http://bit.ly/TrainingExams. You can use a combination of multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and essay questions for an exam. However, for demonstrating the effectiveness of auditor training, there is one method of evaluation that is superior to all others–writing nonconformities. If you provide a hypothetical scenario to an auditor, the auditor should be able to write a complete nonconformity. This exercise tests the auditor’s ability to identify the applicable regulatory requirements, assess conformity, grade nonconformities, and select the appropriate wording of the nonconformity and associated objective evidence. The only downsides to writing nonconformities are: 1) they are harder for instructors to grade, and 2) the grading is subjective.
3. Practical experience
The most common way to document the previous experience of internal auditors is to include a copy of the person’s resume in their training record. However, I recommend using a tracking log for all audits to identify which auditors conducted which audit. Ideally, you want to use an electronic database that allows you to search the database using the name of the auditor as a search field. Your database should also indicate which role the auditor was fulfilling: 1) lead auditor, 2) team member, 3) trainee, or 4) observer. Sometimes, the person may have more than one role (e.g., team member and trainee or lead auditor and observer).
4. Observation of actual audits by an experienced lead auditor
It doesn’t matter if training is remote and recorded or live and in-person, but remote and recorded training needs to balanced with an observation of actual audits by an experienced medical device quality system auditor. “Observation” needs to be defined, but I recommend using a controlled form to document observations. Attaching a completed observation form to a copy of auditing notes and a copy of the audit report creates a complete record to demonstrate observation of each audit by a trainee. Just don’t make your controlled form overly burdensome. A single page is fine–as long as it consists of more than yes/no checkboxes. “Experienced” also needs to be defined, but I recommend the following combination of qualitative and quantitative experience. First, an experienced lead auditor must have documented formal training, but formal training does not need to be third-party training. Second, an experienced lead auditor should have completed at least 100 audits. One hundred is an arbitrary number, but that number represents more than 1,000 hours of audit preparation, auditing, and report writing. Anything less than 1,000 hours is inadequate to be qualified to begin training others.
Documentation must include all of the above elements. You need to document the training plan for each internal auditor, and it must meet minimum training requirements–which should be documented in your internal auditing procedure. Your documentation should include minimum criteria for qualification of a trainer–often a resume, and adding the person to your approved supplier list is sufficient. You should document the results of any formal quizzes and exams for training effectiveness. Auditing experience for each person should be documented. Specifically, you should have a form listing a description of the scope and dates for each audit during the certification process. Observations of auditors need to be documented, and any corrections or recommendations for improvement should include documented follow-up. If an auditor already has extensive experience before joining your company, your procedures should allow for a written justification, instead of repeating the training. If your company uses a software tool to manage training, I recommend creating a separate training group for internal auditors, rather than incorporating internal auditing into another job description and/or training curriculum.
What Really Matters
What matters is whether your internal auditor training is effective and internal auditors are competent. Certificates make pretty training records to post on the wall of your cubicle. Competent internal auditors identify quality issues before you receive an FDA 483, or a nonconformity from your certification body. Competent auditors also add value by identifying ways to make processes more efficient and opportunities to save money. If you are looking for a qualified trainer to provide formal training, in a public venue or in-house, please visit the following webpage: http://bit.ly/Lead-Auditor-Course.