By Angela Lewellyn
All of us have value, and we can all add value to a Sterile Processing Department. You can use your experiences and voice to elevate change in the industry. As Technicians, we are empowered to effect change. At Advantage Support Services, we have an acronym for Techs. TECH -To Effect Change. You are the reason we began SP education and a leadership ladder, and you deserve every opportunity to succeed and climb.
As we move from the angst of the pandemic to the new normal, we SP professionals have many opportunities to move forward. Before the pandemic, there were a limited number of knowledgeable technicians, many of them were retiring, and fewer were entering in. The opportunities were extensive and vast, as the need grew for experienced technicians and leaders. As we move forward to the new normal in healthcare, there are still a vast number of opportunities to enter and grow in our profession. The pandemic has helped us all to evaluate our work-life balance. Many have left due to support needed at home with kids in and out of schools. Others have left for risk of exposure or because of the low compensation in our industry. All of these are rational and justified reasons for leaving the SP profession.
As we move forward, let me share some of my and others’ reasons for staying. The pandemic provided all of us with daily life changes, with a wonderful realization and perspective of “what’s important” or a determination “to make the important things important.” Most of us re-prioritized our daily activities to accommodate ease in our day-to-day lives.
Allow me to share some of my realizations, as I re-evaluated my own work-life balance. These brought me a better way to move through my day and reminded me of how I approached my job and why I began in the first place. Why do I stay in this SP world of work? My reason began with need and quickly was focused on others. Helping technicians to grow where they are and seeing their excitement in becoming certified or reaching their professional goals is just one of my many reasons.
SP is a mission field for serving others. It’s not an accident that you are in this profession. Whether you chose SP or SP chose you, most of us are meant to be here. Technicians effect change, not only as the heart of the hospital, but in each community we serve.
TECH – To Effect CHange
You are here in this profession for a reason. Most of us who choose to work in SP have a methodical, detailed nature and want to know the right way – step by step. Sterile Processing Technicians are detail oriented with the inclination to pragmatically move through their day. The tasks necessary to process instruments require attention to detail. As we gain experience and a level of expertise in these tasks, technicians develop creative ideas and instill careful thought that make these tasks more efficient and effective. The ultimate service we provide to our patients and customers offers better outcomes for both.
To help effect change, many SP managers have chosen to invite customers into their department. In doing so, they provide a service to promote education to the end-users we serve. According to an article, “Celebrate the Critical Role of the Sterile Processing Profession in Infection Prevention. (n.d.). Infection Control Today, Julie Williamson states, “In many facilities, SP professionals remain the “unsung heroes,” primarily because members of other health care disciplines often lack understanding of what SP entails and how challenging the jobs are”…”There may be opportunities to invite other health care professionals to tour the department and see for themselves what it takes to process instruments; they can ask questions and even participate in or contribute to some education.” In doing so, we can effect cultural changes between departments.
It’s a Good Day to Have a Good Day
We want our team partners to have a good day. SP Technicians are servers by nature, and we want our customers and teammates to have a high level of satisfaction. Service to all is our goal.
We have all heard that effective patient care cannot be provided without SP and storage/distribution. We effect change. As we gain more knowledge, technicians become creative and forward thinkers. As we understand our customer and department’s one-way workflow, we can determine better ways to accomplish instrument goals. For example: When a case cart is being delivered to the decontamination area, technicians may identify practices that are not in the scope of best practice. Our experiences and expertise can help effect change by sharing observations and suggestions to department leadership.
Technicians can easily identify processes within their department that can be performed more efficiently and effectively. As we learn the science of sterilization, that knowledge can aid technicians to creatively make the changes needed within their department to serve in daily tasks and overall.
In short, we want you to have every opportunity to succeed. Our purpose is for you to develop a voice to elevate change in the industry, in your department, and most importantly, in yourself. To help you effect change, we hope to give you all the tools to be able to accomplish that goal.
In the continuation of this article, Forward Thinking: Part 2, we’ll discuss your next steps to stay on track for upward movement in the industry, how to look at fear and failure, and we’ll also touch on some goal setting to propel you in the right direction. SP is a profession that offers growth, and there are many opportunities to advance to the next level, if you desire.
Sharing Your Knowledge
Desire is the drive necessary to serve others and begin the journey of forward movement in the SP profession. The next step is knowledge. SP Technicians constantly expand and learn, while developing a professional manner and growing into roles and responsibilities. We do what it takes to complete and finish the race – setting goals, working diligently, and doing what we say we will do while keeping that desire that started it all.
Becoming an educator allows us to share our knowledge. In doing so, each step must be broken down by demonstrating and providing a rationale for every task along the way. For example: When constructing a tray of instruments, each instrument must be listed by category, name, and use, and include the quality steps for function and bioburden testing. The delivery of detailed information is crucial to sharing knowledge so that each team member could receive it accurately and provide a return demonstration.
Teaching and serving others requires extra effort and care in this work. It includes obtaining the knowledge of science and standards with a focus on the larger goal of serving whole departments. Helping one, ultimately helps all.
SP departments provide ladders for growth within a department, and ultimately within the SP profession. Advantage Support Services states, “It’s been widely recognized that obtaining professional certification status is the most important step SP professionals can take toward advancing their careers and driving quality within their respective departments. SP staff must have the knowledge, skills, and training to provide consistent, reliable, and quality-focused service.” One can gain experience as a Tech I and move up the chain of command to a Tech II, an educator, a supervisor, and so on. Each position along the way provides skills that are utilized on an upward journey. The Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA) provides certification ladders to achieve your professional goals.
Each position along the way teaches skills for learning and life that develop professionals in this industry. One of those developed skills is communication, and it includes learning to communicate with various personalities and professional levels. Different positions demand alternate approaches to communicate well, from co-workers as technicians, to teammates in the operating room, to C-Suite executives.
The key to growth begins at the beginning – start, try, and try again. Growing to the next level has its good days and bad. CS environments may offer a culture that encourages, but not every department is so lucky. Both can be a catalyst for growth. Remember that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. An SP is an SP is an SP. People are always people, with both great and flawed attributes. The way to succeed is to go the extra mile for another. Remember that signing up for SP is agreeing to a position of service. Help your new and inexperienced colleagues elevate the department by sharing your genius ideas with them. This will make for a better work environment and a better way to produce and deliver to customers, and teammates processing instruments.
Moving up the ladder of success within this profession requires forward focus. Certification is one way to achieve this goal. A further incentive is to be motivated in the current position held and to be the best at what you are currently called to do. To achieve this, a rule of thumb is “to do what you say you will do” with all your ability. Sometimes that calls for extra work, studying the science, the standards, or maybe offering help to a teammate. Sometimes it calls for coaching as work is accomplished side by side, elevating others’ positions, encouraging others, or recognizing a job well done. To be forward-focused is to target the whole of the process so that the department can serve customers and patients to the best of its abilities.
Sterile Processing is a profession that offers growth. There are many opportunities to become expert technicians that can advance to the next level if desired. These opportunities allow growth by developing skill levels in many areas. This includes not only the duties and tasks for processing instruments but personal growth as well. As we work with others and learn new things, we gain more realization about our character, attributes, communication styles, attention to detail, and abilities for patience and delivery of information.
Fear and Failure
With the right perspective, fear and failure are motivators to grow. Acknowledging and embracing both can motivate movement, but these also could stop us from achieving our goals and keep us in a holding pattern. If trials arise, be persistent. This too shall pass. Both fear and failure are temporary. It takes courage to fail, and strength to be exposed to others’ ridicule for mistakes or missteps. This too is perspective. Others will judge, but we must understand that they can only share what they know. All people are where they are because of their own experiences. Don’t accept their opinions or comments as gospel to keep you stuck in one place or to back you away from your desire to grow. People are just people.
When we desire growth personally or professionally, it is always good to remind ourselves of that goal. Sometimes a good way to do this is to speak it out loud to yourself, or another. Saying it to someone else may provide accountability to yourself. Keep in mind that people are just people, whether they encourage you should not define your movement. Do not allow self-doubt to creep in based on the judgments of others. You are the author of your success.
We may consider a new perspective and allow their criticism to motivate us to review our actions, enabling the tools to do it better next time. We should use that exposure to learn. Everyone has and brings value. Gratitude and self-permission are keys to growth.
To reach your goals, never lose sight of your desire. Here, we offer some tools to help you reach goals and to see and say them easily. Wise Goals provides worksheets that can be utilized for upward growth and goal setting.
Do you remember the game? You may have played it as a kid or given it to your children. It was a round toy with a pull string that showed a picture and as you pulled the string, the toy said the name of the picture. That concept still applies to us, even with a few more years under our belts. Name your goal out loud, write it down, and place it somewhere you will often see it. A vision board is a good way to practice See and Say and make it happen.
Assign a timestamp to each goal. Most of us like to see results instantly, and these can be reached within only a few months. The next level of short-term goals can be given a six-month mark. Give yourself small daily or weekly tasks to help you reach your deadline. And remember to do what you say you will do.
Take some time out to contemplate and answer the question, “Where do you want to be in five years?” Most of us will be somewhere different than where we are now in that amount of time. How do you want your current stage in life to change? What world do you want to create for yourself?
Creating your world by goal setting can be achieved using a holistic approach. It does not just have to be a professional goal. There is so much more to our lives than work. So, allow me to give you a little homework. Write down a holistic goal list with these categories: personal, professional, physical, spiritual, family, mental health, and emotional health. Then write your desired short-term and long-term goals next to each. Keep in mind that these goals can and should change as you grow with them.
In closing, we hope to have offered you tools for growth that you can use. We aim to bring you every opportunity to succeed and to develop a voice that elevates change in the industry. Sterile Processing is a great starting point to develop your professional and personal goals. By taking the next step, going the extra mile, setting goals, and taking the time to contemplate the desires for your life. 2022 has every possibility of being your best year yet.
Celebrate the Critical Role of the Sterile Processing Profession in Infection Prevention. (n.d.). Infection Control Today. https://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/view/celebrate-the-critical-role-of-the-sterile-processing-profession-in-infection-prevention
Advantage Support Services, Inc https://advantagesupportservices.com/education-training-programs/Stevenson, James. “FREE And Stylish PDF Goal Setting Worksheets.” WiseGoals.Com, Wise Goals, 22 May 2020, www.wisegoals.com/goal-setting-worksheets.html.
Director of Development and Research
Advantage Support Services, Inc.
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