Critical steps for sterile processing staff improvement

Committing to ongoing professional development and knowledge advancement is the best way for Sterile Processing (SP) professionals to gain the trust, respect and recognition they deserve within their healthcare organizations. Such dedication to one’s professional growth can put SP technicians on the path to leadership roles and other advancement opportunities.

While every SP professional’s career journey will differ, the following are some solid steps all members of the team can take to broaden their knowledge and skillsets and boost their on-the-job confidence and satisfaction. 

Focus on the positive

SP technicians should strive to distance themselves in a healthy way from departmental peers who tend to be negative or fail to consistently demonstrate a commitment to quality and service excellence. Many SP professionals have worked with someone who does just enough to get by, routinely exudes negativity in the workplace or perhaps downplays their teammates’ contributions. Rather than being drawn into the negativity, it’s vital to stay positive and focused on the department’s core mission: delivering quality service and clean, sterile and well-functioning instruments to healthcare customers, all in the name of quality patient care. 

Take stock of goals, strengths and weaknesses

All healthcare professionals, and certainly those in SP departments, benefit by taking time to reflect on their professional standing. It can be helpful to write down one’s strengths, weaknesses and short- and long-term goals. From there, it can be better determined what is needed to help advance one’s professional journey.

If the goal is to gain more job knowledge or attain certification or more departmental responsibilities, for example, it will be important to assess what is needed to reach those goals. A departmental educator or manager can serve as an effective ally and mentor and can help determine the staff member’s best path, while also taking into consideration the person’s preferred learning style. Does the employee learn best by reading or hands-on demonstration? Are there certain professional strengths that can be better leveraged within the department or, perhaps, a skill that needs improving in order to advance in the department? Taking a closer look at oneself can be a revealing and positive step in the professional journey.

It is also important for SP professionals to reflect on how they wish to be seen in the department and the type of teammate they aspire to become. Are they viewed as a confident person or someone who is insecure in facets of their knowledge and abilities? Are they a strong mentor to their teammates or do they wish to become a better leader, even in their existing role? Are they eager to assume more challenges and responsibilities? SP professionals must search within to learn more about themselves and how they respond (or wish to respond) to various situations, challenges and opportunities. Job knowledge simply won’t be very helpful if SP professionals do not know how and when to apply it most effectively. 

Be inquisitive—and escape one’s comfort zone

How many times have we SP professionals had a question but felt it wasn’t the best time to ask—or we were simply too embarrassed to ask for fear of judgment? Asking questions leads to some of the best learning opportunities. Valuable knowledge can be gained by someone who does not know all the answers but is open and eager to learning and seeking solutions.

At the same time, SP professionals must reach beyond their comfort zones to stretch their skillsets and embrace more professional opportunities. Often, SP staff members wait for others to speak up, and critical time can be lost correcting oversights or resolving conflicts. Leaving one’s comfort zone can be unpleasant and unsettling but doing so leads to new experiences, insights and opportunities for improvement. I urge every technician to expand their comfort zone beyond the walls of their department, aim to become a subject-matter expert and help others broaden their knowledge.

I encourage all SP professionals, regardless of title or tenure, to begin exploring and actively pursuing new learning and growth opportunities—and not let self-doubt or others’ negativity deter them. Our roles in the delivery of safe, high-quality patient care should lead us all to continuously evaluate our strengths and weaknesses and seek ways to improve our knowledge and skills in the name of professionalism and service excellence. Doing so will benefit ourselves, our teammates, our customers and facilities and, especially, our patients.

Tony Thurmond, CRCST, CIS, CHL, FCS, serves as Sterile Processing Manager for Dayton Children’s Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He is also a Past-President of the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association and currently serves as a director on the association’s Board of Directors. 

Original photo courtesy Bayhealth SPD, HPN's 2021 SPD of the Year, with affects added by generative AI.
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