Your learning is just the beginning; your actions will carry you through. 

In sterile processing (SP), we are tasked to know so much, carry certifications, identify thousands of instruments, be regulatory ready, and understand instructions for use (IFUs); or at least know how to find them. We combine these core competencies with the functional dynamic between the operating room (OR) and us, and often we are left shrugging with both hands in the air or waving the white flag. 

Our careers exist in limbo, and while we often desire and deserve a raise, whatever we’re doing simply isn’t cutting it. We are the full Mayo scissors trying to cut the test material, but not even making a snag. So, what are we to do? Bury our heads in the sand and pray the union can rally for us to get a raise? Do we become a traveler and not call anywhere home? 

It’s a tightrope walk, and you’re on it. Something has to give or you’re out the door. 

Look closer

Let’s pump the brakes before you stand in front of the mirror and practice your “I quit” speech for the hundredth time. Rather, let’s look at the professional looking back at us—ourselves. 

Are we taking the strides necessary to level up? We can come up with every limitation in the book as to why our success is limited, whether it is the number of people in seniority above us or the hospital policies in place. The struggle is immensely real, and every objection is valid. 

Yet, there are strides you can take to stand out in a sea of blue scrubs. Here are three questions to ask yourself: 

Are you doing the bare minimum or seeking to excel?

Your supervisors and leadership take note of your daily actions, even when you don’t receive recognition and you think no one is looking. Here are some ways to go above and beyond: 

  • Make sure you understand and know the big-picture goals and mission of the hospital you work for. Ask your management what their department goals are for the fiscal year and if there are any ways that you can help them achieve these goals.
  • Share your competencies and what you’ve learned with your team on a regular basis.
  • Take initiative on projects and tasks, even when no one has asked you to do so.
  • When it comes time for your annual review, can you show the ways you’ve helped management get closer to achieving the goals mentioned in the first bullet point? 
Are you talking more about the issues than the solutions?

Being a team player often involves holding your tongue and refraining from gossip. It’s easy to vent about how the day shift never does anything, or how John from the graveyard shift legitimately only did three basic minors and likely took a nap the rest of the shift. It can even feel like a release to talk it out, but this can create such a toxic environment and we have enough of that simply trying to balance the OR/SP dynamic. 

Our little niche in SP is bigger than you think. The words you say hold power, and you never know when the people you spoke ill of may end up as the supervisor at the next facility that has your dream position opening. 

As you navigate your department, seek an “add to” mentality versus a “take away” one. Offer solutions to the problems you encounter. 

Are you being the teacher and leading from where you are?

We can all lead from exactly where we are, regardless of our current position. Even the bottom of the totem pole holds power in its own right. A bottom-up leadership style is one we can all benefit from. In bottom-up leadership, those at the top of the pyramid welcome the shared values and ideas of those below them to create change. Whether you are at the top looking down or at the bottom looking up, you harness the power within you to choose to lead in big ways and small. 

The truth is you get to make all decisions that are related to how well you perform and the ways you opt to stand out. It is best if you reflect the professional you desire to be treated as. This will set you apart, open doors, and amplify your chances of receiving stellar reviews and referrals. Each of those things, in turn, will help you advance your career and SP aspirations.