Everyone loves being recognized for achievement and success. There is something deep down inside each of us that begins to glow a little when someone gives us a compliment or we win some kind of big award. In the world of sterile processing, nothing brings this feeling more often than becoming a “super tech”—someone who stands out as one of the leading technicians in their department or region. This can be accomplished in many different ways, but the result is the same: your professional stock goes up and good leaders begin to take notice.
However, wanting to become a super tech and actually getting there are two very different things. What does it take to go from a mediocre medical device reprocessor to a superb sterile processing superstar? Here are a few concepts to get you headed in the right direction.
Identify the need and hone your strengths
Just as every sterile processing technician is different, the needs of every department across the country is unique as well. What would make you stand out as a super tech in a Level 1 Trauma hospital in Chicago may not do the same in a same-day surgery center in the middle of rural Utah. The first step to becoming a super tech is looking closely around your department and team to identify the most glaring needs that are currently unmet.
Perhaps you begin your shift every day and find a stack of laparoscopic chole trays in prep/pack because no one in your department really feels comfortable or confident in their ability to assemble those trays quickly and correctly. See the need? Or maybe you notice your team is consistently hearing complaints from the neuro service line about dull scissors and faulty needle holders. Clearly there is a need to fix this process and recover the trust of your customers in the OR.
As you are probably picking up, each one of the needs like this that you identify in your little corner of the reprocessing universe is going to need someone with the skill set, desire, and strength to fix them. Those strengths must be learned. None of us are born with the ability to correctly test dura scissors, or correctly disassemble and reassemble take-apart laparoscopic handpieces. It takes time, practice, questions, feedback, failure, and determination to stick with it until improvement begins to show. Every member of our sterile processing team is expected to be able to do these things well. It’s the super techs who learn to do them so well that everyone begins to recognize their strengths in the day-to-day flow of the department.
From small and simple to super
In pursuing this goal of becoming a super tech, it can be tempting to look for shortcuts to success. We tell ourselves that if we get the right credential or get on the right shift, then our skills will really get the recognition they deserve. While these things are not immaterial to growing as a professional and gaining new opportunities, they are not the magic bullet to take you to the front of the proverbial pack. In fact, there is no magic bullet and there are no shortcuts.
Instead, the road to superstardom in your sterile processing department actually starts with the small, simple things great employees do each day to demonstrate that they have what it takes to get to the next level; for example, arriving to work on time, every time. As simple as this may sound, leaders notice which employees are consistently on time and which team members are often strolling in 5–10 minutes late. Even if a facility policy allows for a tardy buffer, super techs tend to be the ones who hardly ever use it.
The ability to change course quickly and without grumbling is another key factor in professional profiles of most sterile processing super techs. Change is a challenge for everyone, but it is also a major part of life in the rapidly innovating surgical market that we all find ourselves in. Sterile processing technicians who can pivot with each new technology, updated instructions for use (IFUs), and revised department policies—all while keeping a positive disposition—are highly sought after by industry leaders. Grumbling and complaining are among the quickest, surest ways to kill a team culture, so technicians who demonstrate they can rise above this response are catapulted to the front of the line whenever possible.
The last simple action taken by industry super techs is their commitment to continually educate themselves. This goes beyond the status quo required by facility competencies, annual trainings, and certification requirements. Super techs take a proactive interest in searching out and soaking up clinical education insights about their particular areas of strengths (and even weaknesses). This often takes the form of social media consumption, podcast listening, newsletter subscribing, blog reading, conference attending, and professional networking with peers across their region, among a host of other things. They view their own professional knowledge as their responsibility to grow, and grow it they do.
Superpowers to do good
While the most obvious perk to becoming a super tech is the access to career growth and opportunities it provides, the most important side effect is actually even more important. When super techs develop their superpowers of quality, consistency, compliance, cleaning, assembling, sterilization, robotics, CVOR, clinics, vendor trays, or any of the other million areas of need that could be facing a department, the real winner is the patient.
Instead of good enough, the surgical instruments and trays reprocessed by a super tech are nothing less than the best. Just as with the superheroes we see in movies and comic books, we don’t all need to have the exact same superpowers. In fact, when we find those areas of department needs that we are uniquely gifted and passionate about fixing, our superpower strengths can combine to do bigger and better things than anyone of us would ever be able to accomplish alone.
This is the real mission of the super tech. Are you in?