It’s no secret that career growth in sterile processing (SP) takes dedication, commitment, and grit. We can have the clearest goals and grandest plans, but it won’t make the journey any less daunting.

Sterile processing professionals are told by regulatory agencies what to do in their facilities. They face all the shoulds, coulds, and ought tos from their managers. Meanwhile, the endless drumming of the professional development machine beats tirelessly in their industry. Sterile processing professionals demonstrate day in and day out that they are in it for the long haul, but the long haul is a long time.

Lifelong learning isn’t how it’s perceived

When focused on a goal, there are few things that can stop sterile processing professionals. Anyone can attest to that after witnessing SP professionals facilitate a priority turnover that arises due to an unexpected issue in the OR. The same tenacity professionals have for patients can be observed in their career pursuits. Currently, professionals operate under the principles of lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is the process of incorporating continuous learning into our personal lifestyle. The term’s definition is general at best, but is often understood as committing to some personal or professional vision and adding the necessary skills continuously throughout the length of the journey. But as the term alludes, this is lifelong. Many professionals interpret this concept as continuing processes and routines until one reaches the inevitable outcome. However, repeating processes is not the same as continuously committing to the qualities, skills, and competencies that will help to achieve their vision.

It is no wonder why professionals experience the phenomena of career fatigue. Also known as occupational burnout or work fatigue, this unrelenting exhaustion is hardly relieved by physical rest. The emotional and physical tiredness is the result of a compromised perception of professional accomplishment. Frustration, stagnation, and the stuck feeling that accompany this condition have a direct effect on the professional’s perception of self-worth and personal identity.

Recognize career fatigue indicators

Let’s observe the beginning phases and the objectives of each that occur in professionals’ lifelong journey into sterile processing.

  1. Phase One:
    1. Hiring by the healthcare facility
    2. Orientation into the facility mission and vision by HR
    3. Onboarding into the department culture and expectations
  2. Phase Two:
    1. Gaining foundational skills through training
    2. Achieving the ability to work independently
    3. Demonstrating documented competencies
  3. Phase Three:
    1. Settling into the workflow of the department
    2. Finding a routine that meets daily goals
    3. Developing habits that achieve said goals and favorite assignments

These three phases are not enacted unless we are landing our first job, beginning a new job, or transitioning to new roles and responsibilities. Therefore, these phases are not cyclical and resemble more of a one-way street. Once they are completed, they no longer contribute to our professional growth or pursuits. The repetition of daily tasks, duties, and responsibilities is often where SP professionals believe lifelong learning begins and ends. However, this shortsighted and skewed lifelong learning mentality is what will inevitably lead to the career fatigue that stunts our professional development.

Continuous cycle for rest and success

This end-of-the-road, three-phase cycle is where we are challenged to incorporate continuous learning into our lifelong journey. Continuous learning is the process of learning new skills on an ongoing basis that can contribute to a singular vision. It is not the job’s responsibilities and expectations that make a professional career lifelong; rather, it’s the professional who uses these baseline foundations to hone their own areas of expertise and find what really speaks to their personal professional interests. This is where the professional chooses to investigate and create a continuous cycle that contributes to their future goals, feeds their tenacity, and encourages their inspirations to take hold in the professional process.

The beginning of a continuous cycle is usually indicated when the professional becomes curious about something in their scope of work. It could be anything from how orthophthalaldehydes (OPAs) work to why their colleagues do not like to assemble plastic sets. Curiosity is followed by seeking the knowledge, education, or training necessary to quench this inquisitive thirst.

This newfound knowledge is then taken from mere comprehension to application or training that may lead to incorporating these additional skills. It is important that professionals who are actively engaged in a continuous cycle hold on to the fact that they often require continuous improvement. Things the professional may have been certain of before may demonstrate that more information is required, or that process application needs to be revisited.

End of the cycle

The end of a continuous cycle is indicated when maintenance of the new skill, thought process, or habit is now in place. This often feels similar to Phase 3, as it offers the ability to set the new habit into the professional’s routine and workflow.

The best part of continuous cycles that contribute to lifelong learning is that they indicate the time when a professional should celebrate and recognize this new element of their professional expertise. This is a big deal! They have actively increased the overall vision of their professional pursuits. Through this process, they have added one more aspect that will help them feel more fulfilled as a professional.

Continuous cycles are unique to the professional experiencing and growing through them; therefore, there could be a number of professionals going through the phases of their unique cycles at the same time in a single workplace. These professionals are encouraged to share their continuous cycle journey with their colleagues. They will likely find that the colleague they have lunch with every day is going through similar phases or may even become inspired to break out of the monotony of faux lifelong learning.

By using continuous cycles to create a true lifelong learning opportunity, professionals can reinvigorate professional development and fight the frustration of career monotony.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are of Sarah B. Cruz only and do not represent the businesses she works for or companies she collaborates with.