Where Is Your Greatest Opportunity to Excel in Sterile Processing?

As a sterile processing (SP) clinician, you only have a certain number of hours during the day, and days during the week, to focus on moving forward in your career and the industry at large. 

Where do you focus?
What will give you the biggest return on your time and effort?
Where are the areas of greatest need?
What are your inherent strengths?

 These questions are not at the top of every technician’s mind every day, but at certain moments, after certain meetings, during certain annual assessments or promotion opportunities, we are forced to confront them. Success in sterile processing and career growth rarely happens by accident, but instead requires intentional focus and work to get us from point A (where we are today) to point B (where we want to be in the future). In the rest of this article, I will touch on three general categories where professionals tend to focus these kinds of growth-oriented efforts and highlight the one that I believe has the most potential for rapid, sustainable growth in all the ways that really matter.

Books, credentials, and trivia, oh my!

It should come as no surprise that most sterile processing professionals tend to start their journey of career growth by seeking out knowledge. Most of us have walked these same professional paths ourselves. We have ordered the textbooks, carved out time and brain cells to learn the basics of our responsibilities as medical device reprocessors, and eventually scheduled an exam to add some much-deserved letters behind our names. If you are smart, you do not stop there. Many go on to add additional credentials in related specialties, microcredentials, continuing education, and even advanced degree programs.

The expectation is that with more knowledge will come more opportunity for career growth. Sometimes this is true—such as when hospitals require bachelor’s degrees for their SP manager candidates—but many times the formula of knowledge + desire does not actually equal growth in the sterile processing space. This reality is how we have ended up with so many very bright, very driven, very credentialed technicians around the industry today with no real path forward for professional growth.

Captain, we just don’t have the power

Another avenue that frontline SP clinicians pursue to fuel their career growth potential is that of industry influence, impact, or to put it simply, power. The word power can sound like a dirty word to some, but that is not the intention here. Power, used well, is a beautiful, productive, encouraging thing. And pursuing more industry influence to do good for clean freaks everywhere is a great goal, in my opinion.

So, we get folks urging us to “get involved,” to apply to join committees to contribute to industry standards. We see people asking to be nominated to serve as board members in our representative trade organizations. We work hard to get our submissions accepted to speak at big industry conferences and events or collaborate to get our ideas published in trade magazines.

All of these, again, are great ideas. We do need people involved. We do want more voices speaking out on the important issues facing our teams. But do these things actually contribute to career growth? Or, if they do, are they the best, most sustainable approach for long-term professional advancement?

My perspective is that most of the folks who have gained this kind of power and influence already have the job titles that everyone else is striving for. Most industry board members are already SP managers or educators. Many headline speakers are already seasoned leaders with decades of experience at the director level or in similar roles. Pursuing power as a means to growth, then, may not be the most effective strategy after all.

People as the purpose and propulsion of professional SP growth

If the best way to grow a career in the sterile processing industry is not the pursuit of knowledge or power, then what is it? You may be surprised to know that one of the absolute best, fastest, surest, deepest, most rewarding ways to grow in this industry is by, for, and alongside the people of the SPD. What is growth, after all, if it is not in direct relation to the people around us?

Is your goal to become an SPD supervisor? You will be supervising people.

Is your goal to earn an SPD manager role? You will be managing people.

Are you hungry to work your way into a clinical educator’s position? You will be educating people.

Who will be interviewing you for these roles? Yep, you guessed it: people. They are, quite literally, everywhere. Because of this reality, investing in and valuing your relationships with the people in your SPD, facility, health system, region, trade organization, country, and social media networks is more important than perhaps any other single focus you could have for career advancement. 

What does this look like at the practical level? Studying for a test is pretty straightforward. Applying for a committee is simple to do. But how do you invest in the people around you in a way that they actually propel your entire career forward? Here are a few concrete examples of what this kind of approach entails:

  • View and treat your coworkers and broader network as future employers, clients, and employees (seek to demonstrate trust, consistency, and excellent work ethic)
  • Focus on building relationships beyond your department that allow you to both contribute to and learn from others in our space (reach out to those you respect with offers to help and/or questions you have so you can get on their radar)
  • Find ways to invest your own passion, knowledge, and skill in others on a regular basis (folks never forget those who treat them as valuable human beings)
  • Go beyond content consumption and take intentional steps to engage with leaders around you, speakers you encounter, and writers you enjoy (comment, email, share with your own thoughts)

Ultimately, industry credentials expire, regulatory standards change, and board positions turn over. It’s the people of sterile processing who remain the constant from year to year, job posting to job posting, promotion to promotion. If these are the things you desire for yourself, make your primary focus the people of the SPD. And the rest of your career growth pathway will start to take care of itself.

What say you?