How to do it and why it’s vital to success

Every professional, and certainly those working in sterile processing (SP), wishes for respect from their peers, colleagues, and others within the organization. It is important to remember, however, that respect is earned, and attaining it largely hinges on one’s level of professionalism, integrity, and commitment to excellence.

As a former SP professional who continues to work closely with many in the discipline, I see that an ever-challenging struggle to gain recognition within the dynamic, difficult, and essential discipline remains. The behind-the-scenes work is dirty, difficult, often dangerous, and typically unglamorous. The work is also often misunderstood, with even the sterile processing department’s (SPD’s) top healthcare customers failing to grasp the critical importance of each processing task and function.

Just a job?

My personal foray into the SP world dates to 2006. Admittedly, when I accepted the position, I had very little idea what I was signing up for in that role. I entered into the complicated world of instrumentation, decontamination steps, sterilization parameters, and much more. Did I consider myself a professional? Not really. At that point in my career, I viewed the role as “a job.”

That all abruptly changed one night in 2009 when a call came that my father was being flown by helicopter to my hospital for emergency quadruple bypass surgery. I found myself wondering which technician processed and assembled the open-heart set. Would it be safe for my dad’s procedure, or would those instruments put him in danger? From then on, I took my job seriously.

It’s always personal to someone

That change in perspective often comes when we are hit on a personal level, but we must always remember that every patient deserves the same care as we expect for ourselves and our loved ones. Since my own experience, I’ve made it my mission to educate and elevate myself and others. I have walked in the shoes (and shoe covers) of my SP peers, and I want to share three key areas of focus that will improve one’s professionalism (and professional image).

  1. Positive attitudes promote positive outcomes. When we aim for a positive attitude in our work, we often find our professional image improves along with it. This doesn’t require us to be constant rays of sunshine, but it does mean we are making a concerted effort (a choice!) to offer solutions to challenges and support to colleagues and healthcare customers. Work to shed the angry, “Why does it even matter or who cares, anyway?” attitude. Although our guts might tell us, “That idea will never work,” consider taking another approach, like, “That’s a good idea, and I think we can make it work by doing x, y, or z.”
    Being respectful is equally vital. There is little worse than a blatant display of lack of respect—whether demonstrated by lateness, rudeness, poor communication, or lack of attention to detail. Such disrespect helps inform others how to view us.
  2. Show initiative, every shift. When you walk into your department each day, ask yourself, “How am I going to take initiative today?” Try setting goals for yourself before beginning the shift. Examples could include remaining flexible to add-on cases, never compromising quality, completing a certain number of sets during your shift, and communicating essential details relevant to the day’s workload and responsibilities to the next shift.
    At the same time, take into account what you can successfully control within the day or shift. While we can’t control the difficult cases that may present themselves, we certainly can take charge of our attitude, work ethic, anger, and the way we function as part of a team.
  3. Be social but engage wisely. Social media has its merits and drawbacks, and if it’s used in the context of the workplace, it can make or break us professionally. It is easy to share grievances from behind a keyboard and to seek confirmational bias on social platforms. My simple advice is to think before posting. Will the content shared bring value or would you prefer the content never be seen by management, Human Resources, or even other teammates? Will the information shared be destructive or only serve to elevate an ego and one’s need to be “right” and feel validated?We must understand that an ill-thought-out post (or one that is sharply written) can be more destructive than constructive. It could even cost a person their job. On the other hand, if used cautiously and prudently, social media can be a tremendous asset for career growth and professional development.
    Pages and posts from trustworthy people and organizations can help us quickly find answers to pertinent questions, while also offering invaluable levels of support to our peers. We can learn what others in the industry are doing, improve processes by applying best practices, and connect to industry leaders who can help us advance in our careers. LinkedIn is among the better resources for connecting with other industry professionals, and this platform carries a certain level of professionalism that other media platforms sometimes lack (although it is still necessary to vet the content for accuracy).
Pushing professionalism

Our professional image is visible in our on-the-job interactions and attitudes, how we take initiative and support others, and the way we conduct ourselves in public, our departments, and even on social media. We should always strive to push our professionalism to the next level, and give it our all every day, even if sterile processing is only a stepping stone to the next role. Our coworkers and customers depend on us—and even more so, our patients do too.