It’s that time of the year again: conference time! There is something about the spring season that really invigorates the demand for sterile processing (SP) continuing education. We see this even more this year as SP professionals are feeling confident to reengage with pre-COVID activities and events.

As masking becomes a choice of personal preference, our industry’s frontline professionals, vendor partners, and healthcare personnel are ready to cut loose and nerd out. As many of us prepare to converge on the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association’s (HSPA, formerly IAHCSMM) national conference in Nashville, Tennessee, we may be wondering what is in store. There will certainly be a level of surprise at the conference; that’s part of the fun! However, our facilities and partners likely want a guarantee of return on their investments; and we should, too.


The size, location, and intensity of the event is not relevant when determining if the return on investment (ROI) needs to be considered. It doesn’t matter if it’s a multiday marathon conference, a small four- to five-hour HSPA chapter event, or even an online virtual opportunity, ROI should be at the front of all the attendees’ minds.

Return on investment is defined as “a metric used to understand the profitability of an investment.”¹ We use ROI to compare and evaluate different investment choices or opportunities. While SP professionals may think that this only applies to business or finances (which we should not overlook), this also includes the investment of our time and energy.

Attending and participating in a conference requires us to look at what we will be putting into the event and what we will personally take away. The level of our excitement does not gauge or represent the significance or quality of our time. Excitement and passion may put us in a good position to create memorable moments and may even entice us to be more open to possibilities. However, these two personal motivators do not guarantee any ROI of our time and energy. There are so many non-sterile-processing moments in our own lives that illustrate this. The list of hyped-up movies with terrible endings seen in theaters that could have been saved for the couch months later comes to mind.

Evaluating our returns

While it is true that the best ROI is usually conceived or planned for ahead of the event, it can also be assessed afterward. So whether we are reading this before or after the big multiday HSPA conference or our next virtual CE course is of no consequence. The first step in determining our ROI is to outline why we wanted to attend the event in the first place. It does not need to be an elaborate, philosophical reason, although it totally could be. The more honest we are in this evaluation, the easier it will be to determine if it was worth our (or the company’s) time, energy, money, brain power, focus—the list goes on. This reason will now define the “investment” in our ROI.

The next step is to make two columns and put a check over one and an X over the other. The check indicates all the contributors to our overall positive investment and the X indicates what didn’t serve us or our investment in the exchange. Begin to separate all the moments, events, recollections, documents, business cards, notes, and other evidence gathered from our time into each of these columns accordingly. Our investment reason is not limited to one, either. This process can be duplicated for every reason we define as investment. For example, our investment can be listed as:

  1. To network
  2. To learn about ambulatory centers’ processes
  3. To have fun!

The columns can be created and assessed for all of these reasons and the same evidence can be used multiple times. This is actually a huge win if we can use one piece of investment evidence to demonstrate multiple investments.

Evaluate our columns

The final step is to take a moment and evaluate our columns. How did we do? It usually only takes a second to realize whether or not it was worth our investment. Soon, as we train our minds to think in this way, we won’t even need the columns anymore. Eventually, we will be able to bring the post-event evaluation to the predetermination phase so we can incorporate it into future endeavors. The goal and biggest benefit to this skill is the ability to gain support on future investment opportunities.

There are many of us who won’t be attending conferences because we can’t afford it. This includes financially, availability of PTO, work flexibility, or even family time. The phrase “afford it” is a valid and acute perception that highlights that we may not see any positive return on our own personal contributions, such as money, finances, time, and energy, from what the conferences may offer us. This process is how our facilities and companies are structured to evaluate their potential ROI, and it can be helpful for us to begin thinking this way personally as well.

Creating investment opportunities

If we can take this module and firmly lock it into our preconference planning, it can be used to garner support for our investments. Support can be defined as money, travel assistance, and any other key factors necessary for us to achieve our purpose. Recall how we discussed the benefit of one piece of investment evidence spread between multiple positive investment columns. This process can be effectively used to incorporate the terms of our supporters’ ROI.

We would be able to demonstrate how they could also win by supporting us, the chapter, or the project or task in question. This is hard to do without evidence, so be sure to seek data and supporting documents that demonstrate what the supporters view as a return on their investment.

Creating evidence

One way to create evidence is to return from a conference and provide actionable, interesting, and facility-impacting information. Offer to host an in-service in your department. Create or share documents with your manager about new products. Maybe even muster up the courage to share with your healthcare partners like infection prevention, nurse educators, and the chief surgeon.

We can always hope to take something away from our time in anything we spend resources doing. Remember that hope is not a strategy! Let’s incorporate a return on investment mindset and encourage ourselves to consistently look for the benefits of our spent time and energy.

We can save ourselves from the terrible movie endings and fruitless endeavors by raising the intentionality of our purpose and actions. Eventually, we may be able to garner the external support we need to keep us moving when we are tired. May all our conferences be beneficial because we know what we want to achieve from them and ourselves.


  1. Emily Guy Birken and Benjamin Curry, “Return On Investment (ROI),” Forbes Advisor (website), September 28, 2022,

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.