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5 Reasons Why the Great Resignation Could Be Great for Your Sterile Processing Career

Have you seen the signs around your town that say, “Please be patient. The whole world is short staffed,” or something similar? Have you noticed the rising vacancy rates in your sterile processing department? These are all symptoms of what is now being called the Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit, which Wikipedia describes as “an economic trend in which employees voluntarily resign from their jobs en masse, beginning in early 2021, primarily in the United States. It has been said the trend is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American government refusing to provide necessary worker protections, and wage stagnation despite a rising cost of living.”1

While there are many challenges associated with the Great Resignation, there are a number of reasons why these trends may actually lead to greater career growth in the sterile processing industry. Rather than being caught up in the flurry of negatives surrounding these trends, here are a few important reasons you should be looking for the silver linings.

1. Wage increases
The labor market is firmly on the side of employees currently, meaning you now have more leverage than you had even a year or two ago. With the low barrier of entry to the sterile processing field (most states still do not require any form of certification or schooling to apply for the role), it has historically been fairly easy for a hospital to replace technicians if or when they decide to leave. In the shadow of the Great Resignation, however, employers now know it is extremely difficult to recruit new talent for this unique job description. Because of this, human resources departments across the country are scrambling to entice their current sterile processing team members to stick around by offering long-overdue wage increases, sometimes even above the local market rate.

The trends around wage increases do not stop with our full-time, permanent employees. Due to the vacancies mentioned above, combined with growing surgical volume along seasonal peaks, traveling sterile processing technicians are also experiencing historically high rates for 13-week contract positions (+30%), ranging anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500+ per week.

2. Bonus/recruiting packages
In addition to general wage increases, we are also seeing a spike in competitive bonus and recruiting packages for sterile processing technicians and department leadership. These sign-on bonuses range anywhere from $1,000 up to $10,000, and are now being added to relocation assistance for certain strategic roles that are even harder to fill within the narrow skill set of sterile processing subject matter expertise. Prior to the Great Resignation, this level of sign-on bonus for nursing professionals was not uncommon, but sterile processing professionals were often excluded from the programs. This dynamic has now shifted in our favor as facilities are becoming more aware of the critical impact that our teams have on their ability to keep surgical volume flowing in a safe and efficient manner.

3. Promotion opportunities
When wage increases and bonus programs are not enough to stem the tide of leadership resignations in your sterile processing department, those vacancies actually open a door for quicker promotion opportunities than we’ve ever seen before in our industry. If you are willing to stick with your current employer through this season of employment upheaval, you position yourself very powerfully to be strongly considered for that next step up the department career ladder. Job descriptions and role requirements that were written in the previous job market, with heavy emphasis on certain credentials and many years of experience, are now much more likely to be tweaked to fit an otherwise qualified applicant, especially if you are an internal candidate who has already built trust with your perioperative peers. Just make sure to have a conversation around some kind of retention bonus and wage adjustment while you’re at it, since the leverage is strongly in your favor currently. It will be much more difficult to get those things after you’ve already accepted the role.

4. Education providers
Perhaps surprisingly, the trend toward extensive vacancies in sterile processing may also be a boon for education providers such as technical colleges, private certification prep programs, and even department educators. As the labor market tightens, it is now much more likely that the technicians your department will be hiring will have little to no previous sterile processing experience, and those who have worked in the industry before often won’t have their certification credentials (yet). This stands as a massive opportunity for education providers to step in to fill the training gaps for departments around the country, who are already short-staffed, to provide a qualified pipeline of new workers into the competitive job market.

5. Technological leaps
Any time humans are confronted with challenges that seem insurmountable, human ingenuity has a way of stepping up to the task and finding a new and better way to solve the problem. This is just as true in the world of sterile processing as it is anywhere else. Innovation has already been on the upswing in this space, but with the growing percentage of vacancies in our departments, there’s never been a better time to look at technologies that would make our jobs easier, safer, and, just as importantly, more efficient. We should expect to see more reprocessing tools using augmented and virtual reality, additional equipment with robotic components (such as moving or wrapping surgical trays), and application for artificial intelligence (AI), which helps us make the right reprocessing decision even quicker than before. As more companies move into this space, and more departments grab on to them as a lifeline to supplement their staffing holes, sterile processing professionals will have even more job prospects as robotic engineers, repair technicians, and user-interface programmers. If you have any interest in technology, now is the time to start diving deep into these topics and companies out there innovating within the space to make yourself known as someone who has value to add to their vision to improve our processes.

Is everything about the Great Resignation sunshine and roses? Of course not. But there are certain opportunities available for those sterile processing professionals who stick around and are willing to use the leverage they have during this labor market shift to propel themselves forward to a brighter future. If this sounds like you, good luck! And remember us when you’re rich and famous.

What say you?

References

  1. “Great Resignation,” Wikipedia, accessed December 13, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Resignation

Feature articles exclusively for Ultra Clean Systems by Weston “Hank” Balch, BS, MDiv, CRCST, CER, CIS, CHL

Weapon of Mass Microbial Destruction * Professional Clean Freak * Podcast Host * Safety Addict * CS/SPD Consultant

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