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Everyone and No One at All: The Real Value and Opportunity of Technicians Who Organize

What happens when you get angry about something that happens at work? Maybe one of your co-workers gets injured in decontamination from a sharp that should have been removed in the operating room. Maybe you still don’t have a solution for the chemical rashes that keep showing up on technician’s arms after using your enzymatic cleaners. Perhaps you found out how little you get paid compared to the coffee shop across the street. What’s the first thing you do in that situation?

For many of us, we may take our frustration to the nearest smart phone or computer and broadcast our displeasure with the situation to relative strangers across social media. There are many groups on Facebook and many profiles on LinkedIn populated with countless posts full of problems, issues, and irritations around workplace experiences in the sterile processing industry. We may know many of those folks in the groups through online interactions, but they are often scattered across different cities, states, and even countries around the globe. Now Randolph Mgwawe in South Africa knows that your department ran out of Size 8 gloves again this week. But does the director of supply chain in your own hospital know it? If not, why not?

Everyone and no one at all
As I’ve written and spoken about many times, I believe social media has a powerful role to play in connecting our sterile processing industry, educating our team members, and creating a platform for the kinds of conversations that lead to better practices and safer workflows. However, easy access to immediately vent our professional frustrations on social media platforms can also have an unexpected and unintended side effect. Instead of actually fixing the issues in our departments or collaborating with our facility team members to improve our processes, we can spend all our energy communicating with people online who can merely Like, Cry, or otherwise comment on our posts. We may be talking at everyone around the globe, but we’re actually talking to no one in our hospital who can really help us solve the problems we’re facing.

What’s happening in these scenarios is a lot of wasted energy and online conversations (as interesting as they may be) that do very little for the people who work beside us day to day. Your hospital CFO doesn’t give a rip about how many Likes and shares your rant about technician compensation got on Facebook. Your infection prevention nurse manager cannot take action on the YouTube video you made last week on how to properly reprocess ultrasound probes, even if it cracks 100K views in three days. All these social media-facing activities have their own place in the industry, but they cannot compare with real, local action taken by you and your team in response to workplace concerns. No podcast, no matter how awesome, can get you the raise your team deserves.

Stop (only) talking, start (really) doing
What does this real, local action that can improve your department actually look like? The title of this article mentions the value and opportunity of technicians who organize, and that’s really the key to this entire argument. While passionate and engaged sterile processing managers can do wonders for their departments, a group of dedicated, organized technicians can do far more than one leader ever could. Not only that, but technicians often outlast their managers in sterile processing anyway (due to high leadership turnover and burnout rates), so their strategic goals have much more staying power than they may be aware. Let’s address the situations that kicked off this article to give you a couple of concrete examples of how you can leverage and organize your technicians for the good of your team.

Systemic sharps injuries: Part of being organized just means you capture the insight and perspective of as many frontline technicians as possible on the issue you’re facing. In the case of sharps injuries, you’d want to talk to every shift, find out how many sharps injuries they’ve had, how many near misses, discuss any trends that have already been identified, and get all that information in one place. From there, the communication campaign begins. Who would most benefit from hearing from the frontline voices in this scenario? OR leadership? Your quality/risk department? Employee health? Identify those folks, then begin sharing your technician’s feedback with them on a regular basis. Perhaps that is weekly emails from different technicians voicing their similar concerns. Maybe that would include scheduling a large meeting with employee health to get a collaborative game plan in place to track near-misses in a more concerted manner. The point isn’t to do this instead of telling your manager or doing it in spite of what your leader is doing to fix the problem, but it is to add fuel to the fire, numbers to the calculation, and consistency to the pressure for change to happen.

Chemical rashes in decontamination: You do not need a title to advocate for the safety of yourself or your co-workers in sterile processing. In fact, because you’re closer to many of the problems in your department, your technician insight is often times even more valuable than anyone else’s. Find someone on your team to take pictures of everyone’s rashes; include the time, date, exposure time, and chemicals; then put it all together in single document (PDF and/or hard copy). Similar to the previous scenario, you need to identify who needs to get this information and how many of your fellow technicians are willing to call, email, meet, and agitate until you get some real solutions on the table to fix the issue.

Coffee shop compensation woes: Compensation in sterile processing is a topic that deserves (and has had) its own articles dedicated to it. But the role of organized technicians in this discussion has not been well addressed in many of these conversations. Much of the previous chatter has centered around what leaders, administrators, and the industry should do, but what can technicians do besides take their complaints to social media or vote with their feet by exchanging their scrubs for a barista uniform? The single most important step that technicians can take on this topic is to initiate active, ongoing communication between you and your human resources department, and do so in a strategic, organized manner. By strategic, I mean there should be reasonable, data-driven talking points developed by the group to serve as a roadmap for where you want the conversation to go with HR. (What do you want them to do? What, if any, compromises will you accept? How long are you willing to wait for the process to take?) By organized, I mean that this communication must involve as many individuals across your team as possible. The more emails, calls, meetings, and follow-ups your HR department has to handle on a weekly basis related to technician compensation, the more likely any proposal will make its way up the chain of command for review. One manager alone is often not enough to take this topic across the finish line.

The big take away in all of this is simple: Don’t let social media activity be a replacement for the most powerful activity of all—you and your fellow technicians gathering together in your department and refusing to take no for an answer in your mission for safe, surgical care.

It’s going to take a village to change your department. What are you waiting for?

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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