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Honoring Our Sterile Processing Heroes
Fly High This Sterile Processing Week: Oct. 11–17

For decades, the second Sunday of every October has marked the first day of Sterile Processing Week, and like every year that came before it, this year calls for celebrating the vital contributions of our nation’s sterile processing (SP) professionals.

Although the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) has long considered SP professionals as healthcare heroes—not unlike frontline caregivers and those from other healthcare disciplines—the association also knows that some facilities still don’t give them the acknowledgment and appreciation they deserve. Even worse, some SP managers don’t treat their hardworking teams to any fanfare, opting instead to let each day of the dedicated week tick off like any other.

To be fair, some SP professionals may be unaware that there’s an entire week dedicated to them and their discipline. Some may be new to the profession and others may not have had the opportunity to read IAHCSMM’s many articles, tips, and tributes for them year after year. On the other hand, even some who are aware of the dedicated week each October may lack a celebratory spirit if their own bosses, interdisciplinary colleagues, and administrators fail to acknowledge it and give those in the department so much as a verbal thank you or a physical pat on the back.

Whatever the case, there remains an essential truth: this honorary week is greatly deserved, and every SP professional should be recognized for their ongoing contributions, dedication, and hard work, every shift and every day of the year.

Spread the word
Managers, now’s the time to start planning a meaningful, memorable Sterile Processing Week, and get other departments (including high-level executives) in on the action. Make no mistake, even though your team may not outwardly verbalize it, they are looking to you for recognition and appreciation. Ignoring the profession and, especially, them as individuals and a unified team is a surefire way to diminish morale and job satisfaction. And both of those outcomes are anything but positive for patient care.

Celebrating within the walls of the department is great (and should be done!), but expanding the reach delivers far more benefits. In many facilities, SP professionals remain the unsung heroes, in great part because other departments often lack an understanding of all that the SP function entails (and just how difficult the job is, day in and day out). Sterile Processing Week affords a golden opportunity to invite other healthcare professionals to tour the SPD, ask questions, and even participate in or contribute to some eye-opening education. Inviting operating room professionals to participate in Sterile Processing Week events is most definitely important, but there’s significant merit to inviting those from infection prevention, risk management, biomedical, facilities management, environmental services, the emergency department and the C-suite. It stands to reason that the more they learn about the SPD’s critical role in patient care and patient safety—and all it takes for SP professionals to do their job effectively and efficiently—the greater allies they’ll be at other points throughout the year.

Unmask your heroes
Another strategy managers can take to ensure their team gets their rightful recognition is to snap photos of each employee, include those along with their titles, tenure, and their top accomplishments and successes, and post them in the department and in common areas of the facility (if allowed) for all to see. This helps put faces and names on the inner workings of the SPD, which can boost employee morale and garner greater understanding and collaboration from SP professionals’ various healthcare customers.

No (or low) budget? No problem!
Each year, IAHCSMM hears from SP professionals across the country who claim their managers and facilities don’t celebrate Sterile Processing Week due to limited budgets. We routinely remind those in the profession that some of the best, most meaningful ways to celebrate cost little or nothing.

Often, words of appreciation matter more than a pizza party or celebratory trinkets (if budgets allow, those add-ons are certainly nice, but they aren’t a requirement). Aside from hosting departmental tours and fun in-department educational offerings (consider asking vendor reps to provide an in-service or schedule trivia games for the SPD team and any other healthcare professionals in the facility who may want to participate), managers can plan one event per shift for every day of Sterile Processing Week to keep the celebratory spirit alive.

Managers can also set aside time with each employee to thank them for their specific contributions, recognize their strengths and growth areas, and share how that employee has contributed to the team’s success. Additionally, managers can discuss career ladder opportunities with each employee and initiate a plan to help put them on the path.

Last but not least, managers should personally deliver a thank you note to each employee. It only takes a few minutes for each employee (and costs next to nothing), and the thoughtful words of praise and encouragement will be meaningful long after Sterile Processing Week draws to a close. Every employee wants to feel seen, heard, supported, valued, and appreciated during that one dedicated week and throughout the entire year.

Julie Williamson has served as IAHCSMM’s editor since 2000 and also serves as IAHCSMM’s communications director. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has had hundreds of articles published on topics related to sterile processing, surgical services, infection prevention, and materials management. In her IAHCSMM roles, she writes, coordinates, and edits articles for IAHCSMM’s PROCESS magazine and its e-newsletter, Insights; researches, writes, and edits articles for various healthcare journals and trade publications; drafts press materials; and mentors up-and-coming authors and editorial contributors.


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