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How to Conquer Chaos in Sterile Processing: Taking Back Control Starts with You; 3 Ways to Start Taking Back Control Today

Sterile processing (SP) is a controlled environment. Humidity, staffing, case volumes (variable, but outside of your direct control), specialties, vendor set quantities, inventory, etc. are all controlled. Things are documented, instructions for use (IFUs) are followed, and there are many leather-bound volumes of AAMI Standards in your hypothetical library. So why is it that a so-called controlled environment can feel so chaotic and out of control at times? The answer is humans; we change everything. We make mistakes, have emotions, and often our ability to perform at a high level is variable from hour to hour, day to day, and month to month. We are affected by the operating room staff, co-workers, and management decisions. Yet, the one thing that remains steady is you, my friend: your ability to control your own response to situations, your own personal and professional development, and your own self-care. Now before you check out and think this article is a “woo-woo” feel-good write-up, hear me out.

Step 1: Control what you can (your mental wellbeing)
“If you focus on what you can’t control, you’re a little crazy inside, angry and depressed. If you focus most of the time on what you don’t have instead of what you do have, you’re going to be extremely unhappy.”—Tony Robbins

Yes, this may sound extreme, but we speak very little about the mental health of our SP technicians, and the truth is that feelings of anger and depression can exist in our workspace. These feelings will, in turn, affect our performance and our ability to stay focused on the details that can be lifesaving to our patients. When you think about your mental wellbeing as a factor that indeed could change a patient outcome, it changes it all, doesn’t it?

If you are spending your time thinking about the things you can’t control, it will affect your mental health and well-being. It can make you angry, depressed, and unhappy with your life and your job. I am not a therapist, but I do believe in seeking help when it’s needed. Major life events, sentinel events in your facility that you felt in one way or another responsible for, and the inability even put one foot in front of the other can all be reasons to seek professional help. A time comes when focusing on your own wellbeing will be the best career decision you will ever make. Learn to accept the things you can’t control so that you can focus on what you can. If you can make the switch, you’ll quickly notice that you become happier.

Step 2: Drive your own personal and professional development
“You got a little crazy and distracted for a while. That’s ok. Now come back to center. Re-align with your best self. Every day is a second chance.”—Brendon Burchard

Every day is a great day to grow, and you get to control the level at which you excel or decline. It’s helpful to first ask yourself if this career is something you are passionate about? Passion is the catalyst that drives your action. If you answered yes (or you think you are), that’s a great start. Now it’s on you to focus in two areas.

The first area is your personal development. Without this, your professional life will not be what it could be. You cannot possibly show up excited to contribute to patient safety if you don’t have a self-propelled drive, and that drive starts with you: your desire to grow, become a better version of yourself, and a desire to be really great. Here are a few suggestions for the busy professional:

  • Start your day with personal development and a morning routine that doesn’t involve social media, checking work emails, or immediately diving into the day.
  • Find podcasts, influencers, and experts in the arena of personal development. Choose one that resonates with you and dive in.
  • Create time for it. This can be waking up 30 minutes before the kids, listening to an Audible book on the drive to the hospital, or tuning into a podcast that sets the tone for your day.

The second area is professional development, and the two go hand in hand. One without the other is not nearly as effective. When it comes to your professional development, I’ve got to say thank you, coronavirus, for enhancing (forcing) the creative approach of business professionals when it comes to consumable education, and virtual learning. Sure, educational and professional development resources existed before COVID-19, but not at the level they do today. Today, you can login to LinkedIn and watch a live event, jump on Clubhouse for a conversation with industry professionals, download a podcast, or sign up for a free webinar that organizations took time cultivate.

Gone are the days of boring PowerPoint presentations. Welcome to 2021, where conversations are candid, conversations with industry pros are a direct message away, and creative content is a requirement to gain traction for companies. And guess what? Industry pros are going to create it with vigor and the backing of a creative team. Professional resources are endless, and making learning a priority will only benefit the trajectory of your career and the department as a whole.

Step 3: Making your health a priority
“Action is the foundational key to all success.”—Pablo Picasso

We have all heard the instruction, “Please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you.” This is because you cannot help others unless you are well enough yourself to do so. Sterile processing is a physically demanding role that requires endless hours on our feet. If we are fortunate, mats are in decontamination and at workstations, and yes, those help. Yet, we still lift vendor trays that exceed weight limits, we contort our bodies into awkward and unnatural positions when wrapping trays, and we push and pull all day long. These movements take a physical toll on even the healthiest person. If you have your health today, it is your biggest asset. Maintaining your good health (if you are fortunate enough to still have it) will be an asset that carries into your performance and ability to do a great job every single day.

It can be easy to focus on the chaos, the uncontrollable, and the negative components of our role as SP professionals. It can be even easier to fall into victim mode and turn to social media to vent, or for our peers to bring disgruntled frustrations forward. Yet, the bigger challenge lies within you. Ask yourself if you are controlling what you can. Have you taken the time to control the three areas listed above? We are each tasked with an important role in healthcare, and it is on each of us as individuals to control what we can and bring our best selves to our workplace. Starting today, let’s all agree to make the best of what we have and focus on becoming better daily. That we can indeed control.


Rebecca Kinney is a medical sales representative and small business owner of Cypress, Inc. She is a Certified Central Service Vendor Partner (CCSVP). Rebecca has worked in healthcare for more than 15 years: 7 years as a sterile processing technician and 8 years in medical sales working directly with SP. Focused on a proactive and consultative approach, she takes her experience to share knowledge in the field she wishes she knew when she worked in SP. She actively participates in speaking engagements and uses LinkedIn as an educational tool to reach an audience of almost 30,000 professionals. 

Continual process improvement and education lending to patient safety has always been her primary objective.

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