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IAHCSMM Should Change Its Name

What does it mean to be a professional? More money? More perks? Respect? A voice? The sterile processing industry has struggled for decades to be seen as more than glorified dishwashers. We are technical experts in decontamination, inspection and assembly, disinfection, high-level disinfection, sterilization, and so much more. We memorize hundreds of thousands of surgical instruments across a spectrum of service lines. We are experts on how to take them apart, put them back together, and every step in between. We know manufacturers’ instructions for use for hundreds of thousands of instruments like the back of our hands. We know what surgical case will need which instruments, what is critical, what needs to be turned around, and what always must be sterilized. We know what the operating room needs.

This critical knowledge must be ready and available in our minds at a moment’s notice to perform our jobs in high-risk environments. We are at risk of biohazardous sharps injuries, burns, lift injuries, and ergonomic-motion repetition injuries. Sterile processing is a high-risk physical job that uses the maximum capability of our mental capacity. It is a job that is performed under stress and time pressures. Everything is needed right now, and everything is critical with no room for error. 

Sterile processing is a monstrous task but is also a duty that none of us would shy away from. As sterile processing professionals it is our duty to bring our best selves to work every day in tough conditions to ensure our patients have safe surgeries. We thrive in the challenges and take value in the impact we make in patients’ lives and overall health and well-being. Our industry gained significant spotlight over the last few years because of outbreaks and challenges with scope processing. This negative spotlight has made it even more critical that we find our voice and improve ourselves to ensure safe patient outcomes. 

What we do makes a difference. We are difference-makers who often stand between good and bad patient outcomes. We are professionals. The International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) should change its name to help move our industry to being seen professionals.

What does it mean to be a professional?
Professionals are people committed to an industry or field who become technical experts. They have a passion for improving and sharing their expertise. Doctors, nurses, and lawyers are all professionals. So are sterile processing technicians. We are sterile processing professionals. We are educated; we are experts; our voices matter. 

For the last few years, we have seen industry leaders and changemakers striving for the sterile processing industry to develop a voice. Many of these voices have come through loud and strong through social media, publications, and conferences. Our field is experimenting with voice through YouTube, podcasts, webinars, and other media. We are seeing sterile processing professionals pursuing higher education like multiple certifications, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and even doctorates. We see sterile processing managers, directors, and even administrators walking the hallways of our organizations with their heads held high. 

Members of our industry were instrumental in building the practices that held the line with N95s through COVID-19, saving countless lives of clinicians and patients. Our industry is going to continue to be pushed and challenged as the operating room volumes surge into uncharted waters to clear the backlogs that were created due to the surgical shutdowns from COVID-19. To be able to continue to man these rough waters, we need to be seen as professional experts to ensure our voices are heard in our organizations when we need resources and support, and to ensure there are no shortcuts taken as workloads increase. Sterile processing professionals ensure patient safety first!

As an industry, we are developing a bigger voice than we have ever had, but often we are still not seen as professionals. To be seen as professionals, we must be seen as the technical experts we are. Our job is one that people cannot simply walk in off of the street and be able to perform. Each new person that enters our industry requires significant investment to train and develop into a functional technician. Memorizing thousands of surgical instruments is difficult. Our field is one that requires a deep knowledge that cannot be learned quickly. We are professionals, and it is time for us to be united in that as an industry. It is time for us to stand together as one and build our industry into a recognized professional industry.

What’s in a name?
A few weeks ago, IAHCSMM announced a big change. The organization is putting forward a membership vote to change the name of the organization to Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA). Why does this matter?

Our industry continues to struggle with identity and voice. Having one of our two industry certifying boards with a name that does not include our profession in the name is a problem. If IAHCSMM is our association, its name should represent us and who we are. When IAHCSMM represents us to politicians, nonindustry organizations, and key stakeholders, there is confusion and doubt to who IAHCSMM is and what we represent. Changing our name to represent who we are will help us build professional identity and voice. We are sterile processing, and the name Healthcare Sterile Processing Association represents us; HSPA represents who we are and our role to people outside our profession

Sterile processing is going to continue to grow and develop as an industry and profession. The work we are preforming is highly complex and technical. We are technical experts and professionals who need our certifying bodies and professional organization to represent who we are. Becoming HSPA will ensure we have a name that represents us as we continue to build our identity in our organizations. There is a long list of challenges the industry needs to overcome, including innovation, technology, education, getting new people hired into the industry, recognition, pay, and voice. Becoming the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association is a first step in our journey to being seen as professionals we are.

Whether you agree or not, it is critical every voice is heard. If you are a member of IAHCSMM, please vote in this historic vote. Have your voice heard.

Marjorie Wall is a director of sterile processing at Kaiser Permanente and IAHCSMM board of directors member. As a sterile processing leader with over 20 years of industry experience, Marjorie pushes the boundaries for change and innovation in her organization and in the industry. Marjorie built her career turning around underperforming departments and is now an industry change driver as a writer and keynote speaker.

Marjorie has achieved a masters of organizational leadership from Azusa Pacific University, CRCST, CIS, and CHL certifications from IAHCSMM, and Six Sigma Black Belt Certification from the American Society for Quality. Marjorie has personally developed 12 frontline staff into SPD leaders and 13 SPD techs into Six Sigma Yellow Belts. 

Marjorie Wall’s life philosophy is, “Sometimes you have to take a leap and build your wings on the way down.” We have to be willing to change and improve through the toughest challenges. We have to lead SPD.

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