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Prep, Pack, Politics: Navigating a Culture of Divisiveness in a Department That Must Stick Together

There’s no use acting like the world outside our hospitals isn’t in differing stages of lockdown, rioting, shooting, campaigning, and protesting. Tensions are high, relationships are on edge, and many folks are coming out of their respective corners swinging—metaphorically and sometimes even literally.

Wherever you land on the political spectrum from left to right, or somewhere else off the map, you likely work with people that you will not agree with politically. While you may never march together in a public demonstration, you will find yourself elbow to elbow with them on a daily basis, decontaminating medical devices in the name of patient safety. So how do you navigate the political landmines that make headlines on the evening news and not lose focus on the primary mission of your role as sterile processing professionals?

I think there are at least two crucial points to consider here: the first is personal, the second is practical.

Personal beliefs and the freedom to think
No matter where you live—in a suburb of Minneapolis or downtown Manilla, rural Nebraska or some small town in the Netherlands—your personal politics will differ from other technicians and leaders in your CSSD. And that is okay! In fact, living in a diverse world like ours, we shouldn’t expect it to be any different.

Challenges and conflicts tend to arise, however, when individuals begin expecting or pressuring others to accept their own personal views of the world. This is where network television and social media show their dark sides by encouraging extremism and an unwillingness to allow for differences of opinions among groups, communities, and classes. In consuming this politicized media, we end up in echo chambers where everyone around us is saying things that we agree with, to the point that we couldn’t imagine how a sane person could believe any different than we do. So when we do meet that person or persons who disagree, we immediately see them as a threat to be responded to or a person to be converted to “our side.” There is no neutrality. Either you are for us, or you are against us. Every idea is weaponized, and every person must choose a side.

I don’t know about you, but I think living in that kind of world is exhausting, which is probably why so many of us feel drained just by scrolling through our social media newsfeeds these days or watching the evening news. As if this exhaustion wasn’t hard enough on our own time, bringing this level of pressure into an already high-stress context such as sterile processing is a recipe for all kinds of unhelpful distractions, disputes, and divisive cultural implications. To overcome this, I believe we must make room for personal beliefs in your department and hold fast to the freedom of your coworkers to think for themselves. Let’s take a look at how that practically plays out in the final section below.

Real world responses in the midst of cultural craziness
Most people would affirm that we all deserve the freedom to think for ourselves and hold to our own personal beliefs. But what does that actually look like in a sterile processing department? Here are some specific examples of situations when, where, and how politics show up in our departments and why we need to be thoughtful of how we react if we care about cultivating peace among our team members:

  • Moments of silence: As much as you may not want to admit it, moments of silence can be political and politicized, especially if they are done in response to a current cultural issue in your community. Regardless of your personal feelings about an event you want to commemorate in silence, don’t pressure your team members to publicly take part in something they may disagree with, but aren’t comfortable voicing those opinions in the workplace.
  • Organizing or promoting political events: Part of this is obvious. Is it a good idea to allow partisan political postings on the bulletin board in the breakroom? Probably not. But keep in mind that even if an issue is not directly tied to a political party, there are many causes and events that happen outside of work that have divisive political overtones. What does a gun rights rally have to do with decontamination? What does an environmental march have to do with instrument inspection? These kinds of events should not be organized or promoted during working hours to ensure no one feels unduly pressured or left out for issues that have almost nothing to do with the mission of your SPD team.
  • Political conversations on the floor: This one is probably the most common, yet most difficult issues to navigate. Many people do have opinions about politics, and those opinions matter very much to them. And many of us have close friendships at work where we would like to have conversations that are more important than just the weather and the ball game. However, due to the potential cultural impact of political disagreements, I would strongly caution leaders and frontline technicians about being too flippant and too presumptuous regarding when, how, and with whom these conversations are had. Not everyone who has a problem with your political opinion will have the nerve or desire to tell you about it. Even strongly held beliefs can be held without using them as a hammer to bludgeon your coworkers over the head, either intentionally or not.

For frontline healthcare professionals as we are in sterile processing, we do not have the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves. Leave that to the talking heads on TV and the politicians on Capitol Hill. There are patients waiting at the other end of our trays who couldn’t care less about who we voted for, but they care very deeply how attentive you were to properly preparing their surgical trays.

Please don’t let them down.

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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