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Small But Mighty: 4 Tips on Ensuring Your Little CS/SPD Has a Big Impact

Have you ever felt like the old commercials about an Army of One could have been describing your sterile processing department? When you get your assignments for the week do they look like this:

Decontam – Jennifer

Assembly – Jennifer

Sterilization – Jennifer

Case Picking – Jennifer

Whether you fly your sterile processing ship solo every day or boast a grand total of three or four technicians on board, the complexity and value of your mission for safe surgery is exactly the same as if you worked in a large medical center with 75 other technicians, specialists, and leaders hustling and bustling around you. Your team may be small, but there’s no reason it can’t be mighty in the fight against dangerous microbial fire-breathers. Here are four tips to help you make it happen.

Pursue industry certification, then do it again
The smaller your SPD team, the less likely it is that you are required to be certified to do your job, unless you work in one of the few states that currently have sterile processing certification legislation on the books. But because industry certification is not required by your facility or mandated by your state does not mean it would not be beneficial for you to pursue those credentials. Besides the professional recognition and career growth that certification can offer, one of the most important things it can give small facilities is an introductory exposure to the full scope of sterile processing competency.

With limited CS/SPD subject matter experts on site at your surgery center or rural hospital, it’s even more important to become as educated as you can about the work you do. Then, once you gain your initial certification, go back for more. Both certification agencies (CBSPDand IAHCSMM) currently have four or five different certifications available for CS/SPD professionals, ranging in focus from flexible endoscopes to healthcare leadership.

Build strong relationships with your OR peers
Unlike in larger hospitals, ASCs and rural facilities often have the luxury of the CS/SPD department being closer to their peers in the OR—both in geography and relationship. If this is true for your area, use it to your advantage. Become proactive in getting to know your customers in the OR because their team is small enough to learn faces and names much easier than in other settings. If you are able, eat lunch with some of the OR team, get involved in any special events or potlucks they put on, and consider writing thank-you notes to the them when they do something that makes your life in CS/SPD easier.

Besides building collegiality, these strong relationships are important if and when you ever have to put your foot down or take advantage of a teaching moment to guard best practices and compliance for the processes in your department. When you earn the trust of your OR peers and surgeons, it is a million times easier for them to respect you when you raise a concern over an infection control or patient safety issue. Remember that an Us vs. Them mentality benefits no one, especially not the patients who are counting on and expecting everyone to ultimately be on the same team—their team.

Make the moments matter
As a department of one, you likely don’t have the luxury of a team of CS/SPD shift leaders, department manager, and specialists who are thinking and planning daily for the future of your cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization team. The responsibility for that kind of forward-thinking falls to you. As you already know, running a sterile processing department of any size (even a small one) is a lot of work. How then can you find the time to get all the work done, complete all the documentation, pick all the cases, place all the orders, and still have time to think about how to make things better tomorrow?

Two pieces of advice may come in handy here: have a plan, and make the moments matter. How can your little corner of the CS/SPD universe improve? Are all of your count sheets correct? Do you even have count sheets at all? Is your sterile storage area labeled? Do you have your decontamination room as organized as you would like? As you develop answers to these types of questions, you’ll start to develop a basic department improvement plan.

Once you have a general idea of the kinds of things you’d like to change, then discipline yourself to take advantage of the little moments here and there throughout your day to take tiny steps of progress. If you have to wait five minutes for a washer cycle to end, instead of just staring off into the distance, grab a label maker and conquer a little chaos on your peel pack shelves. If you do this type of thing every day, then every day you will leave your department a little better than you found it.

Make the CS/SPD net(work)
Whether you work in a little surgery center in the shadow of a 1,000-bed hospital or happen to live 100 miles from the closest airport, you should find a way to take advantage of the existing sterile processing network in your area and online. If there is a local chapter of CS/SPD professionals that meets on a regular basis, make it a point to attend those events. In addition to meeting other sterilization nerds, these conferences typically have helpful education put on by different vendors and educators from across the country. As with certification, local conferences can broaden your horizon regarding current best practices and any recent regulatory changes that you may not have been aware of.

Some of the greatest opportunity for connecting you to the broader industry conversations is through online media. Whether it’s the weekly Beyond Clean podcast that’s downloaded in more than 117 countries worldwide and interviews the biggest names in sterile processing, the weekly NewSplash digital newsletter that brings interesting topics related to sterile processing and infection control directly to your email inbox, or even the SterileEd mobile app, the first and only mobile app dedicated to the sterile processing field, you don’t have to settle when it comes to high-quality continuing education.

Simply put, your impact as a sterile processing professional is not measured by the number of mailboxes in your department, or the number of names on a file in human resources. You change lives every day through every surgery that you successfully support as a defender of patient safety, from decontamination to the OR and back again. Your team may be small, but your mission to #FightDirty is mighty important.

Keep on keeping on.

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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