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The Echo Chamber of Sterile Processing: Are the Voices Reverberating a Pleasant Sound?

You walk into the change room, grab a pair of hospital-issued scrubs, open your locker, and your tired body contorts itself into the pants’ legs. You pull the often-wrinkled top over your head, put on tennis shoes that have every virus known to man on the soles, and top it all off with some shoe covers and a hairnet. The door to your locker slams shut, the sound of nurses’ voices grumbling rings in your ears, and stressed-out coworkers set the tone as you step into your sterile processing (SP) persona of the day.

Some days the humming vibration feels happy; other days it feels heavy. You are in an environment that the outside world doesn’t understand, and as you place one foot in front of the other, it’s as if you’ve been transported to an alternate universe. The environment is different: the temperature is colder, white noise fills your ears, and the people around you have become your family in this alternate reality. Every family creates a tone and a hum, a feeling and a sound.

We want to explain the “echo chamber” created in your workplace, define it, expose it, and arm you with ways to step outside of it. You have an incredibly important role, and patients’ lives are affected by the work you do daily. The question that begs to be asked is this: Are you contributing a positive tone and stepping outside the echo chamber created in your hospital? Or are you letting the voices in your department and the operating room suites be the only sound you hear?

What is an echo chamber?
An echo chamber is “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.”1 It is incredibly common for any workplace to become a siloed space, especially in the healthcare arena. It is broken into its own set of opinions, the views of peers, the job at hand, and the level of importance.

Let’s explore some ways in which SP is its own echo chamber, with steam building up (don’t open the door until pressure has been released). Our frustrations and struggles don’t seem relatable to other departments, so we vent and express them to each other. Let’s take, for example, the very real struggle of personal protective equipment (PPE)—provided to us in decontamination to perform our jobs—not being adequate. How many other hospital staff members have fluid seep through the layers of their PPE and scrubs on an hourly basis? Some do for sure, but the occurrence in SP is higher than it should be.

Here are a few more topics in our echo chamber:

  • We have to understand multiple surgical specialties, and the instrumentation, instructions for use, inspection points, and assembly/disassembly for each. Typically, other areas of the hospital have one, or maybe two, areas they can hone in on.
  • We are the largest revenue-generating engine of the hospital, and the OR cannot perform its job without us, but our role comes with minimal accolades and pay isn’t comparable to efforts and knowledge.
  • We feel isolated in a small, often windowless room, surrounded by the same crew day in and day out.
  • Travelers come and go like a revolving door, making it hard to communicate or create baseline standards.

These are just a few of many areas in which SP employees experience frustrations, and reasons why the pressure builds. We become dependent on each other to vent to (let some steam out), and speak our own “crile-mosquito-ribbon-indicator-ala-docious” language. It feels like other departments simply don’t get it—the strain, the importance, or the clinical nature of our roles. Therefore, we become like buzzing bees in our hive, and often the only sounds we hear are the buzzes within, rather than stepping outside to hear other sounds.

How can we step outside our hive and hear the very real voices around us, so that our opinions don’t become ethylene oxide toxic?

First and foremost, let’s make sure that we are contributing positive voices when in our space. Our sounds echo and become mirrored by those around us. It’s safe to say that if we bring solutions and positivity to the table, not only frustrations, it’s helpful and contagious.

Second, step away from the negative buzz and open your eyes and ears to supporting departments and roles (see “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes”). We need to seek to understand the supporting departments’ roles, even going as far as supply chain and C-suite level. We often feel misunderstood and undervalued, but how well are we seeking to understand others?

Third, listen to the right voices and fill your ears with a pleasant sound. Living in 2022 is really amazing. We have access to media, voices, opinions, and think-outside-the-box experts that share their knowledge for free if you are willing to consume. Find your hive: great conversations happen live weekly on LinkedIn and Facebook, exceptional podcasts in our space exist, and newsletters like this one are available. Every desired medium of learning is out there. Are you listening?

Now your day has come to a close. You’re walking back to the locker room to peel off those scrubs, shoe covers, and the hairnet that has left a beautiful imprint on your forehead. You are tired, most likely, and undoubtedly in need of a shower. How did you do today? Did you get trapped in your hive, buzzing negativity and complaints? Or did you choose to be the voice of solutions and positivity that others will mimic? Did you seek to understand others as much as you desire to be understood, and did you put your best foot forward? Let’s reinforce one another and listen to the voices that resonate most. Let’s seek to increase competencies and awareness, and let’s be the best we can be for our patients, who matter most.

References

  1. Bing.com. “Echo chamber,” accessed March 14, 2022. https://www.bing.com/search?q=echo+chamber+definition

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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