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Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

“The admonition to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes means before judging someone, you must understand his experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc. The full idiom is: Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. In effect, it is a reminder to practice empathy.”1

Working in sterile processing (SP) is a not easy job. There is no glamorous way to spin it. Sometimes we wish people would understand how we feel holed up in the hospital’s basement or in a windowless department that most key and clinical decision-makers couldn’t locate if you paid them. Without us, surgery couldn’t happen, and surgery is the primary revenue-generating engine of most hospitals. We might feel that certain professional courtesies are due to us. Yet, I challenge you to take a step back and walk in the shoes of other roles that are part of this revenue-generating machine. 

In this article, we will cover a mile in the shoes of four key players in the operating room: the surgeon, the nurses, the scrub technicians, and management and team leads. Gaining more clarity on what a day looks like for them may help us understand how we can best communicate and respect their roles. 

The surgeon
Typically, a surgeon has more than a decade of education under their belt. They have worked tireless hours of residency and endured many sleepless nights to have the title of “doctor.” They have cases in the operating room and a minimum number of office visits that they have to achieve. They have call rotations, and if a weekend call rotation was on their calendar, they’ve slept only a few hours when they arrive for a Monday morning 7:00 case. Surgery is a key revenue generator for them as well, and every minute in the OR counts. If a surgeon were to talk to an SP technician, they would likely want them to know how important their job is, the critical nature of complete sets in working order, and that the case is only as strong as the weakest link. It takes an army as surgeons need the entire team’s support, SP included.

The nurse
OR nurses have a skill set that can apply to any surgery as they manage all of the activities in the room: circulating nurses managing everything beyond the surgical field (assisting anesthesia, managing the counts, charting, and maintaining the OR flow), or they can be assigned as scrub nurses (scrubbed into the procedure and hands on), depending on their assignment for the day. They communicate with the patient before and after the procedure. OR nurses have to be prepared for the unexpected at any turn. They have a hectic role in the OR and run on all cylinders.

The surgical technician
Often referred to as a scrub tech, this role is one of support during procedures. Experts in sterile technique, scrub techs aid with in-room setup, inspect instruments before the procedure, help maintain the sterile field, and assist with room turnover. Scrub techs facilitate surgeons by helping to predict their needs in terms of instrumentation, and they hand off instruments during cases. We commonly refer to this position as the aseptic pro, which verifies the sterility and double-check SP’s work to catch any misses.

Courtesy SurgicalTechTraining.org2

Snapshot of the role of a surgical technician

The management crew (team leads, assistant nurse managers, SP manager, and director of surgery)
Whether it’s a nurse manager (typically segregated by surgical specialty) or a department head (sterile processing or operating room), this role is jam-packed with responsibility. From managing workflow, staff scheduling, meeting with vendor representatives, and internal departmental meetings, they have a big job. When you may feel like they aren’t boots on the ground or that your voice and concerns aren’t being heard, that might not always be the case. They could be fighting for your job behind the scenes or working on process improvement measures to make your job easier. If you don’t feel valued by this team, come to them with solutions to problems and suggestions, not just complaints; realize that they have multiple roles and balls to juggle; and understand that they can often influence your career growth.

As you walk through your days and nights in SP, always keep in mind what these additional roles are tasked with daily. This not only helps you better understand how you can help, but it also can give you a moment to pause and reflect before reacting.

Your growth and future in SP is determined in a large part by you. Keep developing professionally and continue to come to the table with great suggestions. You will never regret working on becoming the best sterile processing technician possible and educating yourself.


  1. “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” Grammarist, accessed May 20, 2021, https://grammarist.com/phrase/walk-a-mile-in-someone-elses-shoes/#:~:text=The%20admonition%20to%20walk%20a%20mile%20in%20someone,a%20Mary%20T.%20Lathrap%20poem%20published%20in%201895
  2. “Is There a Difference Between a Surgical Technologist and a Sterile Processing Technician?” SurgicalTechTraining.org, accessed May 20, 2021, https://surgicaltechtraining.org/is-there-a-difference-between-a-surgical-technologist-and-a-sterile-processing-technician/

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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