Sterile Processing Week runs from October 9 through 15. Julie Williamson, of the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association, explains why appreciation goes a long way with this vital group of hospital professionals.
The Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA) would like to thank every sterile processing (SP) professional for the heart, soul, integrity, and tireless effort they put into their roles and responsibilities each day. Through their dedication and commitment to quality and best practices, health care customers and patients can count on clean, sterile, and well-functioning instruments and equipment for use in patient care.
Although respect, appreciation, and admiration for all the critical duties that take place within the walls of health care organizations’ sterile processing departments (SPDs) are deserved every day of the year, Sterile Processing Week provides a golden opportunity to formally recognize the profession and all who work in it and give their very best in the name of patient safety and quality customer service. Put simply, without the knowledge, skills, training, and dedication of SP professionals, surgeries and other patient care procedures simply could not occur.
Decades ago, when HSPA (formerly the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management [IAHCSMM]) established the second week of October each year as Sterile Processing Week, we underscored the importance of not letting the week go by without proper fanfare and acknowledgement of the essential work performed by SP professionals. Although many facilities have responded by celebrating with small tokens of appreciation (inexpensive gifts or a potluck meal or pizza party for SP team members), many others admit to doing little or nothing during Sterile Processing Week—a disappointing outcome often blamed on low morale and limited time and budgets. But HSPA would like to remind every facility and SP leader that successful, inspiring, and memorable Sterile Processing Weeks are less about money and more about proper planning and creativity. In fact, some of the very best ways to honor the team and profession cost very little, if nothing at all.
Personal, handwritten words of appreciation from SP leaders, from team members representing key customer departments, such as the operating room, and from C-suite executives tend to be the most well-received “gifts” for SP professionals. Ice cream socials, snacks, beverages, and small gifts or other monetary tokens of appreciation are certainly appreciated and can play an important part in the weeklong celebration, but they should always be matched with thoughtful words (written or verbal) of gratitude for every member of the team.
Has a technician stepped up in notable ways to mentor other team members? Has someone worked extremely hard to increase their knowledge and professionalism and finally attained certification? Was there an especially challenging process that an employee worked hard to master—or were there any other positive developments (reduced error rates, improved efficiencies, etc) that warrant recognition and praise? Sterile Processing Week is an excellent opportunity to express that gratitude and appreciation while also planting more seeds of encouragement to continue learning, growing, and improving.
Continuing education is at the root of every successful SP professional, and it should always be central to a facility’s Sterile Processing Week planning. SP leaders and educators should contact at least 1 vendor to secure an in-service or more intensive workshop for all team members. If the education cannot be presented for all shifts, the information can still be highlighted, summarized, and shared with everyone in the department. Not only does continuing education (CE) help keep staff members sharp and focused on best practices, but it also provides an opportunity to secure valuable continuing education credits to apply toward recertification.
For those SPDs currently working to ensure department-wide certification of technicians, certain days during Sterile Processing Week can be earmarked for textbook chapter review, answering any questions technicians may have about certain processes or practices, and brushing up on science and SP basics to promote quality and help set employees up for success when they are ready to sit for the certification exam. HSPA’s on-demand podcasts, webinars, and publications (Process magazine, Insights e-newsletter, and other resources) can further boost quality staff education and continuing education credits and can be easily provided for employees on all shifts.
Creating a “wall of fame” is another way to honor employees every week of the year, including Sterile Processing Week. HSPA past president Brian Reynolds, CRMST, CRCST, CIS, CHL, CER, assistant chief of Sterile Processing Service, West Palm Beach Department of Veterans Affairs, posts employees’ certifications on a dedicated wall so visitors to the department can see them upon entering, while other facilities spotlight their teams’ certifications and other accomplishments in the hospital’s newsletter.
“A congratulatory email is sent out to SPD staff, [operating room] leadership, and the C-suite, and the email goes viral, with everyone chiming in their appreciation for the accomplishments,” explained Jan Prudent, BA, CRCST, CIS, CHL, sterile processing manager at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, who also serves as HSPA’s current secretary-treasurer. “Our CEO seems to always be the first to respond with a heartfelt thank you and uplifting note. Also, one year our facility conducted a market analysis and a raise happened to correspond with SPD week.”
Educating others outside the SPD is among the most important opportunities to tap for Sterile Processing Week. Administrators, other department heads, patients, and the general public often lack an understanding of what SP entails and how the work performed in the department is so vital to patient safety and positive outcomes.
When setting Sterile Processing Week events, HSPA encourages all SPDs to reach beyond the walls of their own department, extending the invitation to all patient care areas, C-suite/administrators, infection preventionists, risk managers, human resources, environmental services, biomedical engineering, facilities maintenance, and others, if appropriate, to tour the SPD. This tour can be in-depth—allowing and encouraging visitors to don appropriate personal protective equipment for each area to see firsthand the hard work and skill sets required—or less involved, with SP team members providing demonstrations or showing a video of the work performed in the SPD (HSPA’s video, “Sterile Processing: The Heart of the Hospital,” offers a glimpse into the world of instrument processing and can be viewed at https://myhspa.org/about/who-we-are.html).
Reaching out to facility executives and other disciplines has paid big
dividends for many SP managers. Prudent’s department, for example, hosts open houses during Sterile Processing Week, complete with light refreshments and “Did you know?” fact sheets that spotlight the various processes through the SPD and the department’s many accomplishments. All senior leaders are invited to attend and celebrate, as are surgeons and other staff members from the operating room and other hospital units. Prudent’s department also promotes a celebration around the governor’s proclamation for Sterile Processing Week, and senior leadership is always involved. A copy of the proclamation and a brief accompanying write-up are included in the hospital’s newsletter. Bulletin boards posted around the facility highlight the SPD’s many accomplishments and contributions to patient safety and spirited educational events are held, such as the “anatomy of an instrument or flexible endoscope” contest, in which operating room staff or senior leadership judge the entries and give inexpensive ribbons to the winners.
However departments choose to celebrate, HSPA advocates scheduling something special for each day of Sterile Processing Week. If the department has historically let the week go by without fanfare, let this be the year to turn that around.
“Get the whole team involved with your celebration—don’t just wait for someone else to celebrate you,” Reynolds said. “Start with celebrating yourselves and when others see that you care and respect what you do, they will want to assist and help celebrate you as well. Planning ahead to do heartfelt gestures for your staff means so much.”
Handwritten notecards and printed awards/certificates are among the easiest, least expensive, and most heartfelt ways to honor SP professionals. The example shown here can be downloaded and printed at no cost by visiting
Julie E. Williamson serves as HSPA’s director of communications and editor in chief.