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I have worked for several hospital systems that offer financial incentives to encourage staff to become certified when they work in sterile processing (SP). Most of the people I work with became certified because of the economic boost associated with the title. I have also advocated that all central sterile (CS) staff become certified as a way of validating that they are competent professionals in their chosen field. So why do I find so many certified SP professionals missing the point of certification? How can we take a test to demonstrate our competency and then behave as if nothing happened when we see violations? I have witnessed certified personnel watch other members of the hospital staff and the operating room violate sterile processing regulations, standards, recommended practices, and hospital policy without anyone challenging the individual.
I see certification as documented proof that CS staff understand good practice and know the right answers, but they also have a moral obligation to confront violation. Now, I’m not suggesting that CS professionals behave rudely to others in the facility that has done something against best practice. I just believe we honor our profession by politely confronting those who have made a mistake and share our knowledge with individuals who are engaged in practices that do not optimize patient outcomes. In most cases when I confront someone about a violation, they are grateful for the information and correct the behavior. Of course, there is always one person who believes you have no jurisdiction over their behavior and there are many way to deal with defiant individuals. There is infection control, safety and compliance; all of these departments are designed to track, control and prevent behavior that is detrimental to patient care. If that fails to illicit the correct action, just remember that the federal government has multiple organizations that can encourage good behavior. If you are certified, you already know this.
Maybe it’s because we are afraid to challenge someone with a title greater than our own, or because we are just too busy to do what is right. Whatever the reason, we diminish our role as the sterile processing experts when we chose to ignore these violations and allow the status quo to ensue. With the changes in reimbursement that came in October, CS departments will become more valuable because preventing infections will be more than just a patient safety issue; it will be a revenue producing endeavor to remain viable in the healthcare environment and no one will argue with that.
So start encouraging fellow sterile processing personnel to watch for violations; confront the individuals and inform them about the issue. You might find that other professionals in the organization like doctors, nurses, and scrub techs will see you as the professional you are in the organization. If by chance you encounter someone who does not appreciate your efforts, remember your actions will better serve the patient, the institution's financial standing, and honor your profession.
Jason Driver is associate director of the Sterile Processing Department at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He has worked in sterile processing for the last 15 years, and for the last 12 years, he was served as a certified technician, supervisor and manager. He earned a bachelor of science degree in occupational education from Wayland Baptist University in 2001.