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And We Shall Call Them…What? The Great Disagreements About Names & Titles in our Industry

Name tag with different sterile processing names on it

Central sterile. Sterile processing. Sterile services. MDR. SPS. CSSD. The list of acronyms and descriptions of how we name ourselves, our industry, and our departments can go on and on—depending often on where you work, what your first department was called when you began your career, or who you happen to be talking to in the moment.

Will we ever come to an agreement on these names and acronyms? If so, how would it have to happen? And, just as importantly, does it even matter?

A problem or a preference? The best place to start in this discussion is coming to terms with the importance, or lack thereof, this debate actually holds. On one hand, a standardized nomenclature for our industry sounds wonderful. All our magazines, textbooks, name tags, department signage, certifications, conferences, and the like would all be uniform. Whether you worked at a small ambulatory surgery center in the northeast or a large Level 1 Trauma Hospital in San Diego, you would recognize job titles, education opportunities, and applicable resources simply by the name or acronyms on the cover. We would not have to qualify and duplicate our communications to ensure that everyone else knew that we were talking to them, too, and not inadvertently excluding anyone because we used a different term to describe our event or content.

An example of this challenge can be seen in the Veterans Administration (VA) use of the term “sterile processing services” and acronym “SPS” to describe their department and technicians. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that language, because SPS is primarily a VA-centric term, when it is used in the civilian world it can often result in confusion rather than clear communication. “Is this ‘SPS conference’ open to me or do I have to work in the VA system?” “Does ‘SPS certification’ mean I have to hold accredited certification in sterile processing or does that refer to the internal VA certification process for SPS technicians?” You get the idea.

Having standard industry titles and language would solve all of these problems (if you grant they are problems in the first place), but most of our starting points are not neutral. If you currently work in one of these departments, you already have a job title that has certain acronyms included with it. You already have a sign outside of your department that has taken a side in the great industry debates about what we shall be called. In other words, you already have a preference to what you want to be called and how you want to explain what you do to someone else. We already have a bunch of dogs in this fight, so how will we ever bring them all to heel?

Dreaming the dream of standardization For the sake of this argument, let’s say we all agreed that we wanted to settle on one name and one acronym to represent our industry. For the purposes of this example, we will go with “sterile services” since it has a nice alliteration to it, is fairly short, and captures the idea that we are in the complex business of sterilization. The department acronym would then be SSD, for sterile services department.

Now what?

At the local level, there is the matter of facility use. Department documentation such as signage, policies, procedures, and competency paperwork would need to be updated to reflect the change. Facility information such as name badges, HR files, cost center descriptions, and directory listings would need to be changed as well.

At the regional level, industry groups and organizations would need to address the name change in their own formation documents, organizational name, literature, bank accounts, and events. If the name of the organization (such as a chapter I founded in Texas) was called the South Texas Association of Sterile Processing Services (STASPS), then members would need to decide how to change the name to bring it in line with new industry nomenclature.

At the national and international level, the changes required touch not only representative organizations and accreditation organizations, but also government agencies, device manufacturers, and popular publications. All of the names and acronyms mentioned at the beginning of this article are enshrined in their various forms in industry recommendation publications, government guidelines, and multinational marketing materials from global manufacturers, to name a few. All of these would need to undergo review, updating, and republication to fit the new standard naming convention that was agreed upon.

And that is why we’re here If you are thinking to yourself, “Yeah, that’s never going to happen,” you are likely correct. In my opinion, there are too many stakeholders with too many diverse perspectives in our industry to wrangle a quorum together and make any kind of universal decision that will cause all of the above dominoes to fall into place. In light of this reality, where does that leave us?

It seems we have what Americans love best: freedom. Freedom to call our departments whatever we want. Freedom to use any acronym to name our organizations, and freedom to reference our industry by any phrase we would like, as long as we account for who may be reading and how they will understand whatever it is we are talking about. This freedom and variety of language has its downsides, but it is the sterile processing world we are living in, and until someone comes along with a big enough stick or big enough carrot to force us to change, we might as well get used to it. As for me and my name badge, it will say sterile processing.

What about you?

Hank Balch is the Founder and President of Beyond Clean, the global leader in Sterile Processing education & networking. You can follow him on Linkedin at Hank Balch and find his Fighting Dirty video series on YouTube. Hank is an international thought leader and has written over 200 other Sterile Processing articles and commentary, along with published articles in Becker's Hospital Review, Infection Control Today, AAMI News, AAMI BI&T Journal, Outpatient Surgery Magazine, and contributions to Healthcare Purchasing News. Hank's CS/SPD team in Louisville, KY was named the "2016 CS/SPD Department of the Year" by HPN. He has also served as the founding President of the South Texas Association of Sterile Processing Services and President of the Kentuckiana IAHCSMM Chapter, in additional to being nominated for the 2017 President-Elect & 2018 President-Elect of the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management, now HSPA.


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