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Choosing to Stand Up for What's Right: Surgical Ethics Within the Sterile Processing Industry

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

[Knowing the right thing to do, and having the courage to do it are two very different, but very important skills for every Sterile Processing professional to have. The following guest article by Casey Evans seeks to introduce you to the critical importance that surgical ethics play in our industry. We hope you enjoy! * Beyond Clean]


Surgical and Sterile processing technicians have a code of ethics that govern the professions and push those members to provide the best outcome for patients. Good employees learn the professional code. Great employees combine the professional code with moral responsibility and solid work ethics. Although some guidelines are unpublished, there are known concepts that guide those behind-the-scenes professionals in surgical services. This article focuses on the internal motivations of technicians and encourages those to stay the ethical course.

Surgical Conscience denotes a critical concept most technicians know by heart. It is the basis for a solid surgical or sterile processing technician and most often the first term you learn in technical school. What textbooks do not tell you, is surgical conscience cannot be taught. Concepts can be explained and presented, but such an important skill comes from a person’s deep-rooted character traits. Surgical Technologist magazine, defines surgical conscience as, “a 360-degree aware-ness of everything within a healthcare worker’s sterile and unsterile environment."¹ Although congruent on a clinical level, what should be included is the importance of work ethics and personal convictions that make healthcare professionals highly proficient.

Traditionally, surgical ethics focuses on higher educated professions, such as physicians and nurses. However, they are not the only parts of a surgical team. Surgical Technicians and Sterile Processing Technicians also have moral obligations to surgical patients. Those obligations often start way before a surgeon or nurse enters a facility. Preparations start with front-line technicians who begin safely organizing and setting up for surgical procedures. Technicians are required to work alone at many times, and are deeply trusted with duties that can impact patients’ surgical outcomes. The best technician will work daily to create and maintain a safe environment for patients motivated by a strong moral compass.

What can Technicians do to hold themselves accountable and build upon surgical ethics?

Be Present. At the least, this means showing up early. At the most, it means staying engaged in the procedure or task at hand. Being an active listener and engaging those around you shows interest and concern. There are numerous distractions in an operating room. Good technicians stay focused on techniques and procedures providing the best outcomes for the patients and building trust with other professionals on the team.

Be an Example. Doing the most is not always rewarding, and sometimes not noticed. Healthcare can often fill unrewarding, contrary to popular opinion. Hours are long, demand is high, and pay could always be boosted. Allowing those truths to get you down will affect everyone’s team performance. You must look for other factors that drive you to be the best employee in your department. Work toward building your continuing education. Ask to be a leader with intentions of fully living up to the responsibilities. Appreciate when you are requested for a difficult task or a specific surgical case. There are many significant wins that technicians should celebrate and use for future motivation.

Promote Honesty. Honesty is the obvious characteristic that ultimately denotes surgical conscience. It is not a question of proficiency, but a matter of life and death. Surgical services departments are filled up with strong personalities. Setting egos aside and admitting mistakes is the ultimate difference in basic employees and great healthcare professionals. All technicians are trained to report issues, but the best technicians know how to recognize potential problems and eliminate those risks beforehand. When great professionals fall short, they willingly take ownership and work to learn from those experiences.

Become resilient, not resistant. Rainbows and sunshine rarely hit the operating room and sterile processing. Even the best days are filled with dark remarks and negative banter. It is easy to let the environment get into your head, but try to resist emotional attachment to the negativity. Unfortunately, when at the operating room table or decontamination sink, you can’t simply run away. Most surgical teams are emotionally and physical stressed and project those feeling onto others. Work to become resistant to negativity and push others to see the positive.

Surgical Services technicians are the front-line workers tasked with keeping surgical patients safe. Most patients see doctors and nurses on a regular basis. What they wouldn’t see, is the technicians who work diligently studying their profession in order to eliminate possible risks. Patients are not wheeled by the doors of Sterile Processing on their way to the operating room. Patients may meet their surgical technicians only to forget their faces completely in the recovery room. Behind the scenes is often a thankless job, but that doesn’t diminish the importance. Great technicians can continue to produce stellar work behind the scenes by holding their own values and character in the highest regard.


¹Scratching the surface of surgical ethics. EQUALS, P. S. (2013). Aseptic Technique, Surgical

Conscience and Time Out. Surgical Technologist.


If you enjoyed this article, you might also appreciate this recent Beyond Clean webinar on Ethics in the context of Robotics & Automation in Sterile Processing, check out The Science & Ethics of Robotic Automation | Workers or Widgets? 6CE Event:


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