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Drop Ship Me...Wanda? Why You End Up With Unprepared Sterile Processing Travelers

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

You wait for weeks to get your Sterile Processing traveler positions approved, more weeks for resumes to reach your inbox, and more time to have your new traveler (let's call her Wanda for the sake of argument) show up at your department door. But why do so many of today's Sterile Processing travelers show up unprepared -- and just as importantly -- unsupported by their traditional staffing agencies?

The answer to both of these are actually pretty simple. The vast majority of staffing agencies in the industry today treat Sterile Processing technicians like a commodity -- completely interchangeable, one technician is just as good as another, plug and play. For them, the staffing need at your hospital is just a number that needs to be filled with another number who happens to have a resume attached to it.

And that is why & how the unprepared Wanda's of the world end up at your doorstep, with a 13-week contract in their hand, without the requisite subject matter content in their head. In her defense, it's not all her fault. Staffing agencies are paying a premium for technicians willing to quit their day job at their hospital and fulfill critical staffing needs at other facilities around the country. For many technicians, even if they feel unprepared themselves, it's a hard offer to pass up. Wanda gets an opportunity to make more money doing a job she loves, and the traditional staffing agency gets another body to submit for their contract.

But Whose Problem Is It?

Everything is great for Wanda and her staffing agency -- but things aren't too rosy if she is the staffing resource who shows up at your Sterile Processing department. As a Sterile Processing manager, you have two choices in front of you, neither of which is a good one. You're already critically short on staffing (which is the entire reason you requested travelers in the first place), but the premium rate you're paying got you a warm body with some letters behind their name -- not a highly productive, highly competent, supported department resource. So, you can either:

1) Turn them away at the door, and start the entire Resume + Interview + Waiting game all over again and further delay any impact to supporting your critical surgical volumes.

2) Shake your head (curse your agency recruiter) and compromise with a staffing resource that you're not really happy with even though you are paying a premium for them.

When I talk to Sterile Processing managers, directors, and even frontline technicians around the country these are the real life experiences folks are facing. And it's happening far more often than it should. Again, I'm not laying the primary blame at the feet of the travelers themselves, who are just trying to make a living and grow their careers. Granted, there are many great travelers out there (many of which work with us!), but the disconnect between what departments really need and the level of competence and preparedness that so often shows up at our door stand in stark contrast to one another.

The Better Way: We Fight Dirty, We Staff Differently

How do you keep this from happening to you? How do you ensure your staffing partner doesn't drop ship you an unprepared Wanda and expect you to be happy about it? Here are the three things you should consider:

1) Only work with staffing agencies who specialize in Sterile Processing staffing (i.e. can tell the difference in a great tech who deserves a premium rate, and a mediocre tech who needs more training before they hit the road)

2) Ensure the staffing agency you work with properly vets and verifies specific competencies of technicians they may send you prior to their arrival on site. (i.e. If you are a Level 1 Trauma facility, you should be getting staff with that experience and expertise. If you are heavy in pediatrics, that should be included in the candidate assessment, prior to their resume hitting your table. If there aren't that kind of staff available, you should at least know it before they walk in your front door.)

3) Only work with staffing agencies who provide on-going support and training to their travelers before and during the full extent of their assignment at your facility. (i.e. If the last time you hear from your agency recruiter is when the traveler shows up on Day 1, that's a red flag that this resource is on their own -- and so are YOU for the life of the assignment. Now is when you should proverbially "RUN!")

These points are not unrealistic to expect of a Sterile Processing staffing partner or of a traveler you are bringing into your facility to take your patient's lives into their hands.

I urge you to take your time to properly vet any partner or traveler BEFORE you being the sourcing process.

What say you?

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2022

Hank Balch is the Founder and President of Beyond Clean. You can follow him on Linkedin, and find his Fighting Dirty video series on YouTube. He is addicted to Sterile Processing education, networking, and innovation. In addition to being an international thought leader, Hank has presented at the World Sterilization Congress on the topic of Social Media & Sterile Processing and has written over 150 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.


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