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Modern Day Microbial Dragon Slayers: Why SPD Leaders Must Tell The Sterile Processing Story

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
-GK Chesterton

When it comes to story-telling, some of us in the healthcare profession pretend that such activity is the purview of kindergarten teachers and grandpas, but definitely not our job. Maybe the marketing department can handle it, but we've got fires to put out, root causes to analyze, new hires to on-board, and a host of other administrative duties that actually have an impact on patient care.

Well, what if I were to tell you that one of the most important things you can do today as an SPD leader is tell a story? Not just any story, mind you, but a story that connects your people with their purpose -- a story that pushes back against the darkness of the past and the monotony of the present, giving your team a vision of their glorious future. 

But let's stop there for just a moment. How did you feel when you read the word glorious above? Did its poetic spark get immediately extinguished by your own rationalization that the future of your team is many things, but glorious probably isn't one of them? Or did that little thought sneak up behind you and fan the little flame of hope burning in your professional soul? Maybe our future is glorious? Maybe what we do today will really matter?

At the 2018 IAHCSMM annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, I had the pleasure of hearing Jake Poore (of Integrated Loyalty Systems) talk about the power of purpose and story telling in the Sterile Processing space. While highlighting a few specific applications to the Sterile Processing role as life savers in the surgical process, I thought Jake's strongest quote of the morning was, "If you don't tell your story, someone else will." 

And these alternative story-tellers, we'll call them, can come in many different forms. Perhaps it's the grumbling old-timer on night shift who long ago gave up any faith in positive change. Or maybe it's the OR coordinator who was burned one too many times by SPD service failures, so now his axe is on the constant lookout for a grinder. Or it could even be a hospital administrator behind closed doors who confides in his fellow leaders how broken the Sterile Processing team has become. 

Ultimately, these are not the stories you want told about your team. And even if there is a hint of truth in them, they are not the whole truth, and they are definitely not the final truth. Owning your department's story is not as much about controlling the message as it is about drafting the next chapter of your leadership vision and getting people to actually read it. 

The Call to Action

So here's my challenge to you today. Commit to owning the mantle of the Sterile Processing troubadour at your facility. Become your team's poet laureate for excellent patient care through excellently processed surgical instrumentation. I'm not talking about literally taking up the microphone and going all Maya Angelou at your next staff meeting (although I'd love to see the video of that if you chose the path less traveled), but I am urging you to recognize the importance and power of narrative in our industry. Each and every patient that steps foot into our hospital has their own story, their own history, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and their failures. But so do their caregivers, and so do the teams of professionals who have banded together to slay the dragons of hospital acquired infections and dangerous microbial fire breathers. Your techs may not wear armor and carry a broadsword, but they do don liquid resistant PPE and wield disinfectant weapons of mass microbial destruction. 

And they need you to remind them of this high, knightly calling of defending the defenseless against all manner of bioburden -- visible and invisible. If this story is not told by you, another story will be told by someone else -- likely without a true understanding of the glorious nature of who your team is and what they do for patient care on a daily basis. And that will not stand, man.

Microbes beware, if you come into a Sterile Processing department . . . you shall not pass.

What say you?

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2019


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