Big Fish, Little Pond: How to Become A Key Opinion Leader in the SPD Universe (If You Want To)


As a whole, Sterile Processing professionals are an opinionated group.


If you've ever sat in a room with other department leaders and talked about anything Sterile Processing related, you probably realized just how deep and diverse our experiences, preferences, and professional outlooks really are. Some of that has to do with the myriad of different responsibilities with which our departments are tasked. One department handles supplies, while another only handles assembly. One team has all its sterile storage within arm's length, others have to hike three floors up to the OR to locate a tray. One group is staffed 24/7 by Instrument techs, another is open 8a-5pm, M-F and covered by Surgical techs in between cases. The complexities we experience in our everyday lives are endless.


In the context of so many different focuses, different problems, and different levels of control - how do you raise your professional voice above the crowd? How do you get your perspective and opinion heard, and more importantly, respected? I know many of you are perfectly content to sit back and let others drive the industry bus for you, and that's okay. Heck, depending on where you are in your professional life, the best thing for you to do may be to grab a seat and take good notes. But for those of you who think you have some good ideas for how to get the SPD universe from Point A to Point B, I've got a few thoughts to help get you access to the driver's seat and an audience for your improvement-orientated opinions.


1) Content is King


More important than anything else, if you want to establish yourself as a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) in the SPD world, your opinions need to have quality content. This means at least three things. First, you have to know what you're talking about. You don't have to know everything there is to know about a topic to have an opinion about it, but you do have to know enough to know what you don't know. You lose all credibility when you come off as a college freshman with a year of philosophy, pretending he understands where Aristotle totally missed the boat in his understanding of metaphysics. Acknowledge the absence of absolute answers that fit every situation and then make your case from there. Secondly, your opinions need to be expressed professionally. More particularly, you need to make sure your opinions are positing solutions, not just proffering complaints. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining." For obvious reasons, no one wants to read or listen to your whining. Finally, make sure to occasionally address real, pervasive problems in the industry. Although it may be very important to your department that you have an opinion about the best way to organize your peel pack wall, that may or may not be valued outside your facility network. Choose topics to discuss that impact large swaths of your professional peers, and then do your best to provide quality solutions and engagement.


2) The Medium is the Message


Second only to the content of your opinions, in terms of importance, is the medium (or platform) used to express them. You can build a following on nearly any media platform. If your goal is to engage with SPD professionals, bring your opinions to them, via face-to-face local networking opportunities (IAHCSMM, CBSPD, AORN meetings), print media (Healthcare Purchasing News, Process, AAMI News, Infection Control, etc), and online outlets (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Becker's Hospital Review, vendor blogs, etc). In the world of SPD industry opinions, it is not true that "If you write it, they will come." Sterile Processing leaders have limited time outside their facility duties to intake new ideas and content, so if you want them to choose your ideas and content, your opinions need to be easy to find and in familiar places. You should plan on utilizing as many different outlets as possible to get your ideas out to the technician on the street, and then keep your focus on creating quality content (as discussed in point #1).


3) Networks Work


Throughout college and into my early days in SPD, I ignored the importance and power of networking. I was not (and still am not) the kind of guy who enjoys walking into a crowded room, handing out business cards, and carrying on conversations with strangers I know nothing about. However, that's not real networking. Somewhere along the way, I had gotten bad information and been running away from an idea that just wasn't true. Genuine networks starts with the people you actually know. Like that lady in the office next to you who handles Quality Assurance for your department. You know her, right? Well, you're networked with her. And your old boss who works at another hospital across town? Yep, he's in your network too. The power of networks for building your profile as a Key Opinion Leader in the CS space cannot be overstated. If the people who know you best can vouch for the value of your ideas and the insight you provide to your in-person networks, they actually become living recommendations for others in the industry who may not know you personally, but are looking for opinions from leaders who are respected in their own right. I'm a big advocate of the power of LinkedIn (and other online networking sites) to help build and sustain these broader, industry-centered networks that are founded upon smaller, localized networks of professional peers.


4) Play Nice and Learn


Finally, two beneficial steps you must take as you grow into a Key Opinion Leader in Sterile Processing are to commit to play nice with everyone you meet and learn from every conversation you have. Credibility is the hardest attribute in this industry to gain, and the easiest to lose. If you get a reputation for using your status as a KOL to beat other leaders over the head for your own ends, or throw certain vendors under the bus because of personal preference, you can kiss your thought leadership goodbye. Your ultimate responsibility as a respected advocate in the SPD space is to speak on the behalf (and for the building up) of frontline technicians laboring to provide the safest care possible to hospital patients around the globe. Don't take this duty lightly. As you take up this role of SPD champion and spokesperson, use every opportunity that comes your way to learn something new. Yes, people may be coming to you for your opinions, but there will always be something you can take away from the conversation, to make your opinions more informed and your cause more compelling.

At the end of the day, whether you're meeting another SPD leader for the first time, giving a presentation at a local association, publishing a how-to blog, drafting a magazine article, or creating content for something as important as a legislative proposal -- people should walk away from your content thinking, "Who is this person, and why are they trying to save this industry?" None of this matters if you don't have an earnest, and evident passion for pulling (or if need be, pushing) our world and the vendors who support us onward and upward, to develop the best practices and best products possible to do our jobs excellently.


Are you ready to make a splash in the SPD pond? Get started today.


Hank Balch


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