The one question we hear more than any other in the Sterile Processing world is this:
"How do I grow? And quick!"
Some of the answers to this may be easy, but they are all painfully counter-cultural.
Are you ready? If you're going to quickly grow your SPD career, here are the first two things you'll need:
Earth shattering, right? Now let me explain those two real quick before we jump into the 8 additional keys to rapid career growth in the Sterile Processing universe.
1) Want To
If you ask most CS/SPD professionals if they want to grow, the usual answer is, "Absolutely!" But if you watch their day to day activities, attitudes, and general approach to their jobs you may actually see a stark absence of want to. Instead, some of these technicians demonstrate by their actions what they really want, which is to cut corners, complain about workload, and camp out in complacency. All of those practical, concrete actions are things that delay or prohibit growth, regardless of what they may say they want. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but actions are also an outworking of inner character. If you desire growth, you will want to do the hard things necessary to make it happen.
Speaking of hard things, this is it. If you want to grow and to grow quickly in our industry, it will be almost impossible to do (and sustain) without a healthy dose of genuine humility. As GK Chesterton aptly said, "Pride does not go before a fall. Pride is a fall." And examples of this are everywhere. I have seen numerous CS professionals with all the want to in the world, but too much pride to receive correction, learn from their faults, and give others credit where it is due. No one wants to work with someone like this, and they definitely don’t want to promote one. In all thy getting, would-be leader, get thyself some humility.
Okay, now that we have the foundation laid, let’s briefly outline the other 8 Keys to Rapid Career Growth in Sterile Processing:
3) Street Cred(entials)
If you want to go anywhere fast in the SPD sphere, you’re going to need some serious credentials to back you up. While it may seem like just one more thing to do as an SPD tech (especially if you’re already in school for something else), setting aside the time and brainpower to study your CS certification textbooks (IAHCSMM or CBSPD) and industry standards will be a critical piece of your future career growth. You shouldn’t think about leaving your current job without them!
4) Blue (Scrub) Collars and Dirty Hands
If you’re eyeing the CS leadership, one of the best things you can do for yourself is learn the depth and breadth of sterile processing workflow right where you are – in the trenches of decontam, prep/pack, sterilization, and sterile storage. You remember that humility point we talked about earlier? Now’s the time to put that to work and bloom right where you’re planted. Future CS teams will more easily trust and follow leaders who have “done their time” on the frontline, and hospital leadership will value candidates who understand the nitty gritty of the CS workflow.
5) Develop an Eye for Perfection
Those of you with OCD may find this easier to do than others, but there is something to be said for CS professionals who develop an eye for processing perfection. Learn to notice a broken container lock out of the corner of your eye, or take a few extra seconds to rearrange the peel packs to have all the barcodes facing the same direction – these eyes for perfection are the things that set mediocre, run-of-the-mill technicians apart from their peers who demonstrate true potential for growth. If you can learn to spot inconsistencies naturally, you’ll be ahead of the curve at the leadership level.
6) Read (Out of the Box Thinking)
You want to know the kinds of folks who knock SPD leadership interviews out of the park? They are the ones who are able to think outside their isolated box of CS experience (5 years at St. Basic’s General Hospital) and apply their expertise to completely different contexts. You need to understand both the tremendous complexity as well as the common similarities within the CS industry. And unless you plan on using your Rapid Reward miles to travel the country’s CS departments, you’ll need to pick up these outside perspectives from industry literature written by other leaders with experiences different from your own. Hey, I agree standards and regulations are important to read, but for rapid growth, you’ll need to short circuit decades of work experience with a lot of vicarious learning.
7) Lead the Charge and Leverage It
If you’re walking around with “Technician” behind your name and on your resume (we’ll talk about resumes next), you are going to need to leverage your current opportunities for concrete leadership as much as possible. You don’t need a title to be a leader, but you do need to lead in order to learn, grow, and ultimately have something to market on your resume. So, whatever it takes, ask for and seek out opportunities in your current role to take on additional leadership responsibilities. They can be small (like inventorying the department stock on a daily basis) or something a bit larger (like becoming the department liaison to OR meetings, etc). You may need to approach your boss with ideas of your own to make it happen sooner, rather than later.
8) Make the Net(Work)
The power of networking for rapid career growth can not be overstated. By this I do not mean 2,000 Facebook friends, 1,950 of which you haven’t talked to in ten years; but instead, a real, vibrant, active network of folks who know you, your ideas, your insights, your abilities, and your results. You don’t have to be the kind of guy who walks around a cocktail party picking up business cards, but you do want to focus on opportunities like local CS professional chapters and conferences to become known to the outside world. And once you do, be sure to keep those relationships going, digitally, if necessary.
9) Find a Mentor (or Two or Three)
Agh, I know. Easier said than done. I unknowingly stumbled into a number of fantastic mentors along my professional CS journey and am still grabbing hold of a few others as I go. Before I took my first CS Director position, I made it a point to reach out to my facility’s President to develop a mini-mentor relationship around the topic of leadership, because I had seen him really excel in that area. All this to say, whether you happen to work for a CS leader who hung the moon or you need to go out of your way to track someone down on the internet for some honest feedback, good mentors can mean the world for your future growth. Find a way to make it happen. They are truly worth their weight in professional gold.
10) Always Be Prepared and Go for it (and Go for it Again!)
Even though I have seen a number SPD leaders experience rapid growth in my own facilities (a handful of new Supervisors and Managers with less than 2 years of total SPD experience), I have also seen many opportunities pass others by. The excuses range the spectrum from an unwillingness to step onto a different shift to take a Supervisor role (which is understandable, don’t get me wrong) all the way to just not having the confidence to throw their name in the hat against a few of their peers. However, if professional growth is really your top priority, you should be ready and willing to jump at whatever comes down the pipe. Have your resume updated, and be first in line for the interviews, and repeat the process as many times as necessary.
Now get out there and make it happen!
Until next time, happy growing!
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