Looming Sterile Processing Staffing Crisis Requires Action Now

(Guest post from Beyond Clean Speakers Bureau member James Carlock)

The world of sterile processing is in a state of change right now that I have never seen in my 20+ years in the industry. A short list of big changes occurring in our industry includes:

  • Instrumentation is becoming more and more complex.

  • Sterile processing departments are under increased scrutiny.

  • Education and certification requirements are increasing.

Of all the trends that affect the future of sterile processing, the one that worries me the most is the huge demographic shift the world is experiencing. There has been a lot of news about how the population of the world is aging. However, the extent of this issue and the effect it will have on our world may not be so apparent. After looking at the data, my conclusion is that by 2030, we will face an acute staffing crisis in all of healthcare, sterile processing included. We need to begin now in planning how we can mitigate this.


According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, by 2030, we can expect to see a big shift in the number of older people relative to the number of younger people. The UN reports that the Dependency Ratio for older adults (defined as the number of people aged 65 and over divided by the number of people ages 20-64) will shift from 14.4 dependents per 100 non-dependents to 20.5. In other words, we will have 6 more people heading into retirement for every 100 people of working age. I think the term “dependent” is not necessarily appropriate because many people are still productive after the age of 65. I have accepted that I will definitely have to work past 65. However, since older people require more health care than any other age group, that means we will have more people using health care and fewer people delivering it.

Some have already begun to recognize this trend will lead to a shortage of doctors and nurses, but it is largely unpublicized that all other fields in health care will face the same issue. Combine this demographic shift with the increasing complexity of medical instrumentation and the increasing educational/certification requirements fo