The Great Pity of the Sterile Processing Pizza Party: Recognition Drowned in Marinara Sauce



I've got nothing against pizza. Believe me. I'd push a grandma out of the way if she were holding up the line for some buffalo ranch chicken pizza.


So trust me when I say, this is not some kind of veiled attack against a menu choice. Instead, it's a frontal assault against lazy leadership, uncreative administrators, and an industry in need of real celebration and recognition.


Great Job: Cheese or Pepperoni?


Over my career as a sterile processing technician and department leader, I experienced some awesome examples of departments and individuals going above and beyond the status quo. I've seen technicians pull 16 hour shifts to ensure we had adequate transplant instruments ready to go for multiple liver transplants in one night. I've witnessed SPD teams pulling together to help that one technician study who had taken and failed their certification exam four times previously. I've watched as vacation requests and preferred schedules were given up because critical equipment had broken down in the department, but surgeries were still scheduled for the following morning.


These are not small things. They are big sacrifices from professionals who understand their role as the last line of defense for defenseless patients in their care. But how do we reward them? How do we come up alongside them and show how much we value their tremendous and sacrificial contributions to our hospital's mission for safe surgical care?


Far too many times our department leaders, administrators, and facilities take the easy way out: 1-800-44PIZZA. And there is perhaps no greater example of thinking "inside the box" than this. It needs to stop.


Beyond the Box: Other Ideas with Real Value


Even though there is nothing inherently wrong with throwing your Sterile Processing department a pizza party, when this is the standard (or often, the only) answer we give when our teams are in need of real recognition for excelling high standards of quality and service, we are doing them a disservice in more ways than one. I have heard many a technician grumble about "another" pizza party -- and grumble even more when the party isn't much of a party at all, and the cafeteria pizza ordered by administrators hardly classifies as pizza either. When pizza is the only reward, we tell our teams we value their hard work at one phone call and $10.99 for a large. No more, and no less.


What else can and should you be doing to recognize your Sterile Processing teams for a job well done? I'm glad you asked. Here are some great examples to print out, slide under your manager's door, and email to your hospital CEO:


  1. Increase their base pay across the board.

  2. Visit the department with members of the C-Suite to tour, talk to staff, take selfies, and personally thank them for going above and beyond.

  3. Increase their shift differential on evenings, nights, and weekends.

  4. Feature a shoutout (and team photo) on the hospital intranet and/or marketing displays throughout the facility.

  5. Give them critical-staffing bonus pay for emergent needs like broken equipment or multiple call-outs.

  6. Purchase the team corporate branded t-shirts or jackets with the health system logo and embroider "Sterile Processing" on the label.

  7. Use your media team to take photos and publish a human interest story about their teamwork and commitment to patient safety.

  8. Open up new positions so they don't have to rely on mandatory overtime or give up planned vacations at the last minute to provide for patient care.

  9. Give them merit based bonuses for coming in under-budget and on target for the year.

  10. Recognize SPD team members in front of facility leaders during your daily safety huddles.

  11. Send hand-written notes from administrators, perioperative staff, and/or patients, thanking technicians for their hard work.

  12. Host a catered lunch with C-Suite leaders in administrative conference rooms to meet with and recognize the SPD team.

  13. Approve that one special order of PPE gear that you've been holding up because "it's not on contract."

  14. Give them an extra day of PTO.

  15. Sit in your office for 10 minutes and use that great big, beautiful administrative brain of yours and think of your own creative, valuable way to show real recognition to these healthcare heroes.


I wrote this entire article in about 15 minutes.


You owe it to these teams to put in a little more thought of your own and a little more investment around how you can give real, valuable recognition to the folks who are #FightingDirty on the front lines.


Now it's up to you. Put down the pizza and pick up your pen...


Hank Balch


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