38,000+ members strong and growing. That's the combined membership of many of the largest Sterile Processing groups on Facebook today (examples here and here). By all accounts most of the pages are daily bustling with questions, photos, encouragements, and yes -- a little commiserating now and then. Unlike the business-oriented pages of Linkedin, after just a little time spent on the Facebook pages and comments in these Sterile Processing groups, you are quickly confronted with the reality of our industry -- the nitty gritty, supportive, challenging, excited, burned-out, travelers, long-termers, leaders, and interested onlookers. You see and hear the real questions that are confronting the often invisible sterilization soldiers hidden in hospital basements and back hallways. In short, you skip the formalities and are invited deep into departments across the country for a look around. The question is, what do you see?
1) SPD Facebook Gives us Community
One of the clearest things you see on SPD Facebook groups is the tremendous hunger and appreciation for community in this profession. We love being in a place and being with people who "get us." Even if that place is only accessible through a desktop or smart phone, we don't mind -- as long as when we say, "It was another long day in decontam," everyone else actually knows what we mean. These are folks who know what sweat looks like from the inside of a PPE face shield, and how it feels to cut your finger on a sterilization tape dispenser. These are the other brave souls who have found out the hard way that instruments coming out of washers can burn you just as easily as ones coming out of the autoclave. They are comrades who have accidentally wrapped their name badges in a tray or "sterilized" a load sticker gun. These are our people, who speak our language, and even eat the same mediocre hospital food we eat every day, whether they are across the country or across the street.
2) SPD Facebook Gives us Opportunity
These online Facebook groups also give SPD professionals a tremendous amount of opportunity -- particularly as it relates to young professionals who are just getting started in the field and those looking for traveling assignments. Daily, and often many times a day, you will see postings from staffing recruiters for SPD travel assignments across the country and even overseas. "Sunny Florida!" and "Beautiful Oregon" pop up with weekly take home pay totals and bonus offers for interested applicants. You'll come across nervous posts about technicians getting ready for their certification exams, new graduates looking for that first paid position, and celebratory posts regarding promotions, new jobs, and new certifications. Technicians ask for interview tips and resume guidelines for giving a new opportunity their best shot. It's obvious that many folks view the group members as mentors, as well as industry friends.
3) SPD Facebook Gives us Professional Equality
Whether we want to or not, it's easy to fall into the rut of leaders vs. followers in our SPD departments. Supervisors, Managers, and Directors make decisions -- and the rest of us 'deal with it.' Obviously that's not the way it should be, but oftentimes, unfortunately, it is. Many SPD professionals feel stifled in their jobs, not respected as the subject matter experts they want to be, and not consistently engaged to solve the problems and challenges that impact their jobs the most. Online, however, no one checks your badge to make sure you have a particular title or credential before you get to share your opinion or give your insights. The playing field is leveled and all become equal. Good ideas rise to the top and are praised, "liked", and shared. Bad ideas are usually corrected, occasionally trolled, but never held against you. There are no shift wars, no unions vs. management, no certified vs. uncertified -- just SPD'ers, with something to say and folks who are willing to listen to it.
4) SPD Facebook Give us a Place to Grieve
And finally, Sterile Processors loves Facebook because it gives us a place to grieve over our industry's problems and find a way, together, to grow out of them. Our pay rate is absolutely horrible -- always has been and we hope against hope that somehow it will change. But what many folks don't and can't see is the human story behind the wage/value imbalance present in SPD. On Facebook you see Sterile Processing technicians depending on overtime and second jobs as per diem technicians at a hospital across town -- not to pay the rent -- but just to pay the electric bill and get the kids a new pair of shoes. You see professionals getting up at 4:30am in the morning to get ready, get to the bus stop, and make it all the way to the hospital by 6:15am to be ready for the morning huddle -- because they can't even dream of owning a car until they pay off their $8K SPD training program. These are real stories, and real people, really struggling to provide millions of dollars worth of surgical value to hospitals for often little more than minimum wage. And because there's few other places to talk about it, we talk about it online, amongst friends who know the hardship first hand.
Where Everyone Knows Your Name
Ultimately, Sterile Processing Facebook groups have done what countless team building exercises and culture trainings never could - created a true, vibrant, industry community who finds value in one another as individuals, who honors other's accomplishments, and seeks to lift up those who are burdened down with frustration and doubt. These groups have become a global department intercom for questions and ideas, and the 24/7 neighborhood Sterile Processing bar where everyone is wearing scrubs and everybody knows your name...
For that, we should celebrate and be thankful. Cheers!
W. Hank Balch Ⓒ December 2018
Hank Balch is the co-founder and Principal of Beyond Clean, a next generation Sterile Processing consulting firm with focus on operational improvement, accreditation survey preparedness, interim-leadership placement, and brand consulting for CS/SPD vendors. He is also the Co-Founder & Host of the Beyond Clean Podcast, a weekly international podcast discussing industry topics with the biggest names in Sterile Processing. You can find over 100 other Sterile Processing articles and commentary here, along with published articles in Becker's Hospital Review, Infection Control Today, AAMI News, AAMI BI&T Journal, Outpatient Surgery Magazine, and contributions to Healthcare Purchasing News. Hank's CS/SPD team in Louisville, KY was named the "2016 CS/SPD Department of the Year" by HPN, he's served as the President of the South Texas Association of Sterile Processing Services and President of the Kentuckiana IAHCSMM Chapter, and was nominated for the 2017 President-Elect & 2018 President-Elect of the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management.