By Lawayne Perkins
In the realm of sterile processing (SP), there are many vital roles in which surgical services professionals should be aware. Every role and position on the SP team is critical to the department’s success and, ultimately, to the success of the OR and the outcome of the procedure.
When I first began working as an entry-level technician, I was explained the unofficial rules of professional advancement: “You start off as a technician and if you prove yourself and obtain your certification, you can progress to lead worker and maybe make supervisor in a year or two, depending upon your efforts.” As a new hire, this was a dream job, but for an eager, career-minded young adult looking for a profession, the job offered little opportunity for advanced growth or development. As I grew in the profession, however, I began discovering additional roles that were not considered advancement opportunities, but essentially were just that. The SP educator and instrument coordinator were two such examples.
The SP discipline offers many different career ladders that allow individuals to attain success and a greater professional purpose, and each serves a valuable purpose for the OR and other departments. Along my own career journey, I was introduced to an array of opportunities and job functions. The department where I worked at the time generously provided a dedicated staff educator. This individual was an exemplary model and taught us the sciences and technical procedures behind successful instrument processing. I considered myself lucky to have started my career with a clear example of how a professional educator benefited and served the department and team. As I began to communicate with the surgical team, I also quickly learned the importance of a sterile processing/operating room liaison and instrument coordinator. Both provide critical services to enhance customer satisfaction and positive patient outcomes.
Job title vs. job function
A job title describes a specific group of tasks performed by an individual for a business or another enterprise. Many job titles don’t fully represent the job duties or daily activities performed in the role given. Take, for example, the titles instrument coordinator and inventory control clerk.
The instrument coordinator typically is responsible for providing support and coordination for instrument management functions. Some of these duties include purchasing, inventory, repair and maintenance. The instrument coordinator is also the super-user for instrument tracking systems. This individual must ensure a collaborative working relationship with the customer and manage instrumentation for multiple departments (this often involves instrumentation budgeting for each department, as well). Last, but not least, the instrument coordinator may, at times, be expected to fill the shoes of an SP lead technician and, occasionally, that of department supervisor.
Each supportive duty in the role of instrument coordinator can technically have its own subset of functions and duties. As a new instrument is introduced into the department, for example, the instrument coordinator is responsible for scheduling in-services and education to the item(s). This same person may also play a significant role as an educator within the SP department (SPD) as she/he purchases new surgical instruments and reviews/previews the instructions for use (IFU) with the SP team. He or she may also help schedule vendor in-services within the SPD to assist in the training and proper reprocessing of newly purchased instrumentation.
The OR develops a strong relationship with the instrument coordinator. It is always helpful to have a collaborative working relationship with the person responsible for understanding the location of the surgical instrumentation and the person who serves as a liaison between the SPD and OR. Although the roles of educator, instrument coordinator and liaison may all be career ladder positions within the SPD, it is important to note that each role may consist of additional part- or full-time duties. Each role within the profession requires a degree of focused multitasking and good communication skills to work successfully under pressure and within tight deadlines.
There are many career paths and critical roles in the SP community, even though one’s official job title may or may not adequately reflect them. SP professionals wear many critical hats in the name of patient safety and quality customer service, and their roles are essential to the success that takes place in the OR. It’s essential that facilities and the departments that the SP professionals serve understand, recognize and appreciate the critically important roles and responsibilities SP professionals serve consistently each day in the name of patient safety and quality service.
Lawayne Perkins, CDA, CRCST, CHL, is a health care executive for CSA, and the former Director of Operations for Advantage Support Services Inc.