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OR Team: Don’t forget to honor your SPD teammates

Sterile Processing Week is Oct. 11-17

By Julie E. Williamson

The hard work and contributions of sterile processing (SP) professionals deserve recognition and appreciation every day of the year. After all, without these professionals’ care and handling and delivery of clean, sterile and optimally-functioning surgical instrumentation and equipment, Operating Rooms (ORs) simply could not function, and quality patient care within the surgical suite could not be delivered.

Unfortunately, SP professionals often remain the unsung heroes of patient care – working diligently behind the scenes in a fast-paced, challenging and, at times, uncomfortable environment to process instrumentation safely and efficiently to keep a facility’s surgery schedules on track. This year and all that follow, the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) urges all OR professionals to take time out of their own busy schedules to honor their teammates in the sterile processing department (SPD) throughout Sterile Processing Week (this year, it’s being celebrated October 11-17).

Break down barriers

One of the best ways for OR professionals to honor their SP colleagues is to spend some quality time within the walls of the busy SPD. This is a valuable move for new and veteran OR professionals alike because only then can SP technicians’ hard work, dedication and commitment to quality fully be appreciated and understood.

Conversely, inviting new SPD employees or other SP professionals into the OR, so they can view the instruments they process “in action” is equally effective. This allows them to see firsthand how the instruments are used and how essential they are to patient care. Prior to the start of Sterile Processing Week, consider partnering with the SPD on ways to bring the two departments together – and be sure to have OR representation during at least some of the SPD’s celebratory events (which may include departmental tours, educational inservices, standards and guidelines overviews, hands-on demonstrations of proper cleaning technique – all of which can give OR teammates valuable insight into why safe, effective instrument reprocessing takes so much time and should never be rushed).

Kick in on the celebration

It’s not uncommon for SPDs to have limited budgets; however, the OR teammates can help them celebrate Sterile Processing Week in impactful, low-monetary investment ways. Providing baked goods with a heartfelt “Thank You” note attached is always a meaningful gift. A brief visit to the department during all shifts to deliver a personal message of gratitude can also go a long way toward boosting morale and creating a stronger sense of unity and team-based belonging.

OR professionals may also want to create a poster for the SPD that highlights some of its many contributions throughout the year (e.g., increased efficiency/productivity, successfully reprocessing new equipment/technology for a newly added specialty, reduced instrument set errors), which can be shared with the SP team and posted in common areas for all other Sterile Processing Week participants/visitors to see. For added impact, have all OR teammates sign their names and/or write a brief personal message on the poster or on individual pieces of paper that can be added to a bulletin board.

The surgical team can also assist the SPD in posting flyers for Sterile Processing Week in common areas of the facility and, perhaps, even consider writing an article for the facility’s internal newsletter that helps demonstrate the importance and value SP professionals deliver to the surgical staff every day. If the SPD is planning a particular event during Sterile Processing Week, offer to help set up or participate in some other way. Again, this helps demonstrate how the two departments really are part of the same team. To add to the education for Sterile Processing Week, volunteer to have a member of the OR provide a brief demonstration on how a new or especially sophisticated instrument or piece of surgical equipment is used during the procedure; then, consider having a member of the SPD team provide a return demonstration on how that instrument/equipment is disassembled, cleaned, high-level disinfected/sterilized, inspected and so on. Visual demonstrations deliver high impact. This is also a great time for the SPD to re-educate members of the OR team on proper point-of-use instrument care and how essential it is for keeping devices performing at their best – and helping SP professionals be able to reprocess them more efficiently to keep surgery schedules on track.

Keep up the support

SP and OR teammates should work to keep up the positive energy and pursuit for better interdisciplinary partnership throughout the entire year – not just during one another’s dedicated celebratory weeks. Once Sterile Processing Week and Perioperative Nurse Week come to a conclusion in October and November, respectively, the two departments can keep up the momentum by holding frequent (daily, weekly, per-shift or as-needed) joint huddles to address any challenges or concerns, discuss the surgery schedule and specific needs/requests, and answer any questions either department may have. These huddles also provide a perfect opportunity to express gratitude for a job recently well done, or to briefly share how both sides came together to improve service and patient care.

Although the OR and SPD have very different functions, it’s important that both sides recognize they’re very much part of the same team and share a core common goal: ensuring the delivery of the safest, highest quality patient care. Promoting an effective team-based culture that takes time to better understand one another’s needs and roles will go a long way toward helping reach that essential patient safety and customer service goal.

For more Sterile Processing Week ideas, tips and inspiration, visit



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