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By David Taylor III, MSN, RN, CNOR

Former CEO of The Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner, once said, “A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” Upon closer review, it’s clear how that quote is equally befitting of other business, including health care.

When the sterile processing department (SPD) functions well, it plays a fundamental role in quality and has a direct impact on positive clinical outcomes in the operating room and beyond. However, if any of the “thousand small gestures” cause it to deviate from its proper path and key responsibilities, it can have a serious and negative impact on patient care. An effective way to keep sterile processing professionals on the right track is to build a culture of inclusivity. When today’s leaders give their employees a voice and the power to share ideas, amazing things can be accomplished.

Sterile processing leaders who build successful, empowered, team-based departments will see long-term positive benefits that will directly impact the department, its customers and the health care organization as a whole. Some of those benefits can include:

  • Improved recruitment opportunities
  • Increased employee loyalty and satisfaction (long-term retention)
  • A safer and more supportive work environment
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased productivity
  • Greater employee inspiration and creativity
  • Improved teamwork
  • Positive outcomes

According to Gallup, the culture of an organization not only drives its performance but gives its employees the authorization to accomplish goals by getting things done without the worry or uncertainty about negative implications.[1] Fostering teamwork within the SPD will improve the quality of patient care by incorporating best practices and following recommended guidelines, which can create an overall culture of safety and quality.

Differing Views Can Strengthen Outcomes

Encouraging information-sharing is a great way to build trust across the SPD team because it demonstrates that everyone’s input and ideas matter and are valued and considered. When leaders foster an environment where employee opinions matter and differences can be expressed, it validates employee self-worth, improves employee satisfaction and creates a culture that advances the mission, vision and values of the organization. This is also a way for leaders to gauge their employees’ interests and strengths, which can help in delegating authority and tasks, based on each employee’s professional strengths – and, perhaps, guiding them in their professional development journey (e.g., becoming a certified instrument specialist or helping them advance their skill sets in other areas).

When sterile processing leaders delegate authority, new departmental leaders emerge. Employees who may never have been thought of as a leader will discover they shine in these types of environments. One of the most important resources an organization possesses are the people who work there. Finding potential departmental leaders from within pays huge dividends and helps lighten the workload for all.

In addition, sterile processing leaders may find that some employees are better suited for different tasks. By delegating authority, sterile processing leaders can get a better sense of where their employees are within the career ladder – and for those who fall short, the development of mentoring programs can help not only their current department leaders but the up-and-coming ones as well.

Effective leaders understand that how an organization collaborates can have a direct impact on its culture. Leaders who build a cohesive team, encourage information sharing by asking for input and inspire autonomous thinking (rooted in standards and best practices, of course) will create a high-functioning SPD. When employees possess the skills to do a job well and have demonstrated competency in certain tasks, it’s important for leaders to trust that they will then get the job done well; this “trust and let go” approach is necessary for building an empowered team.

Good leaders know that when they inspire and incorporate members of the team into various aspects of the department, it sends a clear and consistent message that everyone plays an integral role in driving quality and efficiencies and promoting improved patient care and employee engagement. There is no one “star”; in the SPD, it’s the collective actions of the team that helps it shine.


The SPD plays a vitally important role within the surgical and procedural disciplines, but for sterile processing professionals to succeed, they need an environment and culture that not only recognizes their important contributions, but also encourages active participation, information sharing and differing ideas and opinions. Employees have the power to either amplify or detract from its culture.1 Sterile processing leaders who consistently work to deliver an inclusive, team-based culture will find they can avoid the silo mentality and draw the best out of each employee – all of whom bring their own unique experiences, ideas and strengths to the department.

SPDs are complex; navigating them effectively requires sterile processing leaders to embrace the challenges head-on by promoting their team’s development and delegating greater responsibilities to them as their strengths and skill sets evolve. When employees have the autonomy and flexibility to question concepts, practices and ideas; connect with and share information with their teammates; implement performance-enhancing changes; and make decisions about matters that affect their practice, they will become inspired to reach higher and achieve even more – all of which will not only benefit the employee, but the collective department, its customers and the patients.

David Taylor III, MSN, RN, CNOR, is an executive health care consultant for Resolute Advisory Group LLC, based in San Antonio, Texas.

1. Gallup. Harness the Power of Your Organizational Culture in 3 Steps.



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