The benefits of surgical observation for sterile processing professionals is invaluable. I am a huge supporter of sterile processing personnel getting the opportunity to view a surgical procedure. At least in my personal experience, many hospitals are good about getting techs into the operating room to view a procedure. Surgical observation allows for several things. The ability to see how certain surgical instruments are used, a better understanding of what goes on during a procedure, and the opportunity to see how their work directly impacts a patient.
Everyday sterile processing techs come into work decontaminate and assemble surgical instrumentation, among many other job duties. We know how to clean instrumentation and we are knowledgeable on the task of inspection and assembly, but for those that have not had the opportunity to view a surgical procedure, they lack that additional perspective. For example, an orthopedic case just came back from surgery. A tech begins the process of decontamination. Its well known these are typically messy procedures, but think about two techs decontaminating this case. One has had the chance to view an orthopedic procedure, the other has not. The tech that has already seen a procedure will understand just how these instruments were used, giving them an advantage. They will understand where to focus their attention when cleaning some of these instruments, ultimately leading to less or no instruments at all being sent back due to inadequate cleaning.
Strengthen Relationship Between OR Personnel
Another instance in which surgical observation in beneficiary is understanding our relationship with surgical technologists. As techs, we assemble instruments as neatly and organized as possible, pan and wrap the sets, and send them off to be sterilized. Now to us, we know that the last set we assembled was so beautifully organized, and feel good at the thought that some lucky surgical tech will get our nicely packed set. But what we didn’t realize was that during the procedure we may have made things slightly more inconvenient for the surgical tech. Perhaps the way that we strung the instruments was not ideal or the way the set was wrapped could possibly compromise the sterile field when opening. These are thing one might not think about, or maybe think that the surgical techs are just complaining or placing blame. But, by crossing over into a surgical techs world and seeing how “what we do, affects what they do” (and vice-versa). It will give us all a better understanding of the whole surgical circle from beginning to end.
A lot of times the Sterile Processing Department is located on the bottom floor or basement of a hospital, no windows, no patient interaction, and we typically stay within our department and the OR. Now I will be the first one to say that sterile processing professionals do not nearly get the credit they deserve. Typically underpaid for what we do and underappreciated. However, I am pleased to say that I have seen great stride in the advancement of the sterile processing department and the professionals that run it. We are becoming much more recognized, and by doing what we do, we are doing our part in ensuring patient safety and offering the best possible service we can to our patients. A little off topic, but what this leads me to is during surgical observation we get to witness exactly how our work directly affects the patient! When a case goes smoothly and the surgeon has everything they need it makes it all worth it. Some may think that as a sterile processing tech we don’t improve or save lives, but they are wrong. It takes everyone in surgical services to get that patient well again. So be proud of what you do, and know that sterile processing professionals make a difference. I will step down from my soapbox now.
Be an Advocate
I strongly encourage anyone working in the sterile processing profession to observe a surgical procedure and if your hospital doesn’t see this as necessary I encourage you to be the advocate that makes it a necessity.