by Adam Okada
Joining the ranks of the Traveling Sterile Processing Technician is a bold and brave step for any Sterile Processing Professional. Traveling around the country performing your craft can be a scary proposition for some, so I’m here to help you navigate through the pros and cons and lifestyle of the Traveling Sterile Processing Tech.
Tip #1: Get Certified
Historically, traveling SPD technicians have not been required to be certified before getting jobs, but as the healthcare industry becomes more aware of the importance of the Sterile Processing Department, it also becomes more aware of the benefits of certification.
For reference, certification is essentially proof that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job effectively, so it never hurts to have it. And while there are SPD traveler jobs out there that do not “require” certification, it helps.
As a hiring manager myself for several travelers at multiple facilities, I have historically only hired certified technicians. And make sure that you have at least 2 years of hands-on experience before heading into the traveling market. I have seen some places that recommend one year, but I’ve never hired (or even considered) anyone with so little experience. Trust me and get your two years of experience in first.
Tip #2: Get “Advanced” Certifications
Again, speaking as a former department manager, the acquisition of “advanced” certifications such as “Instrument Specialist” or “Endoscope Reprocessor” have caught my eye on a resume. Especially at a facility where SPD is responsible for endoscope reprocessing, that certification can make you stand out from the crowd. The instrument specialist certification tells me that not only does that technician understand the basics of the job but would be considered an expert in the field. And who doesn’t want an expert hanging around the department?
Remember that the Traveling Sterile Processing Technician field is filled with experienced technicians, so make sure that you do everything in your power to stand out from the rest.
Tip #3: Nail the Interview
Remember to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager when you are applying for a traveling tech position. What would you be looking for in a prospective employee?
I can guarantee you that a hiring manager is looking for 3 specific traits in the “perfect” traveling SPD tech:
- Hard working
- Will be a good team player.
That’s it. It seems simple, but that’s all the manager is really wanting, and it’s more difficult to find than you might think.
So when you get that phone or video call for the interview, make sure you hammer home those 3 points. You are a hard worker: You are productive, but do not rush. You are dependable: You are always on time and never call in sick. And you are a good team player: You get along well with others and enjoy making life easier on your teammates.
And always remember patient safety comes first!
Be friendly and engaged in the interview and try to have your passion for sterile processing shine through. I’ve rejected a number of applicants who made the interview seem “beneath them” or if they had a “blasé” attitude about sterile processing.
For more on mastering the art of the interview, check out our other blog post called “Sterile Processing Technician Job Interview Questions and Answers”
Tip #4: Develop a Thick Skin
So now that you have your first traveling gig, make sure that you develop an EXTREMELY thick skin. I always hate it when writers capitalize or bold face something to make sure you know that it’s important. And look, I capitalized it AND bold face typed it! Italics and underlining too!
Yes, developing a thick skin is that important. When you come into a hospital as a traveler for the first time, don’t be surprised if you are treated with hostility. Sterile Processing Technicians are vastly underpaid, and the one exception to that rule (beyond SPD Managers or Directors) is Travelers. Full-time technicians know that you’re making 2-3 more hourly than they are, and that you get cost-of-living stipends as a traveler too. You can see how easy that resentment can be built up in the department against you.
Most full-time techs do not have the option to travel. They might have family responsibilities, or a disability that prevents them from being more mobile. So, try not to hold it against them if they do harbor some resentment.
All you can do is to be the best sterile processing technician that you can be. So do your job, be friendly and understanding with your co-workers (even in the face of jealousy) and keep that thick skin handy in the heat of the moment.
Not to mention that as a traveler, you’re likely going to get the most difficult assignments in the department (but we’ll get to that later). It’s a good thing you get those big stipend checks, right?
Tip #5: First Impressions
Your first day as a traveler in your new department is a stressful one. There’s a well-known phenomenon called “imposter syndrome” that occurs in many travelers. Am I really ready for this? What if my co-workers are better or more knowledgeable than me?
Try to ignore those doubting voices and pay attention to the positive ones. You’ve prepared for this. You are certified with plenty of hands-on experience and you’re there to help this department that is likely in a crisis. Travelers are only considered for very short-staffed departments (hit by employee injuries, or several unforeseen resignations) so they are usually desperate for the help.
Smile a lot, make sure the staff knows that you are there to help and to work your tail off. If you can jump right into a position like Decon be productive, that will go a long way to impressing your temporary co-workers.
Remember, safety first, but productivity if you can!
Tip #6: Be a Great Teammate!
Some travelers like to just work and keep to themselves, but the best travelers; the ones who get their contracts renewed repeatedly; are the ones who really mesh themselves into the team and strengthen it through their positive attitude and vast experience.
It could be things as small as volunteering to go help in the Decon area if you see someone struggling or offering to help take a cart upstairs for the runner who looks stressed and flustered. Offer to work overtime or grab an extra shift for someone who has a family emergency. These are the little details that make a worker “indispensable”, meaning that department can’t imagine how to function without them.
Once you’ve got that reputation in the department, you’re well on your way to not only a great traveling gig, but probably a bunch of renewed contracts, which is great for the facility, and great for you as the traveler to provide some level of stability. It also gives the highest possible recommendation on your resume, as managers will specifically seek out travelers who were renewed consistently at their previous positions.
The life of the traveling sterile processing technician can be hard, and you should get used to long shifts and weeks spent in the Decon area, but the travel lifestyle, the freedom, and the pay are second to none. If you have the grit, the experience, and the freedom to explore traveling as an option, I highly recommend that you do so.
Remember, there are a lot of hospitals and departments in need, and your commitment to patient safety could mean the difference in saving patients lives!