Become a valuable member of a surgical team, in a growing industry!
Sterile Processing Technicians, also called Central Service Technicians, are healthcare professionals who aid in the function of healthcare by preparing, cleaning, sterilizing, processing, storing, and distributing medical instruments and equipment, particularly in hospitals and surgical centers.
Education & Training
To become a sterile processing technician, you must obtain the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) certification, offered by the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA).
How Long Does It Take?
While the duration may vary depending on specific education paths, the average time required to complete a program in sterile processing is around 12 months.
How Much Does It Cost?
The cost to complete a program in sterile processing, while again variable depending on a specific education path, will typically be around $2,000 to $3,000.
This price range is considerably lower than similar technical fields in healthcare. For example, the cost of tuition for many medical technician careers, such as anesthesia or pharmacy technicians, typically ranges from several thousand to over ten thousand.
What Do You Study?
A course in sterile processing will focus on the following subjects:
- Explain the job – outline the role, responsibilities, skills, and expectations in central processing and surgical settings.
- Standards & procedures – storage considerations and guidelines, and quality assurance practices in sterile processing departments.
- Equipment management – practices for the proper management of inventory and instruments through information management systems.
- Rules & regulations – how to adhere to compliance when managing patient records and documentation.
- Communication – importance of communication and human relations to the career path.
Benefits of Taking the Course
Completing a sterile processing program benefits you both personally and professionally. Upon completion, you will:
- Become well-prepared to sit for the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) certification, offered by the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA).
- Have a thorough understanding of the clinical and professional skills required for the role of a sterile processing technician.
How Much Can You Make?
In California, the average salary for a sterile processing technician ranges from $55,000 to $95,000 yearly, with an average hourly wage of around $31, and is overall higher than the national average of $45,000-50,000.
Average salaries for major California cities as of 2023 include:
- Los Angeles: $69,000 or $32.60/hour
- San Diego: $90,000 or $42.90/hour
- San Francisco: $53,900 or $25.80/hour
- San Jose: $68,500 or $32.50/hour
- Fresno: $62,800 or $29.90/hour
How to Become a Sterile Processing Technician in California
While no state licenses or certifications are strictly mandatory to become a sterile processing technician in California, obtaining the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) certification is strongly encouraged, for both developing professional skills and successfully gaining employment in the field. Many hospitals and surgical centers only employ technicians who have received the CRCST certification.
State License or Certification
In addition to coursework required to prepare for the CRCST certification examination, candidates must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. 400 hours of hands-on experience in a sterile processing setting over the course of no more than five years is also required.
While this certification is currently not mandatory in the state of California, an increasing number of states have started to revise their legislation on this matter, making the certification mandatory. This includes New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Tennessee, thus making preparing for and obtaining the CRCST certification overall integral to success in the sterile processing field.
Similarly to the CRCST certification, while not legally mandatory, the majority of hospitals, clinics, and surgical centers may both offer and/or individually require an apprenticeship in order for prospective technicians to gain valuable hands-on experience. The average length for such an apprenticeship is typically from 1 to 2 years, with additional hours of coursework aside.
Individual CRCST preparation programs may also offer mentoring programs.
Entry Level Job Description
As an entry-level sterile processing technician, your primary role will be to assist in the cleaning, sterilization, and maintenance of medical instruments and equipment used in patient care. Of course, duties will vary depending on your location of employment.
At a surgical center, for example, your primary responsibilities may include preparing and sterilizing tools for surgical teams, while at a clinic, duties may focus more on preparing tools for laboratory assessments or exams.
You will naturally work under the supervision of more experienced technicians and healthcare professionals.
Skillsets or Requirements
The role of a sterile processing technician revolves around patient safety, namely ensuring supplies used in medical processes (including clinical exams, laboratory assessments, and surgeries) are safe, free from infectious agents, and ready for use in medical procedures.
While the details of specific equipment procedures will again vary greatly depending on your specific location of employment, expectations and responsibilities will always include the following:
- Assisting surgical or clinical teams in managing an inventory of sterilized and functional equipment.
- Cleaning and decontaminating medical instruments and equipment after they are returned from patient care areas. This involves disassembling and removing debris, blood, and other contaminants.
- Maintaining inventory and records of sterile medical supplies and their maintenance, typically using information systems/software.
- Ensuring quality control for all equipment used and adhering to formal regulations and guidelines.
More generally, skills that an employer may look for in a candidate would include:
- Vigilance and attention to detail; particularly in managing equipment in surgical settings.
- Fine motor skills pertaining to handling fragile tools.
- Strong judgment and critical thinking skills.
- Effective communication skills.
As of 2022, the state of California has both one of the highest prospective growth rates and employment rates for the medical equipment processing field in comparison to the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As such, now is a more optimal time than ever for those interested in the sterile processing career field, and California one of the most ideal locations for those interested as well.
Pros & Cons of the SPT Field
As with the majority of vital roles in healthcare, the working hours of a sterile processing technician can vary from standard day shifts to more extreme overnight hours, including weekends. You will work in tandem with surgical teams, nurses and anaesthesiologists, making highly stressful and demanding situations somewhat common but highly rewarding for those passionate about patient wellbeing and safety.
Is it a good career?
Fortunately, there are a number of opportunities to both advance on a sterile processing pathway or to branch out to similar fields. Those with experience may choose to branch out to work with specialized equipment in more unique settings, work in a more management-focused role, or even work in surgical technology or nursing fields with further education and training.
Overall, the expected career growth for a sterile processing technician has a positive outlook, with an estimated employment rate increase of about six percent from 2021-2031 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furthermore, California specifically has the highest employment rate for sterile processing technicians in the country. Additionally, as healthcare equipment and technology as well as specialized procedures become increasingly advanced, demand for those with expertise in sterile processing will only continue to grow.