Sterile processing technicians, also known as central service technicians, play an essential role in the day-to-day operations of the medical field. These valuable employees are in charge of preventing the spread of disease and illness through the decontamination of medical equipment and supplies.
Hopefuls with an interest in sterile processing jobs must enroll in a training program at a physical campus or through an online school.
Education & Training
While there is no specific sterile processing degree, attending a program is a requirement. Upon completion of the program, students must pass an exam and perform 400 hours of hands-on experience to demonstrate their knowledge. Annual recertification is a requirement for workers to maintain their employment.
How Long Does the Training Take?
To become a sterile processing technician, you must complete an educational program that qualifies you to sit for the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) exam, offered by the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association. Such programs will usually take 12 months to complete, and can often be accelerated or self-paced. If you choose to spend time gaining experience through internships before sitting for the exam, getting certified can take longer than 12 months. The nice thing about online programs is that they are typically self paced.
How Much Does it Cost?
The average cost for sterile processing technician programs ranges from $2000-3000.
While this can vary depending on individual education pathways, the cost is overall significantly lower than many similar programs, such as for medical assistants or pharmacy technicians, making it an economically worthwhile option for those aspiring to enter the healthcare industry.
What Do You Study?
Courses in sterile processing are designed to provide a comprehensive foundation for becoming well-prepared for the challenges of the sterile processing role. Topics will usually include:
- Defining the role: understanding the responsibilities and requirements of the job, as well as expectations in a sterile processing and general healthcare setting.
- Infection control: understanding principles and procedures of infection control, including the phases of equipment inspection, preparation, and decontamination.
- Equipment knowledge: covering the diversity of medical instruments in a modern healthcare setting as well as their specific sterilization requirements and operating standards.
- Standards & regulations: familiarization with industry standards, guidelines, and regulations governing sterile processing to ensure compliance and adherence to practices.
- Clinical experience: hands-on exposure in a clinical setting to apply theoretical knowledge and gain confidence in executing sterilization procedures.
Ultimately, sterile processing courses provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge for the role in addition to preparing prospective SPTs for the CRCST exam.
Benefits of Taking the Course
Enrolling in a sterile processing technician course not only equips you with essential skills for the role but also ensures readiness for valuable certifications. The primary advantage is the preparation it offers for the CRCST exam, which a growing number of states require for all prospective SPTs.
By taking a specialized course, you also have the opportunity to gain important theoretical knowledge necessary for the role, as well as hands-on experience – many programs offer opportunities to gain clinical experience as a part of their curriculums. Overall, taking a sterile processing course not only enhances practical knowledge needed for the position, but guarantees that you are well-equipped to meet the demands of this crucial profession.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for sterile processing technicians is $41,480 as of 2022, with some positions earning as much as $62,960.
Salary can also depend on the specifics of where you work. For example, SPTs in outpatient centers earn a higher average of $51,810, while those in dentists’ offices make an average of $34,250 annually. Ultimately, the range of salary options compared to the markedly low time and cost required for education makes pursuing a career in sterile processing highly worthwhile.
What Is Sterile Processing?
Put simply, sterile processing careers involve cleaning surgical tools to keep viruses and infectious diseases from spreading. Successful surgeries depend not just on the actual operation and skill of the surgeon, but also the cleanliness of the medical instruments used. These tools often become soiled with blood and other bodily fluids, which a sterile processing tech must clean using a variety of methods.
What Are Sterile Processing Job Duties?
Sterile processing tech job duties vary day-to-day and require workers to adapt quickly to new environments, directions and responsibilities. A tech might be sterilizing scalpels, forceps and instrument tables one day only to store gloves and syringes during their next shift. Most medical facilities are also fast-paced, making it important for techs to adjust to the demands of specific doctors and medical staff.
While cleaning is a major focus for sterile processing techs, they are responsible for many other tasks.
A few common daily duties these employees perform include:
- Decontaminating medical instruments and devices
- Packaging sterilized equipment
- Shipping, storing and transporting tools
- Cleaning new tools and checking them for damage
- Distributing instruments to exam and operating rooms
- Keeping daily logs of sterilized items
- Taking inventory of medical instruments
Are There Special Requirements for Sterile Processing Jobs?
Since there is no specific sterile processing school, hopefuls must instead pass the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) exam. Upon completion of their coursework in a program, and an intense 400-hour internship, taking this test is the final step to entering the field. Many employees attend a sterile processing trade school program directly out of high school and obtain their certification soon after.
What is the Work Environment Like?
As is the case with many jobs in the health field, sterile processing careers often involve long and irregular hours. Employees should expect to accommodate a hospital’s schedule and adapt to the needs of the surgical team. There are also certain seasons that show a spike in the amount of surgeries being performed. This surge often occurs late in the year though can occur at any time.
In many ways, the entire medical facility is a sterile processing technician’s workplace. Cleanliness is important to each and every room of a hospital, and avoiding the potential spread of illness is the number one goal of every tech. In addition to cleaning the many instruments a surgeon uses during an operation, techs also wash their hands regularly and change soiled scrubs.
What Types of Skills Should Sterile Processing Technicians Possess?
Sterile Processing jobs require workers to be experts in the sterilization of tools and devices. One part of that is knowing how to operate various decontamination equipment and in what order. There are many steps to this process, though a few common methods include:
- Manually clean the tool by hand if possible
- Place the tool in an ultrasonic cleaner for heavy-duty sterilization
- Insert the tool in a washer/disinfector for a final round of cleaning
- Securely package the tool in a sterile container
- Return the tool to the operating room or place it in sterile storage for later use
Employees must also know how to properly wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to reduce the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria. Some germs can spread easily through the air, while others live on surfaces for days at a time. Using the proper face masks and shields, scrubs, goggles and gloves is essential when handling surgical tools before and after sanitization. PPE is also regularly cleaned through the sterilization process to ensure a consistent, bacteria-free operation.
Where Do They Work?
Thanks to the universal use of surgical tools across the medical field, sterile processing jobs are available in a range of settings. Workers are often able to find jobs all throughout the country in places such as:
- Outpatient care centers
- Specialty care centers
- Dental clinics
- Ambulatory service centers
- Veterinarian offices
- Universities with on-site medical facilities
Can You Work Remotely?
Sterile technicians perform their job duties on-site at a hospital or other medical facility, making remote work impossible. Employees must be physically available for hands-on cleaning, inspecting and packaging of health care equipment. However, workers in supervisory roles may instruct a team of employees over a video conference call or other long-distance method.
What Other Career Options Do They Have?
Due to the broad use of medical equipment in a wide range of health fields, sterile processing jobs are available wherever surgical instruments and devices are used. Also, workers receive extensive training in microbiology, human anatomy, surgical terminology and infection control. These skills equip workers with a solid foundation for pursuing other medical careers in the future if they choose.
If a sterile processing tech decides to pursue further education, they can choose to become a clinical laboratory technician or a medical laboratory technologist. These employees are responsible for handling and studying delicate samples of blood, urine and tissue to search for abnormalities. Some people may also pursue a career as a surgical tech or phlebotomist, though these careers require additional training and a college degree in their respective programs.
Why Become a Sterile Processing Tech?
These professionals play a vital role in ensuring the safety and well-being of patients by meticulously sterilizing and preparing medical instruments and equipment. Becoming a SPT also offers a pathway for individuals seeking a stable and rewarding career in healthcare without the extensive time commitment required for many other similar roles.
This, coupled with a predicted job growth for the next decade, makes now a better time than ever to join this developing profession.
Sterile processing technicians can expect a favorable career outlook over the next decade. According to the BLS, a faster-than-average growth rate of 5% is expected from 2022-32.
Furthermore, with an increasing emphasis on infection control and patient safety, the demand for sterile processing technicians will only increase.
As professionals gain experience and pursue additional certifications, doors can open for advancement into supervisory or managerial roles within sterile processing departments. The evolving landscape of healthcare overall ensures that skilled and dedicated sterile processing technicians will continue to be in demand.
Embarking on a career as a sterile processing technician (SPT), also called a central service technician, opens the door to a crucial and dynamic role in the healthcare industry.