Allied Health
May 24, 2024

Become a Sterile Processing Technician: Training & Certification Guide

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Become a Sterile Processing Technician: Training & Certification Guide

Hospitals and other health care facilities require sterilized organized equipment to ensure the safety of both patients and health care workers. Sterile processing technicians are an essential part of the health care team. They're responsible for preparing, sterilizing, installing and cleaning laboratory or health care equipment.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in health care and have an eye for detail, becoming a sterile processing technician may be a viable option for you. In this guide, we will explore the job duties, educational requirements and salary of a sterile processing technician to help you determine if this career path is right for you.

What Does a Sterile Processing Technician Do?

A sterile processing technician is responsible for ensuring that medical instruments and equipment are properly cleaned, assembled and sterilized. Their attention to detail is vital in maintaining a safe environment for both patients and healthcare workers. 

Some common duties of a sterile processing technician include:

  • Reviewing and interpreting written instructions to determine which sterilization method is required.
  • Cleaning, packaging, and sterilizing medical instruments and equipment.
  • Inspecting and assembling instruments, equipment, and trays.
  • Monitoring and operating sterilization equipment.
  • Documenting and maintaining sterilization records.
  • Distributing and storing sterilized equipment in the appropriate locations.

What is the Official Job Title of a Sterile Processing Technician?

Sterile processing technicians go by many titles. Some of them include: 

  • Central Processing Technicians (CPT)
  • Central Sterile Supply Technicians (CSS Technician)
  • Central Service Technician (CST)
  • Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST)
  • Instrument Technician
  • Sterile Preparation Technician
  • Sterile Processing and Distribution Technician (SPD Tech)
  • Sterile Technician
  • Sterilization Technician

Where Do They Work?

Sterile processing technicians generally work in hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, dental offices and other medical facilities, where a sterile environment is necessary. They are a part of a larger health care team and often work with nurses, surgical technologists and other healthcare professionals to support patient care.

Step One: Choose a Sterile Processing Technician Training Program

Before pursuing a career as a sterile processing technician, it's essential to select the right training program. There are several factors to consider when choosing a program, including the program length, cost, quality of instruction and job placement assistance.

Program Requirements

Most sterile processing technician training programs require applicants to hold a high school diploma or equivalent. Some programs may also require applicants to pass a background check, drug test and/or obtain specific immunizations. This is dependent on the state in which you enroll.

Some states require sterile processing technicians to obtain certification to work in the field. Be sure to research your state's regulations and choose a program that complies with these requirements. These states include Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

How to Choose a Program

Here are a few aspects to consider when determining which sterile processing technician program is right for you:

Program Length

Training programs vary in length, and your certification process will depend on which program you choose. Consider your schedule and how quickly you want to enter the workforce when selecting a program.

Cost

Tuition for sterile processing technician programs varies based on factors like the program length, location and in-state or out-of-state status. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify, so be sure to explore all funding options. The certification test, alone, is $140.

Teacher Quality

Look for programs with experienced instructors who have worked in the field and possess the required certifications. This will ensure you receive a high-quality education from knowledgeable professionals.

Job Placement

Choose a program that offers job placement assistance upon completion to help you secure employment as a sterile processing technician. That way, your transition into the field will be smooth upon completion of the program.

Step Two: Enroll in a Training Program 

Once you've selected a training program, it's time to enroll and begin working toward achieving certification as a sterile processing technician. Your training will provide the skills and essential knowledge that you'll need in order to become a successful sterile processing technician. 

Some courses that you take may include:

  • Introductory Medical Terminology
  • Sterilization Methods
  • Instrumentation
  • Microbiology
  • Infection Control
  • Inventory Management

Each course will provide the tools you'll need to become a knowledgeable sterile processing technician.

Step Three: Complete a Clinical Internship

Hands-on experience is crucial for sterile processing technicians. Many training programs require students to complete a clinical internship at a health care or medical facility, under the supervision of a certified sterile processing professional. This is an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge you've learned in your coursework to real-world situations and gain valuable experience in the field.

Step Four: Pass Certification Exams 

To become a certified sterile processing technician, you'll need to successfully pass an exam that's accredited by a recognized certifying organization like the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) or the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD). Certification requirements may vary based on your state's regulations, so be sure to research the specific requirements for your area.

The certification exam has been used in formally certifying sterile processing technicians since 1971, and individuals continue to be required to pass in order to become certified. There are specific certification exam requirements for test day, including what you can bring, wear, expect and do. It's important to look over the requirements before exam day, so you're fully prepared and ready to do your best.

Step Five: Find Employment as a Sterile Processing Technician

Once you've completed your training, passed your certification exam, and obtained any necessary state licenses, you're ready to begin your job search. 

Sterile processing technicians can work in a variety of health care settings, including hospitals, doctor's offices, outpatient facilities and dental offices. Any place that does medical procedures or requires sterile equipment requires a sterile processing technician on staff. This provides a variety of settings, so you can choose the environment that suits you best.

It's also important to stay informed about advances in the sterilization procedures and practices and to continue your education so you can maintain your certification status.

Step Six: Further Specialization

As a sterile processing technician, you may choose to achieve a specilization by obtaining additional certifications. These specializations can expand your career opportunities and demonstrate your expertise in specific areas of sterile processing. Some examples include:

Certified Endoscope Reprocessor (CER)

This certification, offered by the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD), focuses on the reprocessing of flexible endoscopes. Individuals who receive this certification demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge and skills in this specialized area to effectively sterilize, transport, and store endoscopes according to the specific standards and regulations for use in medical institutions. CERs are experts at endoscope preparation, which is essential in many health care environments.

Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS)

Offered by the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM), this certification indicates your expertise in instrument care and handling, as well as your understanding of the latest advances in instrumentation and processing. A CIS is a crucial part of the health care team, especially in surgical environments. 

FAQs

How much do sterile processing technicians make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for sterile processing technicians is about $21.61 per hour, or $44,940 a year. It's important to note that there are many factors that can impact a person's wage, including their location, experience, education and specialization.

How long does it take to become a sterile processing technician?

The time it takes to become a sterile processing technician can vary depending on the length of your training program, internship and certification exam preparation. Generally, it can take anywhere from several months to a year to become a sterile processing technician. Each state has its own certification requirements, which can lengthen the time it takes to become a sterile processing technician.

What kind of job prospects are there for sterile processing technicians?

The demand for sterile processing technicians is expected to grow due to the increasing need for health care services in the United States, particularly as the aging population continues to require additional medical care, and Baby Boomers in the health care field begin to retire.

In fact, the need for sterile processing technicians is expected to grow 17% between 2021 to 2031.

Sterile Processing Technician vs. Surgical Technologist: What's the Difference?

Sterile processing technicians are responsible for the cleaning, sterilization, and assembly of medical instruments and equipment. Surgical technologists, on the other hand, work directly with the surgical team in the operating room, arranging equipment and assisting during surgical procedures. While both positions are vital to maintaining a safe and sterile environment in health care settings, sterile processing technicians focus more on the behind-the-scenes work of ensuring proper sterilization, while surgical technologists play a more direct role in patient care during surgery.

Bottom Line

There continues to be a need for health care workers across the United States, and the field of sterile processing technicians is no exception. If you're interested in becoming a sterile processing technician, it's important to know the job requirements and state certification requirements, along with ways to advance in your career. That way, you can begin your journey toward becoming a certified sterile processing technician.


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