How To Become a Sterile Processing Technician

Becoming a Sterile Processing Technician can be an excellent career choice. On we review schools and training options for each state, so you can find the best options near you.

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What do they do? Sterile processing technicians are a type of service technician who work behind the scenes in hospitals, dentists’ offices or surgical centers. As an essential part of the healthcare team, these techs, also known as central service technicians, are responsible for ensuring the instruments, tools and supplies used in medical and surgical procedures are clean and safe for use. In addition, techs are responsible for the distribution and tracking of equipment throughout the organization and participating in ongoing quality assurance. The job entails a high level of responsibility for patient safety.

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The central sterile processing department is the backbone of the hospital’s infection control program and thus plays a significant role in the reduction of hospital-acquired infections and the spread of infectious agents such as Covid-19. Working in this area requires a great deal of knowledge about cleaning techniques, sterilization equipment and inventory control. If you are a detail-oriented person, who wants to work in a patient-centered environment, this career may be the perfect fit for your personality.

What Salary Should a Sterile Processing Technician Expect?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sterile processing technicians made an average annual salary of $37,440 in 2019, the latest year available. Within the same year, the lowest-paid professionals in the career field brought home around $24,600, while those in the top salary range made around $52,240.

For those considering this career, the good news is the abundance of jobs, with Projections Central predicting an average of 7,300 job openings annually throughout the United States. In addition, your job search should continue to get easier, with this career expected to experience an eight percent growth between 2018 and 2028, an increase of around 4,600 jobs.

Education Requirements for Sterile Processing Technicians

In order to become a sterile processing technician, you will need to obtain the proper education and training, starting with a high school diploma or equivalent. A central service technician will usually acquire their training either on the job or through participation in a training program.

Regardless of how you pursue your education in the field, you should expect to undergo extensive training, as the job carries a high degree of responsibility for the outcomes of the most vulnerable patients. 

In the past, the only option for becoming a sterile processing technician was through participation in an on-the-job training program. Hospitals usually offered this training to those who already had work experience in the hospital setting, excelled at their jobs and had the capacity to acquire the necessary skills for the career.

Most importantly, to become a sterile processing tech, they would need to learn about the various instruments used in the facility, the specific cleaning procedures for each one and how to work with the sterilization equipment.

Modern technicians will need to learn additional skill sets than their predecessors. Like many professions in the healthcare field, central sterile processing technicians have found the responsibilities of their position continuously expanding to meet the increasing demands of the industry.

Today’s sterile processing technician is responsible for more and more of the hospital’s inventory, including the tracking and distribution of instruments, supplies and equipment. As a result, new central sterile processing classes, certificate courses and Associate of Science degree programs are cropping up at various trade schools and community college networks throughout the country. A few of the top-rated schools that offer sterile processing technician programs include:

  • Berkeley College, with several campus locations in New Jersey, offers more than one program for sterile processing technicians. The programs include two Associate in Applied Science degrees, one for Patient Care Technician Specialization and the other for Surgical Processing Technician Specialization. Students will learn sterilization techniques in either program and hone their skills through hands-on learning and practical experience.
  • Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, offers a Central Service Technician Technical Diploma. This short-term program gives students the opportunity for 400 hours of on-the-job experience and prepares them for certification. 
  • Clover Park Technical College, with two campuses in Washington State, offers students a certificate in Central Service/Sterile Processing. The college allows students to learn the trade through the development of critical thinking skills over this three-term program.
  • Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina, offers a Central Sterile Processing Technician course. This college program consists of both classroom learning and on-site laboratory time. 

For more information, including contact information, tuition costs, the availability of tuition assistance programs, payment options or general questions about these courses, click through to the website for each respective college. 

Do Sterile Processing Technicians Need to be Licensed?

Although there is no state licensing for sterile processing technicians, there are specific regulations regarding certification in several states. These states include Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. However, even in states without requirements, those in the profession will be required to follow specific rules and procedures set by the organizations in which they work.

In addition, health care organizations face significant regulation from local health departments and accreditation agencies, many of which will involve infection control processes and procedures. These organizations will occasionally inspect the facilities and ask healthcare workers questions regarding policy and procedure. As such, sterile processing technicians will need to understand their organization’s specific procedures and comply with them at all times.

Sterile Processing Technician Certification

Acquiring certifications is a great way to showcase the many skills you will gain throughout the course of your career. In addition, many jobs require certification for employment and promotion, so depending on your career path, taking a certification exam may be a necessity. In any case, the individuals who will excel in the field will be those with the most qualifications, making sitting for an exam a smart career move.

So how does a sterile processing technician become certified? One popular certification program can be attained by passing a certification exam through the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA). Their Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) credential can be earned by taking and passing an exam.

Technicians who wish to further their career beyond an entry-level position have the option to take a sterile processing technician certification exam in four additional areas. These supplementary credentials include a secondary certification for instrumentation, endoscope reprocessing, central service management and a central service vendor certification. Regardless of your goals, making the decision to become certified can only increase your career prospects and salary.

What is it Like to Work as a Sterile Processing Technician?

Working as a sterile processing technician requires an eye for detail, good physical stamina and the ability to perform under pressure. On any given day, a sterile processing technician may find themselves responsible for a wide variety of activities. Job duties can include operating and troubleshooting sterilization equipment, counting inventory, tracking receipts and deliveries, searching for needed equipment, answering processing questions and traveling throughout the hospital to pick up and re-distribute equipment. In addition, sterile processing technicians can expect to work long hours, be subjected to mandatory overtime and be required to cover on-call for emergency procedures.

In spite of these challenges, the job comes with some hefty rewards. In a world where a pathogen from one small community can become a worldwide pandemic, the sterile processing technician provides both a blockade for the spread of infection and, in the process, prevents the mutation of infections agents from occurring. This is an essential job, and as a sterile processing technician you will play a role in the safety of your community and the entire world.