What Does a Sterile Processing Technician Do?

A sterile processing technician cleans and sterilizes medical instruments. Learn about the job duties of these technicians, as well as the education needed and the job outlook. Read about certification options in the sterile processing field. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are My Job Duties as a Sterile Processing Technician?

Your main responsibility is to ensure that instruments used by all medical personnel in a hospital or other healthcare facility are clean and sterile. This entails performing manual cleaning prior to sterilization, placing cleaned instruments in sterilizers such as autoclaves, and starting and monitoring autoclaves. You also examine equipment for defects and report problems to staff, test autoclaves and record the results, order supplies, assemble instrument trays, distribute supplies and ensure that sterile supplies are within their expiration date.

What Education Could I Access?

A high school diploma is often the only education you need to become a sterile processing technician, but more specific training is available. Community colleges offer 1-year certificate programs in central service and sterile processing. Some offer a 1-semester course. According to O*Net Online, 59% of technicians have a high school diploma and another 34% have completed some college courses (www.onetonline.org).

Training and educational courses in the field cover medical terminology, equipment management, sterilization and aseptic techniques. Other certificate programs might also include computer, professional development or lab courses.

Can I Get Certification?

You can obtain certification from organizations such as the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM) and the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD). Each offers two certifications for technicians. IAHCSMM credentials include the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) and the Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS). Those from CBSPD include the Certified Sterile Processing and Distribution Technician (CSPDT) and the Certified Surgical Instrument Specialist (CSIS).

To be eligible for the CRCST exam you need 400 hours of work experience. You may accumulate your experience before the exam or finish accumulating it within six months of passing the exam. The exam tests your knowledge in general central service and infection control. Once you have the CRCST you're CIS-eligible. The CIS exam tests your knowledge of medical instruments and of instrumentation practice skills.

You can take the CSPDT exam if you have completed a sterile processing training program, have 12 months of full time sterile processing experience or have related sales and service experience. The exam consists of 125 questions and requires a score of 70% or better to pass. The CSPDT designation is valid for five years.

Eligibility for the CSIS exam requires CSPDT certification and either passage of a surgical instrument processing course or 24 months of experience. The exam consists of 100 questions and also requires a 70% score or better to pass. CSIS certification is valid for five years.

What Are My Jobs Prospects?

O*Net reports that about 47,000 people were employed as medical equipment preparers in 2008. Employment was projected to grow 7%-13% from 2008-2018. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of your employment options are with hospitals (www.bls.gov). Dentist offices, outpatient care centers, physicians' offices and colleges provide you with a smaller but still significant share of opportunities. The Mayo School of Health Sciences predicts the aging of the population and advances in surgical technology will increase the demand for surgery and thus for technicians (www.mayo.edu).

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