Sterile Processing Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about a sterile processing technician's job description, salary and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a sterile processing technician career.
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Sterile Processing Technician Career: Pros and Cons

Sterile processing technicians work in healthcare facilities to organize, assemble and clean surgical instruments prior to sterilization. Read ahead to get an idea of the pros and cons of working in this field.

Pros of Being a Sterile Processing Technician
Few educational requirements (44% have just a high school diploma)**
Provides opportunities to be part of a surgical team helping patients feel better***
Advancement opportunities (with experience and training can become surgical technologist)*
Employment growth expected (14% between 2014 and 2024)*

Cons of Being a Sterile Processing Technician
Lower-than-average salary (median annual wage $32,260 in 2014)*
Must be comfortable working around blood***
Heavy lifting may be required***
Work may involve standing for long periods***

Sources:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine, ***Lane Community College.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Sterile processing technicians typically work in the central processing departments of healthcare facilities. In addition to processing patient care equipment, instruments and supplies, they also take care of cleaning, sterilizing and decontaminating surgical and medical supplies.

The technicians take care of processing supplies and equipment used in all departments, ensuring that patients are in a clean and sterile environment. They also distribute medical supplies to appropriate departments. This job requires not only arm-hand steadiness and finger dexterity, but also good decision-making skills. Sterile processing technicians may continue with this career or advance their training and become surgical technologists.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

Sterile processing technicians fall into the category of medical equipment preparers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical equipment preparers were predicted to see an employment growth of 14% between 2014 and 2024. Sterile processing technicians may work in doctor's offices, clinics, surgical centers and hospitals. However, general medical and surgical hospitals tend to employ the largest numbers of these workers, according to the BLS. As of a May 2014 BLS report, medical equipment preparers earned a mean annual wage of near $33,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Although becoming a sterile processing technician may require only a high school diploma and some training, you may have to meet certain requirements if you plan to enroll in a training program. Although it varies by school, most require applicants to have high school diplomas, proof of immunizations, drug screenings and CPR certifications. Applicants must also submit to criminal background checks and may have to pass reading and math assessment tests.

Education and Training Requirements

Formal training programs may be found at technical schools or community colleges. In addition to lecture and lab experiences, students also complete clinical components. Course topics may include anatomy and physiology, decontamination, surgical instrumentation, sterilization and infection control. Students may get hands-on training through externships or cooperative education opportunities.

Top Skills for Sterile Processing Technicians

In addition to completing a formal training program, you should possess the following qualities and skills for this career:

  • Critical thinking
  • Judgment and decision-making skills
  • Coordination
  • Trouble shooting skills
  • Manual dexterity

Job Postings from Real Employers

Formal training and work experience appear to be the most common requirement employers are looking for in their potential sterile processing technicians. Although requirements usually vary by employer, most job posting are looking for employees with at least six months of experience in this field. The following is a sampling of open job postings from May 2012:

  • An Illinois healthcare facility is seeking a sterile processing technician to work under a manager and assist a surgical technician and registered nurse. Main duties will be maintaining decontamination and sterilization of surgical equipment, instruments and sterile supplies. Candidate must be knowledgeable of Sterrad, Steris and Steam sterilization and must be able to work as part of a team. In addition to high school diplomas or GED certificates, applicants must have sterile processing technician or surgical technologist certifications and at least six years of experience in either of these roles.
  • A Pennsylvania healthcare provider is seeking the services of an experienced sterile processing technician willing to start work immediately. Applicant must have at least one year of experience working as a sterile processing technician in the last three years. In addition to working with high-quality health professionals, candidate will have flexible work assignments and daily pay.
  • A Baltimore healthcare provider is looking for a certified sterile processing technician to fill a part-time position in its facility. Applicants must have high school diplomas or the equivalent, certification with the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution or the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materials Management and any other required registrations, or licenses. At least 400 clinical hours working in a CSP department is also required of potential candidate.

How to Beat the Competition

Get Certified

Certification demonstrates competence and commitment to potential employers. Eligible applicants can obtain certification through the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution, Inc. (CBSPD). To be eligible, you must meet education or training requirements set by the credentialing agency.

Certification exams are also offered through the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM). The IAHCSMM certification exam - available at Prometric training centers - tests students on their knowledge of both general central service and infection control. To be eligible to take this exam, applicants must have completed a training program and 400 hours of clinical education.

Other Careers to Consider

Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists help patients prepare for surgical procedures, assist surgeons and nurses during surgery and help keep the operating room clean, stocked and supplied with surgical instruments. Being a surgical technologist requires completion of a training program, typically a certificate or associate's degree program. In some states, surgical technologists must pass a certification exam to obtain certification. According to the BLS, employment of surgical technologists was expected to grow 19% between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, these workers earned a mean annual wage of around $42,000. Although this career requires slightly more education than sterile processing technicians, surgical techs also earn higher wages.

Licensed Practical Nurse

If you're looking for a medical profession that offers both higher wages and a better career outlook, you may want to consider becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN). To become part of this career, you need to complete a state-approved nursing program, which typically takes one year. You also need to obtain licensure before you can practice as an LPN. LPN training programs include lecture, lab studies and clinical education. The BLS reported that licensed practical nurses were predicted to have an employment growth of 22% between 2010 and 2020. According to the BLS, LPNs earned a mean annual wage of around $42,000 as of May 2011.

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Purdue University Global

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Grand Canyon University

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Regent University

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The University of Texas at Arlington

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  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
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Herzing University

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Abilene Christian University

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The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

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Utica College

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