Discover what it takes to begin a new, rewarding career path in sterile processing
Sterile processing represents an excellent entry-level opportunity to join the growing field of healthcare. Sterile processing technicians are behind-the-scenes healthcare heroes, whose careful and detailed work ripples throughout a hospital, directly impacting every patient’s recovery.
Become a crucial contributor to a vital part of every hospital’s operation. Here are the steps you need to take to become a sterile processing technician:
1. Know sterile processing’s central role
The sterile processing department in a hospital is commonly referenced as the “heartbeat” of the hospital.
Just as the heart is the delivery hub for oxygen and nutrients for distribution throughout the body, the central service department is where surgical instruments and medical devices are decontaminated, inspected, reassembled, sterilized and packaged for delivery throughout the hospital.
Surgeons, doctors, nurses and medical staff can’t do their jobs without the many sterilized tools and instruments needed to care for patients—just how the brain, lungs and other organs can’t function without a dependable beating heart.
What does a sterile processing technician do?
Sterile processing techs ensure medical instruments are properly inspected, cleaned, and sterilized for use across a hospital, clinic, physician’s office or other healthcare institution.
Technicians typically work in a Sterile Processing Department (SPD) in a hospital, sometimes called a Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD) or Central Supply Department (CSD). Sterile processing is a fast-paced, technical and detail-oriented job requiring high focus and clear collaboration with other medical staff.
Techs must follow strict processes for different types of equipment, using computers to track progress and provide verification that all instruments are accounted for and properly serviced.
Sterile processing techs do not work directly with patients, but their work is imperative to ensure every patient achieves positive health outcomes.
This can be a great starting point for more introverted personality types looking to quickly begin a new career path, become comfortable in a hospital environment, build valuable skills, and truly help those in need.
2. Get educated in sterile processing
While earning a college degree or professional certificate is not always a requirement to find work as a sterile processing technician, it’s difficult to step into a job with no experience or foundation of knowledge in medical terminology, medical instruments or sterilization processes.
A sterile processing department can be an intimidating place for those new to the profession. You are surrounded by highly specialized instrumentation, machinery, and equipment; all of which you will need to be familiar with—with little margin for error!
The best way to prepare for success in your first entry-level job is to begin training in sterile processing.
Our 24-credit sterile processing diploma program is designed to help you build a strong foundation for success right from the start.
Build your medical vocabulary, learn to identify surgical instrumentation and become well-versed in the cycle of sterilization—and confidently step into your first job as a sterile processing technician.
3. Earn professional experience
After earning an education in sterile processing, the next step is to begin earning professional experience. It’s time to find your first job!
Job postings for sterile processing technicians may only require a high school diploma or GED. By holding a diploma in sterile processing, you’ll be in a great position to separate yourself from the rest and be truly qualified for the job rather than simply meet the minimum requirements.
After earning your first job and beginning to gain professional experience, you’ll be walking the next path to becoming certified.
4. Get certified/licensed
Becoming certified is the best way to solidify your place in the field and continue your career pathway in healthcare.
Certification proves to employers you’re highly competent in sterile processing, capable not only of succeeding in an entry level role as a tech, but growing into a reliable ongoing contributor for a sterile processing department.
Our diploma program helps you prepare for the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) certification from the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA).
Before sitting for the exam you’ll need to earn at least 400 professional hours of experience–about 10 weeks.
After meeting the 400-hour threshold you’ll be ready to sit for the CRCST exam.
How hard is the certification exam?
According to HSPA, out of 8,056 CRCST exams taken in 2021, 75% passed the test. The exam is not a walk in the park! You’ll need to be well-prepared both academically and professionally to pass the exam and become certified.
The computer-based CRCST exam is 3 hours, containing 150 multiple choice questions testing your knowledge of cleaning, decontamination, disinfection, patient care equipment, sterilization process, and more.
Get educated, study hard, and you’ll be in the best possible position to pass the exam and become certified.
Frequently Asked Questions
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical equipment preparers earn an average annual salary of $42,420 per year ($20.40 per hour).*
Working as a traveling sterile processing can be a great opportunity to see new places, experience different cultures and meet new people—all while building your skills in a rewarding career.
Every job posting will come with their own unique requirements for traveling sterile processing technicians. Be ready with an updated resume and immunization and health records. Getting certified is very important; these positions can be competitive and you’ll need every advantage you can get in the application process.
You may choose to sign up with a healthcare staffing agency to help you find the types of travel jobs you’re looking for.
Here is the primary general distinction:
- Sterile Processing Technicians are responsible for sterilizing equipment needed for medical procedures. Their duties are primarily outside of the operating room; however, their job function is critical to the operating room.
- Surgical Technologists are responsible for aseptic technique, understanding surgical procedures and instruments, maintaining the sterile field, passing instruments during the sequence of the procedure, as well as many other duties. They function as the masters of aseptic technique in the operating room.
Job titles, duties and responsibilities can vary between different healthcare institutions. Different states might have their own unique restrictions for who is qualified to handle what responsibilities. Some states require that the surgical technologist have a current certification for employment. Some surgical technologists handle the sterilization of equipment as well.
Earning your associate degree and becoming a certified surgical technologist is your ticket to becoming an indispensable member of a surgical team, handle many different types of tasks and become highly valuable to employers.
Sterile processing represents both a good job option and potential springboard to a multitude of career possibilities. If you’re looking to get started fast in a new healthcare career path, sterile processing might be perfect for you.
This is largely a difference in name only—different hospitals and medical institutions can use different names for technicians in sterile processing department.
Job roles and responsibilities are always unique to each facility, but in a general sense there is very little difference between a “central service” and “sterile processing” technician.
5. Continue your career and advance
As an experienced CRCST, you’ll be well positioned for a sustainable healthcare career with many potential opportunities for advancement.
Besides climbing the ladder within a sterile processing department and adopting more senior responsibilities, sterile processing technicians can potentially work towards becoming a surgical technologist, which requires an associate degree in surgical technology.1 Those who earn a sterile processing diploma now may transfer that credit into a surgical technology program and greatly decrease the time needed to earn a degree.
To qualify for job opportunities requiring a bachelor’s degree, you may also choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health sciences in the future.
We want to help you reach your highest career goals in healthcare. Take your first step with Herzing University and make your new career path possible.
1. The Herzing Associate of Science in Surgical Technology is currently available at our New Orleans campus.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.
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