Many positions within health care are vital for the care of patients. Positions typically recognized include doctors, nurses, and surgeons, but other roles, such as a sterile processing technician, are just as important. Learn how to train to become a sterile processing technician and the parts of the health care industry this professional supports.
What Is a Sterile Processing Technician?
A sterile processing technician sterilizes and cleans all medical equipment before and after medical professionals use them. This equipment includes tools used in laboratory assessments, any reusable items used during clinical exams, and the tools the surgery team will use during surgical procedures. Sterilization is vital for providing patients with the best care. These professionals must adhere to strict cleanliness and sterilization guidelines to ensure medical professionals can use tools for multiple patients. They are a significant reason surgeries and other operations are successful, as they increase the cleanliness of every medical device.
Most sterile processing technicians work in clinics, doctor's offices, hospitals, and medical laboratories. Any health care facility that uses medical tools regularly has sterile processing technicians to ensure the tools are clean and ready for use by other health care professionals.
Sterile processing technicians have many duties contributing to cleaning and sterilizing medical tools. These duties include removing medical waste, ensuring they dispose of waste properly, and recording and tracking medical equipment to ensure everything is clean or disposed of appropriately. They also have duties such as learning about and executing sterilization procedures accurately, setting up materials for surgeons and other doctors, and monitoring sterilization equipment to ensure each piece completes the sterilization process correctly. Finally, these professionals also collect and deliver medical materials and tools across their work facilities.
How To Become a Sterile Processing Technician
Below are steps one can follow to become a sterile processing technician:
Find and Enroll in a Training Program To Become a Sterile Processing Technician
One of the first steps toward becoming a sterile processing technician is to find a program that fits your needs and schedule. You can discover the Sterile Processing Technician diploma program at Concorde Career Colleges. In this program, you study how medical professionals determine how they select and use medical instruments to perform their work, how to inspect devices for cleanliness, how to keep inventory records, and how to use sterilization equipment to clean and sterilize contaminated and soiled tools. You also study how to prepare surgical trays for various procedures, how to move items from one location to another safely, and how to communicate with other medical professionals.
As you engage in coursework within the program, you'll have the opportunity to engage in classroom learning, lab time, and hands-on training to prepare you for a career as a sterile processing technician.
Participate in an Externship
Through Concorde's externship, students can apply and practice the lessons they learn during class and laboratory time in a real-world setting. This opportunity allows students to focus on developing skills connecting with health care rather than simply learning theory alone. As externs, students are guided through processes alongside real-world sterile processing technicians and learn from them.
Since the externship experience is part of the health care industry, each experience is different based on the needs of the medical center and the types of procedures other health care professionals perform. However, students still learn the general skills that make them successful when they gain certification.
Pass Certification Exams
As students pursue a career as sterile processing technicians, they also earn certifications to qualify for these roles. Individuals must pass two initial certifications. The first is with the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD), which hosts a series of certification exams for sterile processing technicians. This organization measures competency with standard measurements for all sterile processing technicians. The second is with the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (formerly the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management or IAHCSMM), which awards examinees with the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) designation.
Learn more details about the exams below:
Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD)
The CBSPD exam (1) combines 25 unscored exam questions with 125 scored ones, giving participants 150 questions to answer. Participants have a maximum of three hours to complete the exam and must correctly answer 70% of the questions to qualify for the certification. Participants must answer at least 88 questions correctly, though higher scores demonstrate more thorough knowledge. Once a participant earns the certification, it's valid for five years before the individual needs to become recertified. For recertification, participants can complete a recertification packet and earn a passing score based on the criteria presented therein.
Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) From the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association
The second certification potential sterile processing technicians can earn gives them CRCST certification (2). The exam aims to recognize entry-level and existing sterile processing technicians with "the experience, knowledge, and skills necessary to provide competent services as an SP technician." Entry-level participants can apply for provisional certification if they have 400 hours of hands-on experience they can demonstrate within six months of passing the certification exam. Existing technicians must provide evidence of 400 hours of direct experience within the past five years.
The CRCST certification exam (3) itself consists of 150 multiple-choice questions on the following areas of knowledge:
- Cleaning, decontamination, and disinfection.
- Preparation and packaging.
- Sterilization process.
- Patient care equipment.
- Sterile storage and inventory management.
- Documentation and record maintenance.
- Client relations.
The maximum time for the exam is three hours, and students can prepare for it by studying and working toward having 400 hours of experience as a sterile processing technician. Any documentation that participants submit also needs to be verified by leads or managers to ensure the accuracy of the reports.
Frequently Asked Questions
Explore the following frequently asked questions about becoming a sterile processing technician:
Is Being a Sterile Processing Technician Difficult?
Sterile processing technicians have similar stresses and benefits as other health care professionals. They can include long hours, high-stress situations such as surgeries and emergency response, and pressure to perform duties accurately 100% of the time. As such, being a sterile processing technician can be a stressful job. It has several benefits, including paid time off, insurance, and excellent medical services.
The health care industry can present more stress for individuals than other industries. By extension, the role of sterile processing technician can be challenging, but plenty of preparation and training can prepare people for this role.
Are Sterile Processing Technicians in Demand?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the roles of medical equipment preparers, which include sterile processing technicians, are projected to grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031 (4). This growth is about average for all roles in the United States and means that the position is in demand because of typical factors, including burnout, retirement, and job changers.
What Are Important Traits for Sterile Processing Technicians?
Vigilance is a significant part of the job, as clean and sterilized tools contribute to the health and safety of patients and other medical professionals. Patience is also essential as sterile processing technicians may have many tasks ongoing at the same time and need to stay calm. Finally, attention to detail is vital because sterile processing technicians are responsible for the cleanliness of tools and machines related to their roles.
Now that you've learned how to become a sterile processing technician, apply for Concorde's Sterile Processing Technician diploma program. Develop skills and experiences to excel as a sterile processing technician and prepare for your initial licensure and certification.
1. "SPD TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATION EXAM C.S.P.D.T.," Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution, https://www.cbspd.net/tech
2. "Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST)," International Association of Health Care Central Service Material Management, https://myhspa.org/certification/get-certified/crcst-application.html
3. "Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST)," International Association of Health Care Central Service Material Management, https://myhspa.org/certification/get-certified/crcst-application.html
4. "Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/data-for-occupations-not-covered-in-detail.htm
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