Sterile Processing Technician

How to become a sterile processing technician

Venice Nuyda
May 25, 2023

A Sterile Processing Technician (SPT) is someone who disinfects tools in a surgical environment. They play a crucial role in preventing infections by sterilizing medical supplies. If working in a surgical unit interests you, here’s a guide to being an SPT.

Education required to become an SPT

Most states do not need prior education or to have certification to begin working. Some facilities may allow you to learn on the job. Yet, a certificate can provide many benefits. 

The only states that look for certifications to work as an SPT are Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Though, getting a certification will provide you with clinical training as well. This could lead to a direct route of employment after completion as well!

The first step in becoming a certified SPT is completing an accredited program from a community college, trade school, or online. Some employers might need a degree, but you can start this path by earning a diploma within 10 weeks to two years. 

Note that a high school diploma is also not necessary for training, but it is for certifications. 

Training required to become an SPT

Training for this program might cost somewhere between $1,000 to $8,000, depending on the school. 

The two main accrediting bodies that offer certification for SPTs are:

  1. Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA)
  2. Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD). 

Each organization offers a certification exam requiring a specific credit or experience. These certifications are valid for five years.

1. The HSPA exam requires candidates to have 400 hours of practical experience in the following areas:

  • Decontamination
  • Preparing and packaging instruments
  • Sterilization and disinfection
  • Storage and distribution
  • Quality assurance processes
  • Equipment use, maintenance, and management

2. While the CBSPD's exam prerequisites vary depending on your experience and education. Candidates typically fulfill one of the following requirements:

  • Completing 12 months of full-time work as a sterile processing technician
  • Have six months of full-time experience and another six months focusing on technical work
  • Passing a sterile processing technician course with a grade of at least 70%
  • Working for 12 months in healthcare product sales related to sterile processing equipment

Once you pass the exam, you are considered a Certified SPT! You can also seek extra certifications if you want. This is optional, but obtaining one would be highly beneficial for your career advancement. You can pursue one of these certifications if you like:

  • Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician (CBET)
  • Certified Radiology Equipment Specialists (CRES)
  • Certified Laboratory Equipment Specialist (CLES)
  • Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST)

What are the Skills and Qualifications I need to learn?

Becoming an SPT is an exciting career path that requires a unique set of skills. If you're interested in becoming one, you'll need to get these skills that will prepare you for this role:

  • Knowledge of Sterilization Techniques. You should have a comprehensive understanding of different sterilization methods. This includes steam sterilization, ethylene oxide (EO) sterilization, and low-temperature sterilization.
  • Attention to Detail. Being keen on details and following protocols are essential to maintain a sterile environment.
  • Technical Competence. Skill in operating various types of sterilization equipment and machinery is essential. This includes familiarity with autoclaves, ultrasonic cleaners, sterilization wraps, and chemical indicators.
  • Communication and Collaboration. Effective communication and collaboration are essential when working in a team.
  • Adaptability and Stress Management. Working in a fast-paced healthcare environment can be demanding. You'll have extra duties such as handling biohazardous material, blood, and human tissues.
  • Organizational Skills. Strong organizational skills are necessary to sort, label, and track instruments. This includes maintaining proper inventory control, ensuring timely restocking, and keeping meticulous records.

Where do SPTs work?

SPTs work in various healthcare settings where sterile equipment is necessary. Your workplace will usually be in sterile processing or central supply areas. This could be in hospitals with surgical units and outpatient surgical centers. It can also be in doctors' offices and other facilities where sterilized equipment is in need for minor procedures. Regardless of where their goal is to ensure the sterility and availability of tools required for safety procedures.

What SPTs do and need to learn?

Being an SPT requires understanding and memorization of surgical equipment and its uses. The position requires strong attention to detail as there are thousands of different pieces. This includes Glassman intestinal clamps, Adair tissue forces, and bulldog clamps, as an example. 

Their job isn't only to sterilize them but to know what they are and their use. You’ll need to be able to build a surgical tray of 50 pieces of different equipment for specific surgeries. All while knowing the surgeon's preferences down to the different weights of the item. 

This required studying microbiology and infection control. They will also need to be proficient in anatomy and physiology as they need to know why and what certain equipment is used for the human body. This means you need to be well-versed in medical and surgical terminology.

What to expect as an SPT

When becoming an SPT, you can work with a variety of shifting schedules, depending on the type of facility. According to BLS data, SPTs have an average salary of around $42,000 annually ($20/hr). SPTs working in commercial equipment and supplies wholesalers tend to get paid the most.

Together with other healthcare careers, you can expect a job growth of 6% from 2021 to 2031. The highest-paying states for this job are California, DC, Alaska, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. Being an SPT can be a rewarding career choice for those looking for job stability. Aside from career growth, you’ll make one of the biggest contributions to patient safety.

Find top-rated phlebotomy training programs near you.
Get started today
Find top-rated CNA training programs near you.
Get started today
Written by
Venice Nuyda

Venice Nuyda is a student-support representative at Dreambound. She is responsible for helping students through their training journey in the allied health space. She is passionate about helping others and writing informative articles to aid candidates in advancing their vocational careers.

Easiest way to get certified.
Today is the day to get that certification you've always wanted. Enroll in a top-rated, state-approved training program in just a few minutes.
Get started now