Sterile Processing Technician Degree Programs and Training

Sterile processing technicians play an important role in the health and safety of patients in hospitals and medical centers. As the professionals who inspect surgical tools, thoroughly clean and sanitize them, and prepare them for distribution during surgery, sterile processing technicians are on the front lines of patient safety. Sterile processing technician training can happen on the job, or students can opt for a certificate program that allows them to sit for certification and move into the profession.

Degree programs for sterile processing technicians

Sterile processing technicians do not need a four-year college degree to enter the field. However, many students choose to earn a certificate through trade schools, vocational schools, colleges and universities, or distance learning. These programs might take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete, and cover numerous topics, including:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Infection control
  • Sterilization
  • Decontamination
  • Processing and distribution of surgical instruments

Certification is available through the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD), and additional certifications are available through the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM). The CBSPD certification is most common, and is recommended for those who want to stand out in a competitive hiring field.

Though a college degree is not required, students who want to move up through the ranks might want to pursue higher education. For instance, those who want to move into the role of surgical technologist -- a position that entails preparation of patients and operating rooms for surgery, checking inventory, providing the proper tools to the surgeon during the operation, and other related tasks -- might want to pursue the associate degree.

Sterile processing technician training

Many sterile processing technicians choose to complete on-the-job training and then earn their certification. For instance, students who have at least one year of experience in a full-time position (or the part-time equivalent) become eligible to sit for the CBSPD examination. The IAHCSMM requires applicants to have at least 400 hours of hands-on experience before applying for the credential. Some certificate programs offer internships and externships in order to help students complete this requirement.

While training on the job, sterile processing technicians can expect to learn and carry out the following core tasks:

  • Disassemble, inspect, and reassemble tools that are typically used in surgical suites
  • Take damaged tools out of surgical rotation and find suitable replacements
  • Operate and maintain steam autoclaves and other disinfecting equipment
  • Use various decontamination techniques for cleaning
  • Prepare tools for distribution to operating rooms

Career outlook for sterile processing technicians

The work of a sterile processing technician is high-volume: a typical hospital uses 15,000 trays of instruments every month, and each of those trays may consist of 50 instruments. That's easily 750,000 instruments that pass through the hands of sterile processing technicians each month in one hospital or medical center, according to Martinson College.

The job outlook for medical equipment preparers is expected to reach 20 percent between 2012 and 2022, while surgical technologist careers are expected to grow by 30 percent, according to the BLS. Much of this growth might be due to the rise of outpatient care centers, health insurance legislation that makes medical care available and affordable for more patients, and the general growth of surgical procedures. In May 2014, medical equipment preparers made a median annual wage of $33,850, and surgical technologists made $45,010.

Though most sterile processing technicians work in hospitals and surgical centers, the highest paying jobs can be found in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing, the Federal executive branch, specialty hospitals (except psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals), home health care services, and skilled nursing facilities.

To get started on this career path, explore sterile processing technician schools and program information.


About the CBSPD, Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution, http://www.sterileprocessing.org/about_cbspd.htm

International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management, http://www.iahcsmm.org/

Medical Equipment Preparers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319093.htm

Medical Equipment Preparers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/data-for-occupations-not-covered-in-detail.htm

Sterile Processing Technician Job Description, Everest College, http://surgicaltech.everestcollege.edu/jobs/sterile-processing-technician

Sterile Processing Technician (SPT) Program, Martinson College of Southern California, http://www.martinsoncollege.com/SPT.html

Surgical Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm#tab-4

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