Sterile Processing Technician Training & Certification

For those who desire a job in medicine but are more comfortable with tools than working directly with patients, becoming a sterile processing technician might be a viable career path. These healthcare professionals prepare and maintain medical tools so that equipment, hospitals, and medical offices are free of contamination.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2015), job openings for sterile processing technicians, also referred to as medical equipment preparers, will swell 14% between 2014 and 2024, double the average growth expected for all occupations during that time (7%). In 2013, the highest paying states for medical equipment preparers were California, Massachusetts, Alaska, Hawaii, and Minnesota.

At this time, only a handful of states require certification to become a sterile processing technician. Still, having a certificate from an accredited sterile processing technician training program can allow a candidate to compete for the highest-paying jobs. 

Read on below about sterile processing technician schools and how to get started in this career on the rise.

Degree & Certification Programs

Most sterile processing technician schools offer a certificate of completion, although an associate degree is sometimes available. Certificate programs range from 28-200 hours of training and may include additional hours of clinical experience. Although licensure is not required in most states, students who want to demonstrate their professional competency can seek a certification. Sterile processing certification exams are offered through the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD) or the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM). 

Here is a sampling of program options for aspiring sterile processing technicians:

Baker College (Certificate) – Baker offers a nine month program at any of their 13 beautiful college campuses in Michigan. This course comprises 34 credit hours in addition to a 400-hour clinical element. Some campuses are more effective than others, with the Allen Park, Clinton, Jackson, and Muskegon program students having a 100% pass rate on the CST national exam. It is a very competitive program that accepts fewer than 20 students per campus, per year.

Central Carolina Technical College (Certificate) – At CCTC, the sterile processing technician program includes both online and in-class elements. This school is also known for its excellent use of technology, and students in this program use simulations and virtual reality in addition to lab experiences, didactic courses, and clinical rotations. The complete program is 28 hours.

Mount Hood Community College (Certificate) – This beautiful campus nestled in the Oregon mountains is a fantastic place to gain the skills of a sterile processing technician. The program is based on the curriculum provided by the IAHCSMM, which means that graduates are eligible to sit for the CRCST exam upon completion. The course requires students to take 60 hours of direct coursework, 30 hours of labs, and 400 hours of hands-on clinical practice.

St. Louis Community College (Certificate) – In this program, students participate in a two-tiered system of instruction where they learn all the skills necessary to be a central sterile processing technician. The first level is completely didactic coursework, comprising 100 hours of the program. The second level includes another 100 hours of coursework in addition to the CRCST-required clinical rounds. This school is known for its high student standards and excellent pass rates on the national exams.

Fayetteville Technical Community College (Certificate) – This highly competitive program accepts 10 students per year and is one of the shortest of its kind at 16 credits. It costs roughly $4,500.

Iowa Western Community College (Certificate) – IWCC also offers a very short program of only 16 credits, with the additional flexibility of being a hybrid program. Students of this sterile processing university can complete the program in one semester through day, night, and online courses. Those who complete this program may be eligible to take the surgical instrument specialist exam through the CBSPD. 

List of Sterile Processing Technician Schools

Filter by state :
SchoolCityStateWebsiteTotal grads (2013)
Miller-Motte College-CaryCaryNorth Carolinahttp://www.miller-motte.edu40
Medical Career InstituteOceanNew Jerseyhttp://www.mcinj.edu38
Fortis Institute-Grand PrairieGrand PrairieTexashttps://www.fortis.edu/ 37
Sanford-Brown College-SkokieSkokieIllinoishttp://www.sanfordbrown.edu/skokie35
Massachusetts Bay Community CollegeWellesley HillsMassachusettshttp://www.massbay.edu28
Minneapolis Community and Technical CollegeMinneapolisMinnesotahttp://www.minneapolis.edu26
Greenville Technical CollegeGreenvilleSouth Carolinahttp://www.gvltec.edu/index.aspx 24
Nevada Career InstituteLas VegasNevadahttp://nevadacareerinstitute.com/ 23
Sanford-Brown College-Houston North LoopHoustonTexashttp://www.sanfordbrown.edu/north-loop 11
Waukesha County Technical CollegePewaukeeWisconsinhttp://www.wctc.edu10
Miller-Motte Technical College-ClarksvilleClarksvilleTennesseehttp://www.miller-motte.edu10
Miami Valley Career Technology CenterClaytonOhiohttp://ae.mvctc.com8
Chippewa Valley Technical CollegeEau ClaireWisconsinhttp://www.cvtc.edu/home.aspx 7
Western Technical CollegeLa CrosseWisconsinhttp://www.westerntc.edu/default.aspx 6
Fortis College-Orange ParkOrange ParkFloridahttps://www.fortis.edu/ 6
East Valley Institute of TechnologyMesaArizonahttp://www.evit.com4
Fayetteville Technical Community CollegeFayettevilleNorth Carolinahttp://www.faytechcc.edu3
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical CollegeMount GayWest Virginiahttp://www.southernwv.edu1
2013 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in January, 2015)

Hybrid & Online programs

As with most healthcare certificate programs, the typical sterile processing program requires students to complete a clinical training component in person. There are, however, hybrid program options for students seeking the convenience and flexibility of online sterile process technician schooling.

Some of the most popular programs include:

Purdue University – Not only is Purdue one of U.S. News and World Report’s “Top 20 Public Schools,” but it is one of the only online sterile processing technician schools. This flexible distance education coursework prepares students to take the IAHCSMM examination and become Certified Registered Central Service Technicians (CRCSTs). Although the IAHCSMM exam does require 400 hours of clinical experience, students have the option to complete that component in their home area.

Western Technical College – WTC offers an almost completely online central service technician certificate. As with many sterile processing technician training programs, however, the clinical element must be completed on-campus. At WTC, students are expected to complete coursework online and the clinical component at one of the local hospitals in the La Cross area. Students who graduate from this rigorous training are eligible to sit for the CBSPD exam.

St. Vincent’s College – This hybrid certificate program is one of the best value programs in this field. At a total cost of only $1,100, this 42-hour training teaches vital skills in anatomy, surgical instrumentation, and decontamination, with many core health classes being offered online. Graduates of the program are also eligible to sit for the CBSPD technician exam.

Trocaire University – The Trocaire sterile processing technician program is hybrid, offering a number of basic health courses online. The fee for this program is only $999, making it one of the lowest-cost, flexible options. Students who complete the training course are eligible to sit for the CBSPD exam. In addition, upon successful completion, candidates may be eligible for licensure in New York state after completing the affiliated application and requirements.

Core & Elective Courses

There are several core and elective classes in sterile processing technician school programs:

  • Medical Terminology – A requirement for all healthcare students, this course provides the basic language for anyone stepping into the medical field. Students will learn the Latin and Greek roots to properly identify body parts and various pathologies.
  • Anatomy and Physiology – Students who take this course will learn the basic organs and functions of the human body, including common ailments and conditions. 
  • Sterilization – In this course, students learn basic duties and procedures for maintaining sterile healthcare tools. Students will learn how to appropriately prepare, wrap, and distribute equipment to minimize contagions and maintain healthy hospitals. They will also learn how to operate sterilization machinery and enforce decontamination standards in a variety of clinical settings.
  • Practicum – Many programs include this in the coursework, providing students with mentor technicians who perform supervised clinical rounds. In this course, students work in surgical situations providing support and maintenance of tools for empirical experience in this profession.
  • Specialty Courses – Courses such as management (e.g., insurance guidelines, customer management strategies, and program direction goals), ambulatory surgery sterile processing, and GI scope training (e.g., how to process flexible endoscopes and GI track surgical sterilization procedures) are offered to students who want to specialize in one of these fields. 

Accreditation

There is no major body that accredits sterile processing technician programs, although it is wise to attend a school that houses a surgical technology program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (ARC/STSA). Since there is an overlap of courses and general knowledge, attending an ARC/STSA-approved program will give you the best chance for success on the national exams.

In addition to choosing a school affiliated with the ARC/STSA, it is wise to verify that your sterile processing technician training program is attached to a regionally accredited university. It may be advisable to find a school accredited with one of the regional bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and online students might be wise to ensure that their distance learning courses are accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

Career Outlook

Sterilization technicians fall under the general umbrella of Medical Equipment Preparers, and are expected to be highly needed over the next decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that the field will grow by 18% by the year 2022, which is faster than normal (BLS, 2012). Students in this area of expertise, as with many other healthcare specialties, will benefit from the aging Baby Boomer population’s need for additional care. By the year 2022, it is expected that 20,300 news jobs will be created to adapt to this growing need (O*NET, 2015).

As of 2012, over 50,000 people were employed as medical equipment preparers. Most of these workers were employed by general medical and surgical hospitals, although the highest wages are found in outpatient care centers, with an average of $36,000 per year. Colleges are also a key area where surgical preparers and sterile processing technicians are employed, and the wages are among the highest in the field – approximately $35,400 per year (BLS, 2012).

Still, the level of pay you can expect as a sterile processing technician depends upon your location and level of experience. Top-paying states include California, Massachusetts, Alaska, and Hawaii, with salaries ranging from $39,780 to $42,720 per year. Professionals with more experience in the healthcare field or as sterilization technicians will be more competitive for these high-paying jobs (BLS, 2013).

Job satisfaction ratings for sterilization technicians is very high, and 32% choose to stay on this career path for five years or more. Often, these jobs come with healthcare packages, and almost a third of employers offer dental coverage as well (Payscale, 2015).

Career FactsSterile Processing Technician
Related CareersSurgical Technologists, Machine Operators, Histologic Technicians, Endoscopy Technicians
Common Job TitlesMedical Equipment Preparers, Central Sterile Supply Technician, Sterile Preparation Technician, Sterilization Technician
Technology & EquipmentChemical Or Gas Sterilizers, Steam Autoclaves Or Sterilizers, Medical Supply Chain Software, Bar Coder Reader Equipment
Sourced from BLS, January 2015

Licensing & Certification

For students who wish to become certified through an organization affiliated with the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), they will need to become acquainted with the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution, Inc. (CBSPD). The CBSPD, formerly known as NICHSPDP, develops and administers a competency-based certification exam to ensure that sterile processing technicians meet “international” standards and protocol.

The CBSPD offers five specialty exams for different tracks of sterile processing technician training. These include exams for general Technician, Management, Ambulatory Surgery, Surgical Instrument, and the GI Scope. Eligibility for each of these exams is uniquely dictated by the specialty. For example, the general Technician exam requires 12 months of on-site sales and service of surgical equipment, while the Management exam requires 24 months of management in a Surgical Processing Department (SPD).

There is another certification body that is recognized by the NCCA – the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM). The requirements for this certification differ from the CBSPD slightly, but both are recognized by many hospitals and surgical centers. The IAHCSMM also provides specialty exams, including the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST), Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS), Certified Healthcare Leader (CHL), and Certified Central Service Vendor Program (CCSVP).

At this time, only New York and New Jersey require certification in order to be licensed as a sterile processing technician, although certification legislation is pending in Pennsylvania. Most hospitals will require some level of certification in order for an applicant to be competitive in the workplace.