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 2017), job openings for sterile processing technicians, also referred to as medical equipment preparers, should grow 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, faster than the average growth expected for all occupations during that time (7 percent). In 2013, the highest paying states for medical equipment preparers were Nevada, California, Hawaii, Alaska, and Massachusetts.

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 as few as 28 hours to as many as 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 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). 

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

  • Contra Costa Medical Career College (Certificate) – At Contra Costa Medical Career College in Antioch, California students can earn a technical certificate in sterile processing. The program includes classroom instruction, 200 hours of training in the CCMCC fully functional simulated lab and between 200 and 400 hours of experience in an externship envieonment, to be assigned by the college.

  • Mount Hood Community College (Certificate) – Mount Hood Community College (MHCC) boasts a beautiful campus nestled in the Oregon mountains that is a fantastic place to gain the skills of a sterile processing technician. Unlike some of the other programs featured, the MHCC program is a broader surgical technician program that offers specific training in sterile processing. Graduates of this program, which takes two years to complete, will be prepared for a range of healthcare positions. This 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.

  • Fayetteville Technical Community College (Certificate) – Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC), located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, offers a highly competitive program that accepts just 10 students per year and is one of the shortest of its kind at 16 credits. The FTCC program follows the standards of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and prepares graduates to sit for the National Certification Exam from the Certification Board of Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD).

  • Iowa Western Community College (Certificate) – Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa 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 :
School City State Website Total grads (2013)
Miller-Motte College-Cary Cary North Carolina http://www.miller-motte.edu 40
Medical Career Institute Ocean New Jersey http://www.mcinj.edu 38
Fortis Institute-Grand Prairie Grand Prairie Texas https://www.fortis.edu/ 37
Sanford-Brown College-Skokie Skokie Illinois http://www.sanfordbrown.edu/skokie 35
Massachusetts Bay Community College Wellesley Hills Massachusetts http://www.massbay.edu 28
Minneapolis Community and Technical College Minneapolis Minnesota http://www.minneapolis.edu 26
Greenville Technical College Greenville South Carolina http://www.gvltec.edu/index.aspx 24
Nevada Career Institute Las Vegas Nevada http://nevadacareerinstitute.com/ 23
Sanford-Brown College-Houston North Loop Houston Texas http://www.sanfordbrown.edu/north-loop 11
Waukesha County Technical College Pewaukee Wisconsin http://www.wctc.edu 10
Miller-Motte Technical College-Clarksville Clarksville Tennessee http://www.miller-motte.edu 10
Miami Valley Career Technology Center Clayton Ohio http://ae.mvctc.com 8
Chippewa Valley Technical College Eau Claire Wisconsin http://www.cvtc.edu/home.aspx 7
Western Technical College La Crosse Wisconsin http://www.westerntc.edu/default.aspx 6
Fortis College-Orange Park Orange Park Florida https://www.fortis.edu/ 6
East Valley Institute of Technology Mesa Arizona http://www.evit.com 4
Fayetteville Technical Community College Fayetteville North Carolina http://www.faytechcc.edu 3
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College Mount Gay West Virginia http://www.southernwv.edu 1
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 online or hybrid programs include:

  • Purdue University – Not only is Purdue one of U.S. News and World Report’s “Top 20 Public Schools,” but it also offers one of the only online sterile processing technician programs. 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 – 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, Wisconsin area. Students who graduate from this rigorous training are eligible to sit for the CBSPD exam.

  • St. Vincent’s College at Sacred Heart University – The hybrid certificate program at St. Vincent’s College at Sacred Heart University is one of the best value programs in this field. At a total cost of only $1,600, this 60-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 $1,250, 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 that are common across sterile processing technician school programs. Although course titles may differ, the following subjects are likely to be covered in any curriculum:

  • 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 a practicum 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 graduates 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 a 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). Online students would be wise to ensure that their distance learning courses are accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). A program's accreditation status can impact graduates' eligibility to sit for certification exams and therefore is worth investigating prior to enrollment.

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 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations (BLS 2017). 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 2026, it is expected that 6,000 new jobs will be created to adapt to this growing need.

As of 2018, nearly 55,000 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 positions of management of companies and enterprises, with an average of $46,950 per year. Specialty hospitals 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 $41,010 per year (BLS 2017).

Still, the level of pay program graduates can expect as a sterile processing technician depends upon the location of the job and level of experience of the applicant. Top-paying states include Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Alaska, and Hawaii, with salaries ranging from $44,350 to $48,210 per year. Professionals with more experience in the healthcare field or as sterilization technicians will be more competitive for these high-paying jobs (BLS 2017).

Job satisfaction ratings for sterilization technicians is high, and 22 percent choose to stay on this career path for five years or more. Often, these jobs come with healthcare packages, and almost half of employers offer dental coverage as well (Payscale 2018).

Career Facts Sterile 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, June 2018

Licensing & Certification

Students who wish to become certified through an organization affiliated with the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) 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:

  • Technician
  • Surgical Instrument Specialist
  • Flexible Endoscope Reprocessor
  • Ambulatory Surgery Technician, and
  • Management

Eligibility for each of these exams is uniquely dictated by the specialty. For example, the 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).

The other certification body that is recognized by the NCCA is 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

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.