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 2021), job openings for sterile processing technicians, also referred to as medical equipment preparers should grow 7 percent between 2020 and 2030, as fast as the average growth expected for all occupations during that time (8 percent). In May 2020, the top-paying states for medical equipment preparers were California, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and New York.

At this time, only a handful of states require certification to become sterile processing technicians. 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 for Sterile Processing Techs

Penn Foster

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 Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA).

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, 214 hours of training in the CCMCC fully functional simulated lab, and between 200 and 400 hours of experience in an externship environment, to be assigned by the college.

This certificate will provide students with the knowledge of current techniques, trends, and regulations enabling them to function with nationally based competencies in health care sterile supply processing and distribution areas.

After completing this certificate, graduates will be ready to take the certification for distribution technician and healthcare sterile processing exams as well as the exam offered through IAHCSMM. Graduates will be able to take up opportunities at hospitals or surgery centers, outpatient surgery clinics, veterinary hospitals, and dental surgery clinics.

  • Location: Antioch, California
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Council of Continuing Education & Training (ACCET)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One year or less
  • Estimated Tuition: $10,150

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.

This sterile processing technician course provides instruction for those who wish to function in entry-level positions in sterile processing and central service departments of healthcare facilities.

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.

  • Location: Gresham, Oregon
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP); Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $12,603.25

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 17 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).

As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as introduction to computers; applied communications; introduction to sterile processing; STP clinical practice; career assessment; and prof success prep. Graduates will be able to take up opportunities at central processing units in hospitals, surgery centers, and dialysis facilities.

Students through this program will develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for properly disinfecting, preparing, processing, storing, issuing both sterile and non-sterile supplies, instrumentation, and equipment for patient care.

  • Location: Fayetteville, North Carolina
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One semester
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($76 per credit-hour); out of state ($268 per credit-hour)

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 the day, night, and online courses. Those who complete this program may be eligible to take the surgical instrument specialist exam through the CBSPD.

Students in this program will learn about the proper techniques to sterilize and clean medical instruments and to understand infection control methods and microbiology. They will also learn the proper categories and names of medical instruments and how to properly store and transfer instruments for keeping them contaminant-free.

  • Location: Council Bluffs, Iowa
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One semester
  • Estimated Tuition: $755

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List of Sterile Processing Technician Schools

Filter by state :
School City State Website grads (2018)
Contra Costa Medical Career College Antioch California 81
Berkeley College-Woodland Park Woodland Park New Jersey 76
Fortis College-Houston Houston Texas 59
Anoka Technical College Anoka Minnesota 50
Premiere Career College Irwindale California 49
Fortis College-Grand Prairie Grand Prairie Texas 41
Massachusetts Bay Community College Wellesley Hills Massachusetts 40
Central New Mexico Community College Albuquerque New Mexico 38
Pima Medical Institute-Phoenix Phoenix Arizona 36
College of DuPage Glen Ellyn Illinois 33
Fortis Institute-Houston Houston Texas 30
Iowa Western Community College Council Bluffs Iowa 29
Washtenaw Community College Ann Arbor Michigan 29
Medical Career Institute Ocean New Jersey 27
Glendale Career College Glendale California 26
Clover Park Technical College Lakewood Washington 23
Pima Medical Institute-Albuquerque West Albuquerque New Mexico 19
Greenville Technical College Greenville South Carolina 18
Onondaga Cortland Madison BOCES Liverpool New York 18
Southeast Technical Institute Sioux Falls South Dakota 18
Nashville State Community College Nashville Tennessee 17
Fortis College-Orange Park Orange Park Florida 16
Baker College Flint Michigan 15
Lincoln Land Community College Springfield Illinois 15
Stark State College North Canton Ohio 15
Stautzenberger College-Brecksville Brecksville Ohio 15
Pima Medical Institute-Denver Denver Colorado 14
Seattle Central College Seattle Washington 14
Sinclair Community College Dayton Ohio 14
Minneapolis Community and Technical College Minneapolis Minnesota 13
East Valley Institute of Technology Mesa Arizona 12
Waukesha County Technical College Pewaukee Wisconsin 10
Davidson County Community College Thomasville North Carolina 8
Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis Indiana 8
Rogue Community College Grants Pass Oregon 8
Southern University at Shreveport Shreveport Louisiana 8
Aims Community College Greeley Colorado 7
Columbia Basin College Pasco Washington 7
Fortis Institute-Baltimore Baltimore Maryland 7
Renton Technical College Renton Washington 7
Saint Paul College Saint Paul Minnesota 7
Western Technical College La Crosse Wisconsin 7
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College Asheville North Carolina 6
Chippewa Valley Technical College Eau Claire Wisconsin 6
Fortis College-Richmond Richmond Virginia 6
Fayetteville Technical Community College Fayetteville North Carolina 5
Milwaukee Area Technical College Milwaukee Wisconsin 4
Miami Valley Career Technology Center Englewood Ohio 3
Mid-State Technical College Wisconsin Rapids Wisconsin 3
Bellingham Technical College Bellingham Washington 1
Laramie County Community College Cheyenne Wyoming 1
Metro Technology Centers Oklahoma City Oklahoma 1
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College Mount Gay West Virginia 1
2017-2018 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in November, 2019)

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 few 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.

Using the IAHCSMM Central Service Technical Manual, students will study topics such as medical terminology; disinfection; sterile packaging and storage; management of patient care equipment; low-temperature sterilization; high-temperature sterilization; and surgical instrumentation among others.

  • Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Varies
  • Estimated Tuition: $370

Stark State College

Stark State College offers an online full-time certificate and an associate of technical studies in medical instrument sterilization technician. The program trains students in the processing, cleaning, distributing, packaging, storing, and controlling of sterile goods, surgical trays, medical equipment, and instruments. Both programs include the same technical classes.

The certificate requires the successful completion of 32 credits, while the associate degree requires 62 to 63 credits. The curriculum includes courses such as medical instrument sterilization; introduction to anatomy and physiology; introduction to surgical terminology; and medical terminology among others.

The college also offers a 16-credit career enhancement certificate in medical instrument sterilization technician which is ideal for those with one year of working experience in the field.

  • Location: North Canton, Ohio
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (12 months); associate degree (24 months)
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($184.60 per credit); out-of-state ($313.60 per credit)
School City State Website grads (2018)
Martinsburg College Martinsburg West Virginia 64
Stark State College North Canton Ohio 15
Eastern Gateway Community College Steubenville Ohio 2
2017-2018 School Data from IPEDS (Sourced in November, 2019)

Core & Elective Courses for Sterile Processing Techs

There are many 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 of Sterile Processing Technician Programs

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 can 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’s advisable to find a school accredited with one of the regional bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Also, 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 before 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 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is as fast as the average for all occupations (BLS 2021). 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 2030, it is expected that 3,900 new jobs will be created to adapt to this growing need.

As of May 2020, nearly 56,870 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, scientific, and technical consulting services, with an average of $50,710 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 $44,280 per year (BLS May 2020).

Still, the level of pay program graduates can expect as a sterile processing technician depends upon the location of the job and the level of experience of the applicant. Top-paying states include California, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and New York, with salaries ranging from $46,180 to $53,780 per year. Professionals with more experience in the healthcare field or as sterilization technicians will be more competitive for these high-paying jobs (BLS May 2020).

Projections Central (2021) found that openings for medical equipment preparers are expected to increase at the same rate (8 percent).

According to the data from CareerOneStop (2021)—a partner of the US Department of Labor—the field of medical equipment preparers in the US is also predicted to increase 8 percent between 2020 and 2030.

Career Facts Medical Equipment Preparers
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
Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021)

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 four specialty exams for different tracks of sterile processing technician training:

  • Technician
  • GI Scope
  • 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 Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA). 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 technicians, although certification legislation is pending in Pennsylvania. Most hospitals will require some level of certification for an applicant to be competitive in the workplace.

Farheen Gani
Farheen Gani Writer

Farheen Gani is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).