Sterile Processing Technician Training & Certification
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Becoming a sterile processing technician might be a viable career path for those who desire a medical job but are more comfortable with tools than working directly with patients. 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 2022), job openings for sterile processing technicians, also referred to as medical equipment preparers, should grow 6 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is slightly faster than the average growth expected for all occupations during that time (5 percent). In May 2021, the highest-paying states for medical equipment preparers were California, the District of Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.
Currently, 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
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 healthcare 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 HSPA (Healthcare Sterile Processing Association). Graduates can 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: $10,200
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 other programs featured, the MHCC program is a broader surgical technician program offering 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 various 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: $12,807.50
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 at 17 credits. The FTCC program follows the standards of the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). It 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 can take up opportunities at central processing units in hospitals, surgery centers, and dialysis facilities.
Through this program, students will develop the knowledge and skills required for properly disinfecting, preparing, processing, storing, and issuing 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); out-of-state ($268 per credit)
Pima Medical Institute (Certificate)
Pima Medical Institute offers a sterile processing technician certificate program providing students with knowledge of microbiology, surgical instruments, surgical terminology, medical equipment, storage and distribution, and the skills required for decontamination and sterilization.
Graduates receive a certificate and can apply for and take the Certified Registered Central Service Technician examination through the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management. They can take up positions in various environments, such as hospitals, intensive care units, emergency rooms, labor & delivery units, dental/eye care practices, operating rooms, plastic surgery offices, laboratories, and surgery centers.
This 35.5-credit program includes courses such as principles and practices of sterile processing; surgical instruments; microbiology and infection control; sterilization procedures and practice; surgical terminology; decontamination procedures and practice; medical equipment; and storage and distribution. The curriculum also includes an externship.
- Location: Phoenix, AZ; Denver, CO
- Accreditation: Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- Expected Time to Completion: Nine months
- Estimated Tuition: $16,353
List of Sterile Processing Technician Schools
|Contra Costa Medical Career College||Antioch||California||www.ccmcc.edu||81|
|Berkeley College-Woodland Park||Woodland Park||New Jersey||www.berkeleycollege.edu||76|
|Anoka Technical College||Anoka||Minnesota||www.anokatech.edu||50|
|Premiere Career College||Irwindale||California||www.premierecollege.edu||49|
|Fortis College-Grand Prairie||Grand Prairie||Texas||www.fortis.edu||41|
|Massachusetts Bay Community College||Wellesley Hills||Massachusetts||www.massbay.edu||40|
|Central New Mexico Community College||Albuquerque||New Mexico||www.cnm.edu||38|
|Pima Medical Institute-Phoenix||Phoenix||Arizona||www.pmi.edu||36|
|College of DuPage||Glen Ellyn||Illinois||www.cod.edu||33|
|Iowa Western Community College||Council Bluffs||Iowa||www.iwcc.edu||29|
|Washtenaw Community College||Ann Arbor||Michigan||www.wccnet.edu||29|
|Medical Career Institute||Ocean||New Jersey||www.mcinj.edu||27|
|Glendale Career College||Glendale||California||www.success.edu||26|
|Clover Park Technical College||Lakewood||Washington||www.cptc.edu||23|
|Pima Medical Institute-Albuquerque West||Albuquerque||New Mexico||www.pmi.edu||19|
|Greenville Technical College||Greenville||South Carolina||www.gvltec.edu||18|
|Onondaga Cortland Madison BOCES||Liverpool||New York||ocmboces.org||18|
|Southeast Technical Institute||Sioux Falls||South Dakota||www.southeasttech.edu||18|
|Nashville State Community College||Nashville||Tennessee||www.nscc.edu||17|
|Fortis College-Orange Park||Orange Park||Florida||fortis.edu||16|
|Lincoln Land Community College||Springfield||Illinois||www.llcc.edu||15|
|Stark State College||North Canton||Ohio||www.starkstate.edu||15|
|Pima Medical Institute-Denver||Denver||Colorado||pmi.edu||14|
|Sinclair Community College||Dayton||Ohio||www.sinclair.edu||14|
|Seattle Central College||Seattle||Washington||www.seattlecentral.edu||14|
|Minneapolis Community and Technical College||Minneapolis||Minnesota||www.minneapolis.edu||13|
|East Valley Institute of Technology||Mesa||Arizona||www.evit.com||12|
|Waukesha County Technical College||Pewaukee||Wisconsin||www.wctc.edu||10|
|Davidson County Community College||Thomasville||North Carolina||www.davidsonccc.edu||8|
|Ivy Tech Community College||Indianapolis||Indiana||www.ivytech.edu||8|
|Rogue Community College||Grants Pass||Oregon||www.roguecc.edu||8|
|Southern University at Shreveport||Shreveport||Louisiana||www.susla.edu||8|
|Saint Paul College||Saint Paul||Minnesota||www.saintpaul.edu||7|
|Western Technical College||La Crosse||Wisconsin||www.westerntc.edu||7|
|Renton Technical College||Renton||Washington||www.rtc.edu||7|
|Columbia Basin College||Pasco||Washington||www.columbiabasin.edu||7|
|Aims Community College||Greeley||Colorado||www.aims.edu||7|
|Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College||Asheville||North Carolina||www.abtech.edu||6|
|Chippewa Valley Technical College||Eau Claire||Wisconsin||www.cvtc.edu||6|
|Fayetteville Technical Community College||Fayetteville||North Carolina||www.faytechcc.edu||5|
|Milwaukee Area Technical College||Milwaukee||Wisconsin||matc.edu||4|
|Miami Valley Career Technology Center||Englewood||Ohio||www.mvctc.com/ae||3|
|Mid-State Technical College||Wisconsin Rapids||Wisconsin||www.mstc.edu||3|
|Bellingham Technical College||Bellingham||Washington||www.btc.edu||1|
|Laramie County Community College||Cheyenne||Wyoming||www.lccc.wy.edu||1|
|Metro Technology Centers||Oklahoma City||Oklahoma||www.metrotech.edu||1|
|Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College||Mount Gay||West Virginia||www.southernwv.edu||1|
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:
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 HSPA examination and become Certified Registered Central Service Technicians (CRCSTs). Although the HSPA exam requires 400 hours of clinical experience, students can complete that component in their home area.
Using the HSPA 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 (HLC)
- Expected Time to Completion: Varies
- Estimated Tuition: $388
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 completing 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 (HLC)
- Expected Time to Completion: Certificate (12 months); associate degree (24 months)
- Estimated Tuition: In-state ($189.60 per credit); out-of-state ($318.60 per credit)
|Martinsburg College||Martinsburg||West Virginia||www.martinsburgcollege.edu||64|
|Stark State College||North Canton||Ohio||www.starkstate.edu||15|
|Eastern Gateway Community College||Steubenville||Ohio||www.egcc.edu||2|
Core & Elective Courses for Sterile Processing Techs
Many core and elective classes 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 entering 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: Students learn basic duties and procedures for maintaining sterile healthcare tools in this course. Students will learn 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 various 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, verifying that a sterile processing technician training program is attached to a regionally accredited university is wise. It’s advisable to find a school accredited by 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.
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 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, slightly faster than the average for all occupations (BLS 2022). As with many other healthcare specialties, students in this area of expertise will benefit from the aging Baby Boomer population’s need for additional care. By the year 2031, it is expected that 3,700 new jobs will be created to adapt to this growing need.
In May 2021, nearly 61,170 people were employed as medical equipment preparers. Most of these workers were employed by general medical and surgical hospitals. However, the highest wages are found in positions of professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers, with an average of $53,800 per year. Specialty hospitals are also key areas where surgical preparers and sterile processing technicians are employed, and the wages are among the highest in the field—approximately $48,040 per year (BLS May 2021).
Still, the level of pay program graduates can expect as a sterile processing technician depends upon the job’s location and the applicant’s level of experience. Top-paying states include California, the District of Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, with salaries ranging from $49,360 to $55,930 annually. Professionals with more experience in the healthcare field or as sterilization technicians will be more competitive for these high-paying jobs (BLS May 2021).
|Career Facts||Medical Equipment Preparers|
|Related Careers||Surgical Technologists, Machine Operators, Histologic Technicians, Endoscopy Technicians|
|Common Job Titles||Medical Equipment Preparers, Central Sterile Supply Technician, Sterile Preparation Technician, Sterilization Technician|
|Technology & Equipment||Chemical Or Gas Sterilizers, Steam Autoclaves Or Sterilizers, Medical Supply Chain Software, Bar Coder Reader Equipment|
|Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021)|
Licensing & Certification for Sterile Processing Techs
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:
- GI Scope
- Ambulatory Surgery Technician, and
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 HSPA also provides specialty exams, including
- Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST)
- Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS)
- Certified Healthcare Leader (CHL)
- Certified Central Service Vendor Program (CCSVP)
At this time, only New York and New Jersey require certification to be licensed as 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.