Central Sterile Processing
Central Sterile Processing
Many healthcare workers are considered essential, but few are as fundamentally important as sterile processing technicians. Without them, hospitals would not be able to function. Patients would not receive necessary surgeries. And many more people would lose their lives from preventable infection or untreated medical conditions. Their work impacts nearly every department within modern hospitals and surgical centers. You’d be hard-pressed to discover workers who make more of a critical difference at such a basic level.
You’re already thinking about joining this crucial field—now you just need to know a bit more about it. Here are some of the most common topics and frequently asked questions regarding sterile processing, and the detailed information you need.
A sterile processing technician is someone who cleans and sterilizes used surgical instruments and other medical supplies so that they can be safely redistributed and reused on additional patients. This work is usually centralized in a special department of the medical facility.
A typical hospital uses (and reuses) tens of thousands of medical instruments every month. Although some supplies are disposable, many are not. The reusable supplies come with their own special instructions for proper cleaning and maintenance.
Sterile processing is the act of carrying out a specific set of procedures in order to decontaminate and sterilize used medical instruments so that they can be placed back into appropriate sets and safely reused on new patients.
You will take classes that prepare you to:
- Identifying surgical instruments
- Decontamination tools and processes
- Low- and high-temperature sterilization methods
- Point-of-use processing
- Assembling surgical instrument trays
- Inventory management
- Safety protocols
- Tracking systems
- Quality assurance
- Regulations and standards
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of the central sterile processing technician is expected to grow 14 percent nationally, much faster than the average, through 2024.* Employment opportunities for central sterile processing technicians are expected to be excellent due to increased needs within the healthcare industry and a larger and older population.
A sterile processing technician salary depends greatly on geographic location and level of experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups sterile processing technicians in with other “medical equipment preparers.” Based on national estimates from May 2015, the median annual wage for medical equipment preparers was $33,330.* This means that half earned more than that amount, and half earned less. The typical sterile processing tech salary likely falls close to this median.
Generally speaking, starting pay for sterile processing technicians tends to be around $11 to $16 per hour and can go as high as about $24 per hour with experience. Of course, this all depends on your employer and work location.
Most full-time sterile processing techs also receive full benefits like paid vacation and health insurance.
Technicians primarily work for one of two types of employers:
- Hospitals (where most sterile processing techs work)
- Outpatient surgical centers
- The most common work environment is a department located in an out-of-the-way area of a medical facility. The department is usually called something like sterile processing and distribution (SPD), central service, central processing, or central supply.
Sterile processing is an entry-level healthcare position. As such, there is the opportunity to grow into more advanced positions by obtaining additional formal training and relevant credentials.
Within central service departments, technicians who have the right credentials sometimes advance into supervisory positions such as lead tech or department manager.
Job titles in this occupation can also include variations such as:
- Central processing technician (CPT)
- Central sterile processing technician
- Sterile processing and distribution technician (SPD tech or CPD tech)
- Central service technician (CST)
- Central sterile supply technician (CSS tech)
- Surgical processing technician
Beyond the central service department, some technicians go on to train for careers as surgical technologists. Sterile processing provides an excellent gateway to surgical technology because of the routine handling of all the many different types of surgical instruments.