How to Become a Sterile Processing Technician

HealthcareDecember 27, 2023

Market insight company Research and Markets made an interesting projection in 2022. It forecast that medical professionals would perform more than 108 million surgical procedures in 2023. Many of those surgeries used instruments that are then used again in other surgeries.

Without sterilization measures, tools reused in surgeries and other medical procedures could pose a host of dangers to patients and healthcare professionals alike. Sterile processing technicians use sterilization, or the most advanced form of disinfection, as part of their work to ensure reused equipment doesn’t carry microorganisms that could be hazardous.

Sterile processing technician training programs educate students about the critical processes that keep medical instruments contaminant-free. Completing this type of training is one of the key steps in becoming a sterile processing technician — and in protecting patients and medical professionals from health and financial risks.

What Does a Sterile Processing Technician Do?

Sterile processing technicians perform sterilization and other tasks to prepare medical and laboratory equipment before each use. They may use any of a variety of machines and processes — from autoclaves, which administer pressurized steam, to dry heat cabinets and beyond. 

The work of sterile processing technicians helps safeguard patients against infection, illness, or even death. Sterile processing technicians also play an important role in helping healthcare providers meet safety regulations and reduce legal risks. 

Sterile Processing Technician Job Responsibilities

Working in settings that have medical equipment — such as hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices — sterile processing technicians typically have responsibilities that include:

  • Using equipment to sterilize instruments and other materials employed by medical professionals in surgeries and other procedures
  • Providing sterilized supplies and equipment to healthcare professionals for medical procedures
  • Sterilizing and organizing materials on instrument trays during surgeries and other procedures
  • Collecting and cleaning instruments and equipment for sterilizing after use
  • Removing and disposing of medical waste
  • Inspecting instruments for cleanliness
  • Keeping records of practices, equipment, and supplies used in sterilization
  • Reporting issues with sterilization equipment to supervisors or physicians
  • Ordering relevant medical supplies and replacing them as needed

Steps to Become a Sterile Processing Technician

Becoming a sterile processing technician starts with specialized training and education. Following are the four main steps to pursue the career.

Step 1: Complete Training

After earning a high school diploma, aspiring sterile processing technicians typically complete a focused training program. Sterile processing technician programs teach methods for cleaning and sterilizing instruments and build students’ knowledge in microbiology and infection control processes. 

Step 2: Develop Skills

In addition to knowledge about sterilization techniques — and how to implement them — sterile processing technicians rely on various skills that help them succeed. The following are important skills for sterile processing technicians to develop.

  • Attention to detail. To implement sterilization procedures, sterile processing technicians must pay close attention to ensure they carry out each step in the process.
  • Collaboration. In their work supporting surgical teams and other medical staff during surgeries and other procedures, sterile processing technicians must effectively partner with those professionals to keep processes running safely and smoothly.
  • Communication. As professionals whose responsibilities focus on preparing equipment for use, sterile processing technicians typically must reach out to suppliers and equipment repair companies as needed, keeping other medical staff abreast of their efforts.
  • Critical thinking. Because emergencies can arise during the healthcare procedures they support, sterile processing technicians must be adept at adjusting their work to accommodate changing circumstances.
  • Life-saving procedures. As employees of healthcare facilities, sterile processing technicians typically must know how to administer CPR and basic life support (BLS).

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Work experience can help sterile processing technicians build their knowledge and skills, and it’s a common requirement for professional certification. In addition to on-the-job opportunities, field experience through sterile processing technician programs can be a great way for students to gain real-world exposure as they strengthen the skills they have learned in the classroom. 

Step 4: Earn Certification

While not all jobs in the field require it, earning a sterile processing technician certification can provide an advantage during job searches. Even when pursuing a role for which it is not a requirement, certification shows employers a candidate has met a certifying body’s criteria for experience and knowledge.

While there are a variety of certifications, which focus on different experience levels and skills, common options for introductory-level certification are through the following organizations.

  • Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA) — The Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) designation requires professionals to have 400 hours of workplace experience and pass an exam.
  • Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD) — To earn the Certified Sterile Processing and Distribution Technician (CSPDT) title, applicants can show knowledge and experience through several options — including six or 12 months of on-the-job experience — and passing an exam.

There is a fee for certification exams, and the credential generally is valid for five years.

Job Outlook for Sterile Processing Technician

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects medical equipment preparers — including sterile processing technicians — to have robust job growth for at least the next decade. The BLS expects the healthcare sector will grow much faster than the rate for the nation’s job market as a whole during that time period.

About 9,500 new medical equipment preparer roles will be available each year from 2023 to 2033, representing job growth of between 5% and 8%, according to BLS projections. One likely reason for this outlook is that about 80% of these professionals work in medical and surgical hospitals. A 2022 report from Research and Markets projected that by 2027, the number of surgical procedures performed in the United States would grow to more than 127 million. 

In the Houston area, the healthcare sector already is experiencing significant growth.

A 2023 report issued by Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston notes that the region boasts more than 376,000 healthcare workers. The BLS reports that the area added 23,300 jobs in the healthcare and social assistance sector between October 2022 and October 2023.

Take a Step Toward Becoming a Sterile Processing Technician in Texas

Sterile processing technicians play a critical role in protecting medical patients and the healthcare providers who assist them. And with a large — and growing — healthcare industry, the Houston area is a great place to pursue this important career.

If you’re interested in preparing for a sterile processing technician role in Houston, take a key step by exploring the Fortis Sterile Processing Technician School.

Offered on the North Houston and South Houston campuses in Texas, the program provides classroom instruction, hands-on training, and real-world experience. Students can gain the knowledge and skills to begin their sterile processing technician career, working toward roles like those offered at Harris Health System, Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann, Texas Children’s Hospital, and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Discover how the Fortis Sterile Processing Technician School can help you pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Readings
Five Tips to Help Juggle School, Work, and Family
The Role of a Sterile Processing Technician
Signs You Need a Career Change

Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution, SPD Technician Certification Exam CSPDT
GerMedUSA, “A Comprehensive Guide on Cleaning Surgical Instruments” 
Healthcare Sterile Processing Association, Certification Overview
Healthline, “The Difference Between Disinfecting and Sterilizing”
Indeed Career Guide, “How to Become a Sterile Processing Technician”
Memorial Hermann Health System, “Insights, Outlook on Healthcare in Houston”
O*Net OnLine, Healthcare and Social Assistance
O*NET OnLine, Medical Equipment Preparers 
Research and  Markets, U.S. Surgical Procedures Market by Type — Forecast to 2028
The Joint Commission, “Ensuring Critical Instruments and Devices Are Appropriate for Use”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare Occupations
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Houston Area Employment — October 2023
ZipRecruiter, “What Is a Sterile Processing Technician and How to Become One”