Sterile Processing Technician vs. Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy techs might compound, or mix, some medications such as ointments.

Pharmacy techs might compound, or mix, some medications such as ointments.

Health care is your goal, although you might be a little limited in funds for education. Not to worry, you have some options. Two possibilities: become a sterile processing technician or a pharmacy technician. Pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies, retail drug stores, hospitals and grocery stores, where they assist pharmacists. Sterile processing technicians clean, wrap and sterilize instruments, supplies and equipment used in operating rooms and other areas of a hospital or outpatient surgery center.

Pills and Potions

The BLS notes a high school diploma is required for pharmacy techs. Some states require that pharmacy techs complete a formal training program or pass an exam. Formal training programs are commonly offered by community colleges or technical-vocational schools. Programs include math used in pharmacies, relevant records, dispensing methods, pharmacy law, ethics and pharmacology, such as the names, uses, doses and actions of medications. Pharmacy techs who complete a formal training program typically have an internship, in which they learn hands-on skills or learn their duties through on-the-job training. They package and label prescriptions, handle phone calls, take patients' payments for medications and process insurance claims. In hospitals, pharmacy techs might prepare different medications, such as intravenous mixtures, and in some hospitals, they administer medications to patients. Regulations regarding pharmacy techs vary from one state to another.

Keeping it Clean

The minimum educational requirement for a sterile processing tech is a high school diploma, according to Jobs for the Future. Most sterile processing techs complete a training program that lasts two to five months, according to the Jobs for the Future website, and receive a certificate of completion. The job of a sterile processing tech is very hands-on, as they handle a variety of instruments. The tech must know what all the instruments are and how each instrument should be cleaned. No dishpan hands, though -- you'll wear gloves. They must also understand whether an instrument needs maintenance, how the instruments should be packaged or wrapped, how to use sterilizers, and the principles of biologic testing for sterility control.

Many Differences

The projected growth rate for sterile processing techs is 17 percent between 2010 and 2020. The projected growth rate for pharmacy technicians is 32 percent between 2010 and 2020, almost twice as fast as the average for all occupations. Sterile processing techs can become certified. Although not required, certification can make the tech more attractive to potential employers. Certification can be optional or mandatory for pharmacy techs, depending on the state, but employers may prefer to hire certified employees. The duties and knowledge required for these two techs are very different. Sterile processing techs must understand principles of sterile technique, for example, while pharmacy techs must recognize common medications.

Choices, Choices

Neither pharmacy techs nor sterile processing techs require extensive education or experience, as much of their training occurs on the job. Pharmacy techs are less independent in their work than sterile processing techs, as the pharmacist must check everything they do. Pharmacy techs can expect better job opportunities as demand is expected to be higher, but sterile processing techs earn slightly more, according to the BLS. Pharmacy techs have extensive customer contact. Sterile processing techs have a higher risk of injury from sharp instruments and blood-borne diseases.

 

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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