Scrubbing up before a surgery or procedure, the doctor takes great care to assure her hands and arms are as clean and sterile as possible. The same care goes to the equipment and tools used by doctors to perform surgery and procedures. Sterile processing technicians oversee the sterilization and cleaning of medical equipment and tools. As of 2012, women made up 69 percent of all sterile processing technicians, also known as medical equipment preparers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Schooling and Credentials
The minimum education needed for sterile processing techs is a high school diploma, but many employers look for candidates with a certificate program in sterile processing from a community college, vocational school or technical college. For candidates without formal training, some employers offer on-the-job training. Not required by every employer, certification in sterile processing gives you a leg up against other job applicants. Certification comes from a variety of industry groups, like the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution, and generally requires meeting education and experience requirements and passing a certification test.
Skills You’ll Need
Along with schooling, you’ll need a number of skills to be successful as a sterile processing tech. Techs must be able to be on their feet all day and work well with their hands, handling tools and equipment, some of which may be extremely fragile. You should be familiar with and able to perform a variety of sterilization techniques, including steam, dry heat and liquid chemical sterilization, to get the tools and equipment ready for the next procedure. Other skills include taking instruction well, working in a team setting and being self-motivated.
While many materials used during surgery simply get thrown away, others are too expensive and must be reused several times. After a surgery, you’ll collect used equipment and tools and bring them to that hospital’s sterile processing department for sorting and decontamination. As a sterile processing tech, you prep and pack the decontaminated tools for sterilization. Before a surgery, following a doctor’s instructions, you’ll put together all the necessary equipment and tools for the procedure. Other daily duties include taking inventory, rotating stock to keep items that can spoil from going bad before they are used and ordering new materials as needed.
As a sterile processing technician, you’ll typically work in a hospital, medical center, doctor’s office or outpatient surgery center. You can also opt to work in a dental practice or even in a veterinarian office. Working in a medical setting, you’ll always run the risk of coming into contact with hazardous materials, as well as being exposed to sickness. Most techs are hourly employees who work shifts similar to nurses. Some employers require a tech to be on-call and able to come into work at all hours, including nights and weekends.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: 2012 Household Data Annual Averages
- Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution: Technician Exam
- Contra Costa Medical Career College: Sterile Processing Technician
- Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium: Sterile Processing Technician
- Memorial Care Health System: SPD Technician I
- Jochen Sand/Digital Vision/Getty Images