Is becoming a sterile processing technician right for me?

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What do sterile processing technicians do?

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How to become a Sterile Processing Technician

Sterile processing technician programs are offered by technical colleges or institutes. Certificate programs, typically lasting between four and eight months, are the most common training path. However, two-year associate degree programs, which incorporate some general education classes, may be available.

While there is no major body that accredits sterile processing technician programs, students are advised to choose a school whose curriculum is 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).

Training in these programs combines in-class lectures with a clinical practicum / internship in a hospital laboratory or outpatient setting. The core curriculum covers:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Surgical instruments and storage
  • Microbiology and infection control
  • Sterilization procedures and practices
  • Decontamination procedures and practices
  • Surgical tray assembly procedures
  • Medical equipment
  • Surgical terminology
  • Distribution and inventory control
  • Safety and risk control

Only a handful of US states require certification in order to be licensed as a sterile processing technician. Most hospitals, though, seek out job candidates with some level of certification. Certifications offered by the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) are recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA). The IAHCSMM administers these specialty exams:

  • Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) – the introductory certification open to sterile processing professionals who have completed 400 hours of hands-on experience
  • Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS) – a secondary certification for surgical instrumentation
  • Certified Endoscope Reprocessor (CER) – a core certification for the pre-cleaning, testing, decontamination, inspection, sterilization, transportation, and storage of endoscopes (a flexible tube with a light and a camera attached to it, used by doctors to view the digestive track on a monitor)
  • Certified Healthcare Leader (CHL) – a secondary certification for sterile processing management
  • Certified Central Service Vendor Program (CCSVP) – a certification exclusively for sterile processing suppliers