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What does a Sterile Processing Technician do?

British surgeon Sir Joseph Lister, pioneered antiseptic surgery and wound care in the late 1860s; prior to that, contamination from bacteria often led to death. Proper sterilization of medical devices, surgical instruments, supplies and equipment is the very critical job of a sterile processing technician today.

Major job requirements for a sterile processing technician

A sterile processing technician (SP tech)--also called a sterile processor, service-aide, or central service technician--is responsible for sterilizing the tools of the surgical trade (e.g., instrument sets that include scalpels) and making sure the accessories of surgery (e.g., gloves, masks, sheets) are available and sterile. They pack, store, and handle sterile supplies, with a focus on infection control and aseptic techniques.

Techs also clean and maintain very delicate computerized and robotic equipment and see that items are packed and stored to maintain sterilization standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

There are three areas that sterile processing technicians work in: a decontamination area, sterile packing and prepping area, and sterile storage area. Before entering the work area, an SP tech puts on personal protective equipment required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), including a head cover, mask, gloves, goggles, shoe cover and an apron if necessary.

Educational and training requirements to be a sterile processing technician

Training lasting anywhere from weeks to a year or more is available through online courses as well as community colleges and vocational schools. Some programs require an externship or practicum. Certain states require a practical certifying exam administered by an accredited national organization such as the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution. Even if certification is not required, certified technicians are paid more.

What is the job outlook for sterile processing technicians?

There is considerable demand and job security for SP techs. As the number of surgeries increases for the aging population's health needs, and technology advances, employment of SP techs will increase. The majority of jobs are in hospitals, but also in medical clinics, doctors' offices and nursing homes worldwide. There is a great need for skilled technicians internationally to ensure safe delivery of healthcare and to help prevent pandemics where illnesses are transferred due to lack of sterile facilities and tools.

A sterile processing technician may become an operating room technician or a surgical technician because of the foundation sterile processing provides. After two years of a combination of experience and education, a sterile processing technician may become a surgical instrument technician. With additional training, some technicians advance to senior supervisory positions.

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