As surgeries and medical procedures become safer and more widespread, the number of medical instruments and devices that must be sterilized, cataloged and cared for has gone up exponentially. The sterile processing certification is the backbone of these departments in hospitals and other medical facilities, helping to indirectly ensure patients are safe during procedures and examinations by carefully sterilizing each piece of equipment before it is used. In fact, the sterile processing department is often referred to as the “heart of the hospital.”
Sterile Processing Technicians work anywhere surgical or medical procedures are completed. More than two-thirds of all sterile processing technicians work in hospitals, where teams are on-duty 24 hours a day to decontaminate, sterilize, and store tools and equipment before they’re ready for the next use. Technicians also work in doctor’s offices, dental clinics and outpatient facilities, preparing equipment for procedures like pap smears and skin growth removal.
A sterile processing technician must have an eye for detail and extreme precision to disassemble, clean, sterilize and reassemble each clinical instrument and piece of medical equipment, taking note of any scratches or other damage that could affect the effectiveness or safety of an item when it is used in a patient’s body. They also must take inventory, put together instrument trays, and order and distribute supplies. They must also keep a close watch on expiration dates so they can discard and replace items before they’re no longer effective, and be alert and quick to respond when a contaminated item is discovered.
Though it can be stressful, the sterile processing technician’s job is very important and can be rewarding as well. However, if you’re not treated with the respect and value that your skills and experience deserve, it may be time to seek a new employer or department.
There are a number of ways to become a sterile processing technician, including enrolling in a sterile processing program, earning a diploma from an accredited vocational school, or getting on-the-job training. Sterile processing programs typically provide students with a high-level overview of infection control best practices and the basics of sterilization techniques, before teaching them how to prepare for the certification exams they’ll face when they graduate.
Although it isn’t required in all states, obtaining a certification can make you more valuable to employers and will help ensure your ability to perform the job well. There are a variety of certification programs available, offered by national and regional accrediting bodies, such as the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association and the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution. Once you’ve passed your certification exam, you can start your career.