Female lab professional with goggles

How to Become a Sterile Processing Technician

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Female lab professional with goggles

Advances in modern medicine have enabled some pretty miraculous outcomes that would once have been considered impossible. Some of the most significant advances have been in our understanding of microbiology and the importance of infection control in a clinical environment. As a sterile processing technician, you’ll be responsible for keeping everything from surgical instruments to high-tech equipment safe, sterile, and ready for use by doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a sterile processing technician, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a sterile processing technician is right for you? Click here to see our full list of the best entry-level medical jobs.

Sterile Processing Technician Definition

What is a Sterile Processing Technician?

Before any patient undergoes any medical procedure, there’s a team of people working behind the scenes to minimize any risk of a potentially life-threatening infection. Sterile processing technicians are responsible for cleaning, sterilizing, and preparing the instruments and medical equipment used during any operation, from routine procedures to emergency trauma surgery.

Sterile Processing Technician: Job Description

What Does a Sterile Processing Technician Do?

Sterile processing technicians are a critical part of infection control in any hospital or clinical environment. They ensure surgical instruments and other medical equipment are properly cleaned, sterilized, inventoried, and maintained. However, as opposed to surgical technologists, sterile processing techs tend to work in equipment-processing or central supply departments, which means they’re not usually present during an actual operation. (For many people, that suits them just fine!)

Sterile Processing Technician Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of sterile processing techs include:

  • Cleaning and sterilizing medical instruments and lab equipment
  • Inspecting equipment for damage and ensuring proper function
  • Keeping accurate records of sterilization and supply inventory
  • Packaging freshly sterilized instruments for use in surgery or other medical procedures
  • Transporting and delivering medical equipment and supplies to different departments

Sterile Processing Technician Skills

Most sterile processing techs have a fair degree of autonomy, so you’ll need to be good at keeping yourself on track while completing tasks. Attention to detail is also critical for this career, as sterile processing technicians must adhere to strict infection-control procedures to prevent potentially life-threatening consequences. Finally, you’ll need sufficient manual dexterity to handle sharp instruments and operate sterilization equipment like autoclaves and the interpersonal skills to work well with others in an occasionally fast-paced environment.

Healthcare worker prepping an operating room

Where Do Sterile Processing Technicians Work?

The majority of sterile processing technicians work in hospitals, though you’ll also find plenty of job opportunities with dentists’ offices, outpatient clinics, and private physicians’ offices. Sterile processing technicians usually work full-time, 40-hour weeks. Many shifts happen during standard business hours, though at facilities that provide around-the-clock care, shifts may also be scheduled during nights, weekends, or holidays. Since you’ll be dealing with potentially contaminated or infectious materials, you’ll spend a lot of time wearing personal protective equipment like masks, gowns, and gloves.

Sterile Processing Technician Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Sterile Processing Technician?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Sterile Processing Technician?

The easiest path to a new career as a sterile processing tech is to complete a Sterile Processing program from an accredited college or university. While some people luck their way into receiving on-the-job training in certain states where certification isn’t required, earning your sterile processing diploma will make you a much more attractive candidate for potential employers and ensure you’re prepared in advance with the skills you’ll use at work on a daily basis. While sterile processing programs can sometimes take up to two full years to complete, you could earn your diploma in as little as 42 weeks with an accelerated program. That means by this time next year, you could be working in an exciting new field with great long-term prospects!

Like any long-term goal, working toward a new career as a sterile processing tech seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a sterile processing technician:

1. Enroll in a Sterile Processing Program

Step one in launching your new career as a sterile processing technician is enrolling in an accredited Sterile Processing program. While it’ll take focus and dedication to earn your sterile processing diploma, just about anyone willing to put in the work can make it happen. For example, to enroll in the Sterile Processing program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED, plus a passing score on a Scholastic Level Exam.

2. Earn Your Sterile Processing Diploma

At the beginning of your sterile processing program, you’ll receive a high-level overview of infection-control best practices and learn about the surgical instruments you’re likely to encounter on the job. Once you’ve covered the basics, you’ll learn about the specifics of decontamination and sterilization techniques to make sure you’re prepared to perform your job as a sterile processing tech safely and effectively. You’ll also learn about specific types of medical equipment and how to thoroughly inspect them between uses to ensure they’re working correctly.

The final stage in completing your sterile processing diploma will be taking part in an externship, where you’ll get a chance to gain real-world experience in a supervised setting. Not only will your externship help you continue building good habits and honing your skills, but you’ll also be well-prepared to ace your certification exam and jump right into your new career as a sterile processing technician.

Wherever you decide to pursue your sterile processing diploma, it’s wise to consider colleges or universities that offer job placement assistance to students upon completing a diploma program. Job searches can be intimidating, especially when you’re starting a new career in an entirely new industry. Having a little extra help when making connections and landing interviews can be a major stress-reliever.

Physician Assistant in a lab coat

3. Get Certified By One of the Major Credentialing Organizations

While certain states don’t require entry-level sterile processing technicians to pass a certification exam before starting their career, getting certified by one of the most widely recognized organizations will be an instant attention-grabber when applying for jobs. In many states, certification will be required to prove you’ve got the training and skills to play such an important role in patient safety.

The International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) and the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD) are the two credentialing organizations you should be looking at to jump-start your career as a sterile processing technician. Each organization has their own exam, but with either one you should expect around 100-150 multiple-choice questions over the span of two to three hours.

How Much Does it Cost to Earn a Sterile Processing Diploma?

It’s no secret that the cost of a college education has risen steadily over the years—many colleges and universities bill $20,000 or more per semester in tuition alone. Most of the time, that doesn’t even account for the cost of lab fees, books, or other required materials. However, the increasing popularity of online education has opened doors for people from all over the country, almost always at a significantly lower cost per credit hour than traditional institutions. The Sterile Processing Program at Brookline College is no exception—and in addition to lower tuition fees, the price you pay at Brookline always includes books, lab and facility fees, and everything else you’ll need to complete your sterile processing diploma. And with over 80% of Brookline students qualifying for some form of financial aid, it’s truly a college for everyone. Wherever you choose to enroll in a sterile processing program, make sure it’s with an institution that’s upfront and honest about how much you’ll be spending to earn your diploma.

Sterile Processing Technician Salary

How Much Do Sterile Processing Technicians Make?

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary* among all sterile processing technicians (also called medical equipment preparers) is just over $41,000 a year, which works out to just under $20 per hour. Sterile processing techs in the top 25% of earners bring home over $48,000 annually, and salaries among the top 10% can reach over $60,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Sterile Processing Technicians

According to the BLS, these industries are where you’ll find the top-paying jobs for sterile processing technicians:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Facilities $22.55 $46,910
Medical Equipment Manufacturers $21.80 $45,340
Specialty Hospitals $21.29 $44,280
Private Physicians’ Offices $19.96 $41,510
Medical & Surgical Hospitals $19.77 $41,120

Highest Paying States for Sterile Processing Technicians

According to the BLS, sterile processing techs in these states earn the highest average wages:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $25.85 $53,780
Massachusetts $24.88 $51,760
Washington, D.C. $24.64 $51,260
Alaska $24.21 $50,350
New York $22.20 $46,180

Highest Paying Cities for Sterile Processing Technicians

According to the BLS, sterile processing technicians earn the highest average annual pay in these cities:

Location Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Fairfield, CA $31.44 $65,400
San Francisco, CA $31.39 $65,280
Sacramento, CA $31.24 $64,970
Modesto, CA $28.59 $59,460
Ventura, CA $27.40 $56,990
Porterville, CA $27.33 $56,850
San Diego, CA $26.44 $55,000
San Jose, CA $26.14 $54,380
Lodi, CA $26.01 $54,100
Fresno, CA $25.83 $53,730

Sterile Processing Technician Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Sterile Processing Technicians?

Surgery and other medical procedures have become safer (and thus more widespread) than ever, which means lots of medical instruments and equipment need to be sterilized, cataloged, and cared for. According to the BLS, the number of actively employed sterile processing technicians is projected to increase by 6% by 2029, which is higher than the average growth rate (4%) for all other careers over the same period of time. By all indications, the job prospects for sterile processing techs should remain quite solid for many years to come.

Smiling student in a university setting

Ready to Start Your Career as a Sterile Processing Technician?

One of the most significant breakthroughs in modern medicine has been our ability to prevent infections, thanks to the hard work and vigilance of people like sterile processing technicians. If you prefer working with your hands and you’re excited about the opportunity to make a difference in the healthcare industry, becoming a sterile processing tech could be the career change you’ve been waiting for!

Click here to learn more about the Sterile Processing program at Brookline College, and start taking steps toward your new career as a sterile processing technician today.