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What Does a Sterile Processing Technician Do?

Written by Lauren Ambrosio on Monday, 26 June 2023. Posted in Career, Healthcare

Hospital workers wearing protective equipment handling medical instruments.

Breathe in, breathe out. In the quiet corners of bustling hospitals and medical centers, a different kind of hero works tirelessly. As the unsung champions of healthcare, Sterile Processing Technicians (SPT) operate behind the scenes, ensuring the front-liners have the cleanest, safest tools to save lives every day. While the role may not be widely known, it's crucial to the healthcare system. Let's delve into the world of Sterile Processing and understand what an SPT does.

What is a sterile processing technician?

Sterile Processing Technicians (SPT) are a crucial part of the healthcare team, operating behind the scenes in hospitals, clinics, and surgical centers.

In a nutshell, SPTs are responsible for cleaning, sterilizing, and assembling all the surgical instruments and medical equipment needed for procedures.

SPTs ensure every tool used in surgeries or other medical procedures is thoroughly decontaminated and ready for safe use. Maintaining a sterile environment and organized inventory contributes to patient safety and the overall efficiency of the healthcare system. Their role includes preparing case carts for surgeries, monitoring sterilization equipment, and keeping accurate records.

Katrina Simpson, an instructor at Ashworth College and experienced SPT, describes the ideal personality for a sterile processing tech as an introverted, detail-oriented professional who loves cleanliness, continuous learning, and takes pride in their work.

SPTs serve as a first line of defense against the spread of pathogens by cleaning, sterilizing, and assembling surgical tools. This may sound straightforward, but it involves working with hundreds of different instruments, handling biowaste, and keeping up with advancing medical technology. It's not a job for the weak-stomached - but for those passionate about doing a good job, it's rewarding and fulfilling.

Read more: What Jobs are in Doctors’ Offices?

What is biowaste and how do SPTs work with it?

Biowaste includes human body fluids like blood, urine, and, as well as any tissues or organs removed during surgery or autopsy. It also includes sharps, which are anything that could cause a cut or puncture, such as needles, scalpels, and broken glass. Lab waste like cultures, stocks, or specimens of microorganisms is part of your wheelhouse. If you work in a veterinary setting, you'll be handling animal waste such as contaminated animal remains, body parts, or bedding material used by animals infected with diseases.

Now that we know what an SPT is, let's go into more detail about the role. If you've got a question about becoming a sterile processing tech, keep reading!

Learn more: What is Sterile Compounding?

How do you become a sterile processing technician?

If you're interested in the medical field but prefer behind-the-scenes work over patient interaction, or if you are detail-oriented, as well as passionate about cleanliness and organization, a career as an SPT could be your perfect fit. But how do you become one? Here are the essential steps to guide you in becoming an SPT.

5 steps to become a sterile processing technician

  1. Get a High School Diploma or GED (General Education Degree): A HS diploma or GED is the minimum education requirement for nearly all medical positions, and SPTs are no exception.
  2. Enroll in a sterile processing technician program: Look for a school, like Ashworth College, that has specific programs designed to prepare students for careers such as SPTs
  3. Complete an externship or clinical practice: Participating in an externship is a great way to get real-world, hands-on experience as an SPT.
  4. Obtain certification: While not always mandatory, becoming a Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) can boost your employability and show your commitment to the profession. To get certified, you need to pass an exam conducted by:
  5. Get a job and gain experience: Look for entry-level sterile processing technician jobs. Many medical facilities employ SPTs, including:
    • Hospitals (several departments need SPTs, like central processing, operating rooms, and other areas where sterile equipment is required)
    • Outpatient care centers
    • Dental offices and clinics
    • Specialized surgery centers
    • Medical and diagnostic laboratories
    • Veterinary clinics and hospitals
    • Medical equipment sales companies
    • Education and training institutions

Read more: Going Back to School as an Adult

How much can I make as a sterile processing technician?

Like with any job, how much you make varies based on your location, level of experience, and specific place of employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the average salary in the US for a sterile processing technician—which in the BLS is referred to as a “medical equipment preparer”—is $44,940. Below are the most recent reported wages by state provided by the BLS to help you understand what to expect.

Sterile Processing Tech Salary & Income by State

Annual Mean Wage of Medical Equipment Preparers by State

State Annual Mean Wage Annual Hourly Wage
Alaska $52,870 $25.42
Alabama $33,090 $15.91
Arkansas $34,380 $16.53
Arizona $42,660 $20.51
California $59,490 $28.60
Colorado $46,210 $22.21
Connecticut $45,850 $22.04
Delaware $48,620 $23.38
Florida $38,250 $18.39
Georgia $40,900 $19.66
Hawaii $52,130 $26.06
Iowa $38,720 $18.62
Idaho $41,200 $19.81
Illinois $43,380 $20.85
Indiana $41,920 $20.15
Kansas $39,420 $18.95
Kentucky $39,480 $18.98
Louisiana $36,240 $17.43
Massachusetts $51,080 $24.56
Maryland $45,290 $21.78
Maine $41,600 $20.00
Michigan $40,920 $19.67
Minnesota $44,700 $21.49
Missouri $38,880 $18.69
Mississippi $33,340 $16.03
Montana $40,440 $19.44
North Carolina $39,500 $18.99
North Dakota $43,550 $20.94
Nebraska $37,800 $18.17
New Hampshire $44,160 $21.23
New Jersey $46,320 $22.27
New Mexico $40,790 $19.61
Nevada $46,730 $22.47
New York $49,250 $23.68
Ohio $41,240 $19.83
Oklahoma $37,580 $18.07
Oregon $48,270 $23.21
Pennsylvania $42,310 $20.34
Rhode Island $45,660 $21.95
South Carolina $38,120 $18.33
South Dakota $37,260 $17.91
Tennessee $38,070 $18.31
Texas $41,460 $19.93
Utah $42,420 $20.40
Virginia $41,210 $19.81
Vermont $41,750 $20.07
Washington $46,350 $22.28
Wisconsin $42,110 $20.24
West Virginia $37,120 $17.85
Wyoming $42,790 $20.57


What is it like to work as an SPT?

According to SPTs working in the field and those training the next generation of sterile processing techs, this job suits conscientious, detail-oriented individuals who appreciate cleanliness and continuous learning. It's a rewarding job far from a "dead end." It can lead to leadership roles, professional growth, and opportunities to branch out into education or become an instrument rep.

Yes, it's a challenging, sometimes physically demanding role. And, like many entry-level jobs, the pay isn't always great at the start. But it's a profession that lets you contribute significantly to patient safety and the smooth operation of healthcare facilities. Above all, the key takeaway is not to fear what you do not know but to be inspired to learn more. You'll continuously grow professionally and personally in this exciting and ever-advancing field.

Read more: Which Healthcare Career is Right for You?

Is sterile processing in demand?

The need for properly sterilized equipment is greater now, more than ever. Considering COVID-19 and the large population of aging baby boomers, a significant portion of the population now relies on surgical procedures to maintain a comfortable, healthy lifestyle. As of 2021, the role's demand is expected to grow 15% over the next decade.

Is sterile processing clinical or non-clinical?

It's a bit of both. Sterile processing techs work in clinical settings - hospitals, surgery centers - but don't interact with patients. Their role is mainly technical and supportive of the clinical team.

Read more: What Does a Home Health Aide Do?

Is sterile processing a good career?

Sterile processing can be a good career, especially for those who appreciate the benefits of working in healthcare but prefer not to work with patients. It's also a good choice for those who value stability, routine, and flexibility.

Read more: Learn More About Ashworth’s Online Classes

Do sterile processing techs wear scrubs?

Yes, they do! As they handle contaminated surgical tools, wearing scrubs and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) helps minimize exposure to potential biohazards.

What kind of schedule does an SPT have?

Sterile processing is a 24/7 job. Your type of shift depends on the hospital or surgical center's schedule, workload, and staffing needs–some may require weekends, others may not. Working overnight as an SPT might be a good fit if you're a night owl! If you require weekends or evenings off, working in a small practice that isn’t open 24/7 might be a better fit. Behonest with yourself with what kind of schedule and work-life balance you’re looking for.

Is sterile processing dangerous?

Like many medical professions, there is potential exposure to pathogens, sharps, blades, and bio waste. However, you can minimize the risks with proper safety training and adherence to protocols.

Do sterile processing techs get drug tested?

Yes, most healthcare facilities require a background check, drug screening for SPTs, proof of vaccination, and a physical exam.

Read more:Read more: How Does Ashworth College Tuition Work?

What is a traveling SPT?

Travel techs are SPTs who work on a contract basis, typically in different hospitals or clinics for short periods. To become a travel tech, you'll need certification and a bit of experience under your belt. The flexibility and variety of the role can be pretty appealing to some; plus, it often comes with higher pay.

Sterile processing taechnician vs. other healthcare jobs

Sterile processing tech vs. surgical tech ($48,510 per year/$23.32 per hour)

While both work in the OR, sterile processing and surgical tech roles differ. Surgical techs assist during surgeries, whereas SPTs are responsible for sterilizing and organizing surgical instruments before and after procedures. Their salaries are similar.

Sterile processing tech vs. medical assistant ($37,190 per year/$17.88 per hour)

Medical assistants perform clinical and administrative tasks to support physicians, while SPTs focus on maintaining the cleanliness and readiness of surgical tools. You are likely to earn less as a medical assistant than you would an SPT.

Read more: Medical Assistant vs Medical Coder

Sterile processing tech vs. medical coder ($46,660 per year/$22.43 per hour)

Medical coders translate healthcare services into codes for billing and record-keeping. In contrast, SPTs work behind the scenes in surgical environments, maintaining sterilized instruments and equipment. Medical coders are paid similarly to SPTs.

Read more: How to Get a Diploma in Medical Coding & Billing

Sterile processing tech vs. dental assistant ($38,660 per year/$18.59 per hour)

Dental Assistants aid dentists during procedures and manage administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and managing patient records. It is a patient-facing role, whereas an SPT is not. Dental assistants typically earn less than SPTs.

Read more: Online Dental Front Office Training

Sterile processing tech vs. pharmacy technician ($36,740 per year/$17.66 per hour)

While a Sterile Processing Technician focuses on sterilizing and preparing medical equipment for procedures, a Pharmacy Technician assists pharmacists in dispensing medication, managing patient records, and handling insurance claims. Even with pharmacy technicians being in demand, their pay is below that of SPTs.

Read more: Online Pharmacy Technician Program

Take the next steps towards a sterile processing technician career today

Embarking on a Sterile Processing Technician career is both fulfilling and impactful! If you're ready to start your journey in this vital healthcare field, enroll in our Sterile Processing Career Diploma program and get started now.

This program provides the necessary knowledge and skills that can help you prepare to excel in this profession, with the added benefit of studying at your own pace. If you have questions or need help getting started, don't hesitate to contact our expert Admissions Specialists at 1-800-957-5412.

Let's talk about your educational goals. Call 1-800-957-5412