Sterile Processing or Central Service Technician

Hospitals are the largest employers of sterile processing technicians. Opportunities to work in physician offices, outpatient care centers, ambulatory surgical centers, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities have been growing. The surge in demand is partially due to reducing costs by providing lower-cost outpatient care options. Thus, sterile processing technicians can expect job security and growth opportunities. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) shows medical equipment repairers, a closely-related occupation to sterile processing technicians, will be in high demand in the coming decade. Job growth in this field is estimated at 17 percent, much faster than the national average (6 percent) from 2021 to 2031. As a result, an estimated 10,000 new positions will be needed to fulfill demand.  

Read on for a detailed guide on becoming a sterile processing technician, including degrees and training programs, career growth, salary, and career alternatives. 

Sterile Processing Technician Specialization & Degree Types

A wide range of program types are available for those interested in training to become a sterile processing technician. 

Diploma and certificate programs offer a quick entry into the field and provide participants with the necessary skill set to practice sterile processing in a professional environment. 

However, an associate’s degree program allows for building upon the foundation through further coursework and discussing sterile processing techniques from an advanced perspective. 

Whatever route is eventually taken, sterile processing technicians with training are actively sought after to ensure optimal patient safety in clean environments.

Admission Requirements for Sterile Processing Technician Programs

Applying to sterile processing technician training programs involves meeting some basic requirements: 

  • CPR certification 
  • Criminal background check 
  • Drug screening 
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Proof of high school diploma or high school equivalency
  • Proof of medical health insurance 
  • Proof of up-to-date immunizations, such as MMR; Varicella; T/dap; Hep B series; Influenza/Flu; and TB test
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-based test (TOEFL iBT) or International English Language Testing System

Sterile Processing Technician Program Accreditation

Accreditation is proof of educational quality. Aspiring students should be familiar with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which recognizes these leading regional accreditation agencies. These include:

  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges 

Each agency evaluates schools based on rigorous standards and criteria, so it is vital to research each option carefully to ensure a sterile processing program meets the highest educational and professional standards.

Students searching for online and hybrid programs should inquire about a program’s NC-SARA status. The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) is an organization that works to ensure educational quality and improve student access to virtual education across the United States. NC-SARA status enables students to attend postsecondary distance education courses offered by NC-SARA member schools without being subjected to institutional authorization in the state of residence. 

On-Campus Sterile Processing Technician Programs

Miami-Dade College

Miami-Dade College offers a sterile processing technology certificate program for students wishing to become sterile processing technicians. This 21-credit program provides essential skills for delivering clean products and services in the healthcare industry, helping protect patients from infection risk. 

The curriculum emphasizes efficient sterile techniques and safe practices that prepare students to be part of the medical team by ensuring that equipment is functioning correctly and clean when needed. As an additional convenience, classes are offered both in the evening and on weekends, allowing students to choose a suitable study time frame according to their responsibilities.

  • Location: Miami, FL
  • Duration: One year 
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $1,972.79 total

Naugatuck Valley Community College

Naugatuck Valley Community College is proud to offer a sterile processing technician program as part of its non-credit courses and certificate offerings. This program consists of two courses: central sterile processing technician principles (83 hours) and medical terminology (24 hours). Textbooks and materials are included in the tuition. 

Upon completing the program, students will be eligible to sit for a Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution certification exam, which is required of all sterile processing technicians in Connecticut. With Naugatuck Valley Community College’s sterile processing tech program, prospective students can prepare to enter the industry with the knowledge and confidence needed for success.

  • Location: Waterbury, CT
  • Duration: One to two semesters
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $2,450 per course

Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science

The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science offers an internship program that gives three to five students a chance to gain professional experience as sterile processing technicians. This program is specifically intended for students enrolled in sterile processing technician programs at one of their affiliated schools, including GateWay Community College, East Valley Institute of Technology, and Pima Medical Institute. 

During their hands-on experience, interns will practice decontamination, cleaning, processing, assembling, and sterilizing medical devices and supplies. Upon completion of the program, followed by 400 hours of practical experience, graduates are eligible to take the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association examination to earn Certified Registered Central Service Technician credentials.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Duration: Six months
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $250 per student

Bergen Community College

Bergen Community College in New Jersey offers a sterile processing technician apprentice program for those interested in pursuing a career in sterile processing. With this program, learners can learn to decontaminate, sterilize, prepare, assemble, and dispense surgical instruments and be eligible for the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) examination. 

Hands-on work experience is required at local medical and surgical centers to further hone sterile processing skills and knowledge. This program provides a practical pathway for those looking to become sterile processing technicians at healthcare facilities – all while learning under the supervision of experienced professionals.

  • Location: Multiple campuses in New Jersey
  • Duration: One semester
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $208 per credit (in-county); $366 per credit (out-of-county & non-immigrant visa); $382 per credit (non-residents)

St. Louis Community College

St. Louis Community College offers a sterile processing tech program to provide the ideal foundation for individuals interested in Central Sterile Processing. Through this 24-week-long program, students will receive classroom instruction (100 hours) and on-the-job training (400 hours) completed at BJC HealthCare Hospitals. 

The comprehensive program will arm students with job knowledge and skills and help them understand fundamental sterile processing concerns. Students who complete the training also have an opportunity to take national certification exams and commit to one year of full employment with BJC HealthCare upon completion.

  • Location: Forest Park, MO
  • Duration: 24 weeks
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $171 per credit (residents); $233 per credit (non-residents)

Online or Hybrid Sterile Processing Technician Programs

Durham Tech (Hybrid)

Durham Tech’s sterile processing tech program is just one course, yet it offers a comprehensive introduction to the field and can lead to valuable certifications. This hybrid program combines online learning one night per week with a clinical offsite course during the day on an alternate day of the week. In addition, those who complete sterile processing tech training can take advantage of two associate degree programs in anesthesia and surgical technology. 

Various conditions must be met before applying for the sterile processing tech program, including a high school diploma or equivalency, updated immunizations, criminal background check, and CPR certification.

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $477.25 total

Purdue University – online

Purdue University offers an online sterile processing tech program that will allow participants to prepare for the HSPA Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) certification exam. This flexible self-study course covers the 8th Edition of the Central Service Technical Training curriculum and allows students up to one year to complete it. 

Study materials contain various educational components like videos, quizzes, and training exercises that help learners build their knowledge base in preparation for the exam. Those who wish to enroll in this online training program will get a thorough understanding required to pass the HSPA CRCST test.

  • Location: West Lafayette, IN
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC) 
  • Tuition: Not available

Herzing University (Online)

Herzing University offers an online diploma in sterile processing, helping students achieve their goal of becoming sterile processing technicians. The 24-credit program is spread over 285 hours. Students gain essential knowledge and skills related to sterile processing, central services, surgical instrumentation, and surgical services. In addition, the program covers topics such as primary medical terminology, psychology, and microbiology. 

Upon completing the diploma, graduates can seek a Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) certification examination through the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association. Furthermore, students can transfer the college credits they earn into a surgical technologist degree program, significantly shortening their journey toward advancement in their career field.

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Duration: Eight months
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC) 
  • Tuition: $446 per credit 

Ashworth College (Online)

Ashworth College offers an online sterile processing technical program designed to provide the skills necessary to pursue a healthcare career. Their self-paced course includes Building Blocks of Sterile Processing and Sterile Processing Technology classes, which cover the essentials of sterile processing and aseptic techniques. 

Upon completion, students will be well-prepared to take the Healthcare Sterile Processing Association’s Certified Registered Central Service Technician certification exam – included in tuition. This program is ideal for those hoping to explore a rewarding, marketable career in this growing field.

  • Location: Norcross, GA
  • Duration: Four months
  • Accreditation: Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • Tuition: $999 total

Wake Technical Community College (Hybrid)

Wake Technical Community College offers a hybrid sterile processing tech program covering the preparation, storage and distribution of instruments and supplies, quality assurance, and inventory management. The course is an impressive blend of hybrid instruction with online and in-person classes that can be taken at night. 

Lasting 112 hours, this program aims to give its graduates the necessary experience and confidence to understand the principles of sterilization and disinfection and the principles behind handling sterile instruments, supplies, and equipment.

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Duration: Three months
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) 
  • Tuition: $76 per credit (residents); $268 per credit (non-residents)

How Long Does It Take to Become a Central Sterile Processing Technician?

After graduating high school, becoming a central sterile processing technician takes approximately one year. This time frame includes education, work experience, and certification exam prep. 

How to Become a Central Service Technician – Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a central sterile processing technician is a straightforward process. Follow these steps to get started.

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Earn a GED (Four Years)

Job seekers will need at least a high school diploma or a GED to become central sterile processing technicians.

Step 2: Complete a Training Program (Four to 24 months)

Several educational programs are available, such as certificate programs, diplomas, and associate’s degrees, for this position. Depending on the program, the length of study can vary from just a few months to two years or more.

Step 3: Complete On-the-Job Training (Timeline Varies)

Once a graduate has completed an educational program, they may be required to complete additional on-the-job training before being eligible to receive certification in sterile processing technology.

Step 4: Pass Certification Exam (Timeline Varies)

Many states require CSPTs to pass state and national examinations to work legally. Learn more about certification and licensure in the section below.

What Do Sterile Processing Technicians Do?

Sterile processing technicians are responsible for cleaning, disinfecting, sterilizing, wrapping, and stocking medical instruments, supplies, and equipment. They also ensure all equipment is in working order before being used. Additionally, they may be involved in quality control of materials, systems maintenance, and record-keeping processes.

Here’s a list of skills needed to be a successful central sterile processing technician: 

  • Ability to pay close attention to detail
  • Basic computer skills
  • Manual dexterity
  • Physical stamina

Central Service Technician Certification & Licensure

Two organizations offer central sterile processing technician certification: 

  • Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA) 
  • Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD)

HSPA Certification

Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA) offers the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) exam as an initial certification for sterile processing professionals. The CRCST exam is designed for professionals in the healthcare industry who wish to acquire additional certifications related to infection control and sterilization techniques. This examination comprises various components, including decontamination procedures, device inspection, assembly and disassembly processes, and sterilization techniques that help CRCSTs perform their roles effectively.

To be considered eligible for the CRCST exam, candidates must have gained 400 hours of hands-on experience in the preceding five years. Candidates who are unable to present 400 hours of experience can still apply for a provisional certification after they pass the CRCST exam, as long as they can prove 400 hours within six months of passing the exam.

The CRCST exam is computer-based and must be completed in three hours. In addition, candidates must answer 150 multiple-choice questions; the exam fee is $140.

CBSPD Certification 

The Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD) ensures that personnel in various settings have the competency to perform cleaning, disinfection, sterilization, and inventory management.

The CBSPD’s certifications demonstrate a core understanding of sterile processing regulations and standards. In addition, this process enables professionals to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in the mandated job responsibilities through test-based performance evaluations allowing individuals to be fully qualified for the position they seek. 

SPD Technician Certification Exam

To be eligible to take the SPD Technician Certification Exam, applicants must meet one of four training qualifications:

  1. Complete a 12-month full-time employment in a sterile processing distribution role, or
  2. Complete six months of full-time employment in allied healthcare and sterile processing distribution role, or
  3. Complete a sterile processing technician training course with a 70 percent or higher score, or
  4. Complete 12 months of healthcare product sales or service

The exam consists of 125 scored questions. Candidates have three hours to take the test and pass with a 70 percent or higher. The exam fee is $128, and the certification lasts five years.

CSIS Certification Exam 

The CBSPD also offers a Surgical Instrument Specialist Certification (CSIS) Exam to those with 24 or more months of professional experience.

How Much Do Sterile Processing Technicians Make?

According to the BLS (May 2022), medical equipment preparers earn an average of $44,940 annually. However, salary varies significantly depending on geographic location, education, and individual experience.

The following is a list of the salary percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $31,570 
  • 25th percentile: $36,240 
  • 50th percentile (median): $41,480 
  • 75th percentile: $50,300 
  • 90th percentile: $62,960

Sterile Processing Technicians Career Alternatives

Central service technicians have many career alternatives outside of the medical field. These include various roles in industrial manufacturing, technical support services, and radio and television broadcasting. Additionally, CSPTs are well-suited to pursue careers in laboratory work, IT support services, or even robotics engineering.

Here are three career alternatives for sterile processing technicians. 

Become a Surgical Technologist

A surgical technologist, also known as a scrub, operating room assistant, or operating room technician, is an allied health professional who works closely with surgeons to facilitate invasive surgical procedures’ safe and effective conduct. They are responsible for preparing the patient and operating room before surgery, maintaining sterile conditions during the process, and helping the surgeon during the procedure by passing instruments and other sterile items. 

  • Typical Education:  Certificate (one year); associate’s degree (two years)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA)

Become a Medical Device Technician

A medical device technician repairs, maintains, and programs medical devices such as life-support systems, CAT scanners, and MRI machines. This type of technician requires specialized training in electrical safety, technical communication, understanding detailed diagrams, problem-solving, and patient care coordination. 

Additionally, a medical device technician must receive extensive hands-on experience to understand how various medical equipment operates fully. 

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree (two years)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI)

Become a Biomedical Equipment Repairer

To become a biomedical equipment repairer, one must first obtain a high school diploma or equivalent. After that, there are several paths to becoming a medical equipment repairer, including an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in biomedical technology or engineering. Depending on the type of medical equipment they will be responsible for repairing, individuals may also require specialized training and certifications.

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree (two years); bachelor’s degree (four years)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)
Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Writer

Rachel Drummond has written about integrating contemplative movement practices such as yoga into healthcare professions since 2019, promoting the idea that mental and physical well-being are critical components of effective patient care and self-care in the high-stress world of healthcare.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.

Related Articles

  • 15 February 2024

    The Underfunding of Women’s Health Research

    The medical sciences have historically prioritized men’s health in both research and funding, often overlooking the specific health needs of women. This gender bias in medical research has significant implications: it not only neglects half of the population but also limits the overall progress in medical science. Women’s health issues, differing substantially from men’s, require dedicated study to develop effective treatments and understanding.

  • 22 December 2023

    Healthcare Career Scholarship Guide for 2024

    High-quality education comes at a price. Fortunately for students in health-related careers, there are ample opportunities available for mitigating these financial burdens.

  • 30 October 2023

    What Are the Top-paying Biomedical and Laboratory Careers?

    Learn what responsibilities medical lab careers entail, the future occupational outlooks, the general pathway to joining them, and certifications that could be earned to practice as a professional in these top-paying careers.

  • 23 October 2023

    Ethical Considerations in Gene Therapy

    Gene therapy, a cutting-edge field of medical research, holds tremendous promise for treating and preventing various genetic diseases. Technology now exists to make changes to the building blocks of DNA to edit out a disease, replace disease genetics with healthy ones, or even introduce a new or modified gene into the body to treat a disease. However, its potential has not come without controversy and ethical dilemmas.

  • 21 October 2021

    Health Careers on the Rise: An Interview for Genetic Counselor Awareness Day

    Finding out that you have a genetic predisposition for a medical condition or life-threatening illness is not an open-and-shut case. The matter does not close upon receipt of test results. In fact, it can be the beginning of a long and complicated journey with unforeseeable outcomes.

  • 22 September 2021

    American Pharmacists Awareness Month: An Expert’s Advocacy Guide

    The last two years have demonstrated the importance of pharmacists with the declaration of the global Covid-19 pandemic in March of 2020 and the subsequent rollout of testing and vaccines that followed.

  • 22 April 2021

    Genetic Counseling and the Fight for H.R. 3235

    There’s intrigue surrounding the prospect of having your DNA analyzed, but discovering one’s genetic predispositions to diseases should be treated seriously.