7 Essential Sterile Processing Technician Skills

HealthcareNovember 02, 2023

7 Essential Sterile Processing Technician Skills

Sterilization processes for medical instruments may be something patients take for granted, but that doesn’t reduce the importance of following proper techniques to decontaminate and sanitize medical instruments. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day 1 of every 31 hospital patients acquires a healthcare-associated infection. Those infections can be serious, and they can even result in death.  

While several things can lead to healthcare-associated infections, one risk factor is not adhering to best practices in medical instrument sterilization. Fortunately, relying on sterile processing technician skills can help healthcare organizations minimize infection and maintain safe environments for their patients.

Individuals who are contemplating enrolling in a sterile processing technician program can benefit from learning the skills that enable sterile processing techs to make valuable contributions to healthcare.

What Is a Sterile Processing Technician?

A sterile processing technician ensures the instruments used by a healthcare organization’s staff are sterile. To accomplish that, sterile processing technicians perform both manual cleaning and sterilization using specialized equipment such as an autoclave, which is also known as a steam sterilizer. An autoclave uses steam under pressure to kill harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi and spores on medical equipment.  

Why Become a Sterile Processing Technician?

After receiving training to acquire the proper skills, sterile processing technicians have the opportunity to play a vital role in healthcare. 

The expertise of sterile processing technicians makes them essential in nearly any category of care. Because of that, sterile processing technicians can work at a broad range of employers, including:

  • General and surgical hospitals
  • Dental offices
  • Outpatient centers
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Specialty hospitals
  • Medical laboratories
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Sterile Processing Technician Responsibilities

While sterilizing instruments is the primary responsibility of sterile processing technicians, individuals in the role also carry out several other duties. Examples include:

  • Reviewing sterilization equipment for defects
  • Testing sterilization equipment and recording test results
  • Ordering sterilization supplies
  • Assembling trays with sterilized instruments
  • Distributing sterilization supplies and ensuring those supplies have not exceeded expiration dates

How to Become a Sterile Processing Technician

The overall steps to becoming a sterile processing technician include the following.

  • Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent.
  • Complete a sterile processing technician educational program.
  • Gain work experience in a sterile processing department and obtain certification. (For example, to obtain certification as a Certified Registered Central Service Technician, or CRCST, an individual needs to work at least 400 hours in a sterile processing department and pass a certification exam.)

7 Sterile Processing Technician Skills

Reviewing essential sterile processing technician skills is a good way to become acquainted with the profession and understand what working in the role entails. The seven skills outlined below parallel the categories of skills individuals must possess to become a CRCST.

1. Cleaning, Decontamination, and Disinfection

Skills and expertise in cleaning, decontamination, and disinfection are at the heart of succeeding in the role of sterile processing technician. This starts with expertise in areas such as safety standards and climate of the work environment, and it extends into skills in areas such as:

  • Preparing instruments and equipment for decontamination
  • Selecting appropriate disinfectants
  • Performing specific disinfecting processes (which requires skills in areas such as dilution, rinsing, storage, and recordkeeping)

2. Preparation and Packaging

Sterilization efforts can be undone by improper preparation and packaging. Therefore, sterile processing technicians need to have skills in areas such as:

  • Assembling items for packaging
  • Keeping items safe by using elements like tray liners and tip protectors
  • Testing items for functionality
  • Properly identifying items
  • Using count sheets to keep track of items and their quantity

3. Sterilization Processes

Knowing how to perform specific sterilization processes is one of the most critical skills of a sterilization processing technician. Carrying out these processes requires skills in areas such as:

  • High temperature sterilization using steam or dry heat
  • Low temperature sterilization using gas plasma, vaporization, ethylene oxide, or liquid chemicals

Skills in sterilization processes also encompass skills in biological testing and interpreting test results, as well as the use of sterilization equipment and sterilization verification processes.

4. Patient Care Equipment

Sterilization of patient care equipment requires skills in areas such as:

  • Proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Hand hygiene
  • Maintaining electrical safety
  • Proper receiving of items for sterilization

5. Sterile Storage and Inventory Management

Ensuring proper storage and inventory of sterile items requires skills in a number of areas such as:

  • Procuring and replenishing sterile items
  • Stocking and distributing sterile items
  • Tracking high-dollar items such as emergency carts
  • Inspecting new sterile items as they come into inventory

6. Documentation and Record Maintenance

Sterile processing technicians need strong skills in documentation and recordkeeping. For example, they need to be able to:

  • Track maintenance performed on sterilization equipment
  • Record the details of accidents and incidents related to sterilization and equipment
  • Document the education and training that staff members receive related to sterilization

7. Customer Relations

Serving in a support role requires sterile processing technicians to refine their customer relations skills, including skills in areas such as:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Decision making
  • Critical thinking
  • Prioritization

Sterile processing technicians also benefit from anticipating the needs of their customers and developing the ability to communicate through commonly used medical terminology.

Benefits of a Sterile Processing Technician Training Program

Completing a sterile processing technician training program prepares an individual for a rewarding career. But acquiring skills to work in sterile processing also provides other benefits. For example, completing a  training program in sterile processing enables individuals to:

  • Embark on a career in healthcare. Becoming a sterile processing technician is a great way to enter the field of healthcare and have the opportunity to work in a variety of healthcare settings.
  • Make a difference in patients’ lives. The work that sterile processing technicians conduct is critical to achieving positive health outcomes. Doctors, nurses, and surgeons depend on sterile processing technicians to provide them with sterile instruments that will enable them to improve their patients’ health.
  • Work in a field with a strong job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 5% job growth for medical equipment preparers between 2022 and 2032 That growth exceeds the 3% rate projected by the BLS for the U.S. job market as a whole.
  • Pursue advancement and specialization. CRCST certification is just one certification that can be pursued. For example, an individual can pursue training to become a:
    • Certified Instrument Specialist (CIS), which is a certification that indicates an individual has the expertise and skills to perform advanced work in sterile processing
    • Certified Endoscope Reprocessor (CER), which is a certification that indicates an individual has specific expertise and skills related to the sterilization of endoscopes

Strong Sterile Processing Technician Skills Are Crucial to Effective Healthcare

The broad reach and critical nature of sterile processing makes it an important component of healthcare. Affecting the lives of every patient, the skills of sterile processing technicians are crucial to supporting providers’ ability to offer quality healthcare. Individuals with an interest in working in healthcare can explore the Fortis Sterile Processing Technician programs to learn how they can help in achieving their career ambitions. 

With curricula combining classroom instruction with the development of skills through real-world experience, these programs can prepare individuals for fulfilling careers. 

Start your journey to a rewarding career in healthcare.

Recommended Readings
A Day in the Life of a Surgical Technologist
The Role of a Sterile Processing Technician
Six Medical Careers That Don’t Involve Patient Interaction

Healthcare Sterile Processing Association, Certification Handbook
Healthcare Sterile Processing Association, Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) Exam Content Outline
Indeed, “How to Become a Sterile Processing Technician”
Infection Control Today, “Sterile Processing Techs Can Never ‘Dial It In’ Because Lives Are on the Line”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, 31-9093 Medical Equipment Preparers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail, Medical Equipment Preparers
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Topics – Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAI)