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In a restaurant, chefs rely on automatic dishwashers to provide a steady supply of clean, sanitized dishes and utensils. In the more demanding world of hospitals and clinics, sterile processing technicians play a similar role in sterilizing instruments and equipment for physicians, surgeons, nurses and other caregivers. It's meticulous work requiring a high level of attention to detail.
What They Do
Sterile processing technicians receive reusable equipment and supplies after they've been used in patient care. They'll separate items by type, disassembling them if necessary for thorough cleaning. If any items are broken or damaged, the technician disposes of them safely. Most items must be physically cleaned using equipment similar to a professional dishwashing machine, then sterilized in a pressurized steamer called an autoclave. Processing technicians also act as storekeepers, maintaining inventory records of their equipment and supplies. They organize orders for specific procedures or surgeons, arranging customized trays of instruments, equipment and supplies and then sending them out to the appropriate department.
In its May 2012 figures, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average wage of $15.51 for sterile processing technicians and other medical equipment preparers, or $32,360 per year. Actual wages spanned a relatively broad wage. At the entry level, the lowest-paid 10 percent of equipment preparers earned up to $21,200 per year, or $10.19 per hour. The top 10 percent earned $45,630 or more, or $21.94 per hour. The median or mid-point wage was $14.82 per hour, or $30,820 per year.
Wages for medical equipment preparers varied widely by geographic location and workplace. Technicians in Massachussetts enjoyed the country's highest wages, at an average of $40,300 per year. Alaska, Nevada, Hawaii and California also offered above-average wages. At the opposite end of the scale, Alabama's equipment preparers were the country's lowest-paid at $24,640 per year. General hospitals were the most common workplace, paying an average of $32,430. Specialty hospitals paid an average of $36,320, while outpatient clinics paid an average of $34,530.
Most sterile processing technicians learn their profession through on-the-job training, or through short-term certificate programs at a community or technical college. Technicians who want to advance in the field can earn professional certification from the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management, or take a degree in health care administration and become a supervisor or manager. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 17 percent employment growth for medical equipment preparers through 2020, slightly better than the 14 percent average for all occupations.
- Ohio Community Colleges: Sterile Processing Technician
- O*Net Online: Medical Equipment Preparers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics -- Medical Equipment Preparers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics -- Data For Occupations not Covered in Detail
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.