Many industries rely on the unglamorous work of staffers who remain behind the scenes. Few restaurants could function without a team of hard-working dish washers, and hospitals would quickly grind to a halt without their staff of sterile processing technicians. They play an essential role in maintaining and distributing supplies and instruments throughout the hospital.
Sterile processing technicians work in the hospital's central stores section, well away from publicly-accessible areas. They serve two primary roles within the facility. First, they're responsible for cleaning and sterilizing reusable utensils and equipment from the hospital's various departments. Second, they're storekeepers with responsibility for ensuring that they have adequate inventory of instruments and disposable items to meet the needs of doctors, nurses, surgeons and technical staff throughout the hospital.
Sterile processing technicians receive soiled linens, used instruments and detachable portions of surgical and laboratory equipment after they're used by surgeons or other caregivers. These must be sorted, with reusable linens going to the laundry area and disposable or damaged items safely discarded. The remaining reusable instruments and equipment must be carefully disassembled and then cleaned, in a machine resembling a restaurant's dishwasher. Once they're clean, the items must be reassembled and then sterilized in a machine called an autoclave, using steam under high pressure.
Inventory Management Duties
Once the linens and instruments are cleaned, they're returned to the storeroom's working inventory. The processing technicians are responsible for maintaining adequate levels of disposable items such as sponges and gauze, as well as linens and reusable instruments. They send predetermined quantities of supplies to different departments on a regular basis, and also make up custom deliveries of surgical supplies for individual surgeons or procedures. Surgeons often have highly specific requests, and technicians make up customized trays of instruments and supplies to meet their requirements.
Processing technicians typically earn their training on the job or through short training programs at community or technical colleges, usually lasting just a few months. Much of the training consists of safety procedures, since processing technicians spend most of their day handling sharp instruments contaminated with blood and other biohazards. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counts processing technicians in its category of "medical equipment preparers," which is projected to grow by 17 percent between 2010 and 2020. That's slightly better than the 14 percent average for all occupations.