Getting Started in Sterile Processing: A Step-by-Step Guide

Written on 02/14/2018
Adam Okada

Before you begin:

  • Sterile Processing is a fast-paced, constantly changing, and at times, stress-provoking area. Make sure you have most, if not all, of the following traits before you embark on your Sterile Processing journey:
    • Compassion for the patient as a human being at their most vulnerable
    • Attention to detail
    • Self-discipline (doing the right thing, even when no one is watching)
    • Able to react calmly under stress
    • Ability to think quickly
    • Above average memory & retention

If you found most or all of the above traits in yourself, then it’s likely that Sterile Processing will be a great fit for you!  Now, on to the Step-by-Step of how to get started.

1. Find a certification class:

There are two certifying bodies that oversee Sterile Processing.  They are:

  1. IAHCSMM – International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management
    • CRCST Certification – Certified Registered Central Service Technician
  2. CBSPD – The Certifcation Board for Sterile Processing & Distribution
    • CSPDT Certification – Certified Sterile Processing & Distribution Technician

Both certifications (CRCST & CSPDT) are valid anywhere in the United States, and despite some false rumors to the contrary, there are no biases or preference by hiring managers.  Either certification will suit you well.  Both certifications require a rigorous exam (IAHCSMM – 150 questions; CBSPD – 100 questions) that you will need to prepare for and pass with a score of 70% or better.  The information & test requirements are very similar, so neither test is “easier” than the other.

After selecting the certification you wish to acquire, you have several options for how you wish to prepare for the certification exam.

  • In-Person Coursework (Easier option):
    • Pros: Knowledgeable instructors, study groups, classroom setting, study materials
    • Cons: Most expensive option
  • Online Self-Study Coursework (More difficult option):
    • Pros: Often cheaper, more flexibility for time & assignments, work at your own pace
    • Cons: Absorbing the material will take longer, no one to keep you accountable

It is up to you as an individual to select the option that is best for you.  Classes can run anywhere from 2 – 8 weeks, or any length of time if you select the online/self-study option.  After you have chosen a certification class, studied hard, and completed all coursework, you are ready for Step 2.

2. Take your certification exam:

IAHCSMM & CBSPD will guide you on this step of the process after giving them notice that you have passed SPD certification coursework.  This often means finding a testing center nearest to you and going in for the 3 hour long exam.

Pro tip: Take the exam as soon as possible after completing the course.  Most test failures are as a result of not retaining the knowledge gained throughout the course.

If you are able to pass your certification exam with a 70% or better, then proceed on to Step 3.

3. Find a hospital or surgery center in your area

After certification, the CRCST certification requires 400 hours of hands-on training within the first six months.  This is the trickiest step for newly certified Sterile Processing Technicians to navigate, but don’t lose hope.  Most hospitals and surgery centers are in desperate need of help and it usually is a matter of getting in touch with the right person.

Start calling your local hospitals & surgery centers immediately following your certification and ask if they accept volunteers to do their 400 contact hours at their facility.

Pro tip: Do not call Volunteer Services or Human Resources to inquire about Sterile Processing volunteer opportunities.  Often times, these departments do not know of the certification requirements, and because Sterile Processing is not an area that sees a lot of volunteers, they often aren’t the list for most hospitals as a place to send new volunteers.  Call your hospital or surgery center’s main line, and ask to speak to the Sterile Processing Manager, or simply the Sterile Processing Department.  They will likely be better equipped to handle your request.

4. Apply for jobs:

One of the main benefits of doing your certification volunteer hours at a local hospital is that it allows the hiring manager to see your knowledge & work ethic up close.  There is no faster way to get hired into an organization than by showing up and doing the job for free.

But if the hospital that you are volunteering at isn’t hiring, or isn’t a good fit for you, start applying for other positions around your area.  In a later article, we will discuss how to construct a resume to get the attention of a Sterile Processing Manager.

Good luck on your journey into the world of Sterile Processing!  Download the Sterile Education Mobile App, available for download on Google Play & the App Store, for more guidance in the world of Sterile Processing.