Surgical Technologist vs. Sterile Processing Technician

These two careers in healthcare have some things in common but are also different when it comes to certain aspects.

Both of them do not require a four-year degree, but you will have more options than you may realize.

There are some important differences between a surgical tech and a sterile processing tech and only when you get acquainted with them, you will be ready to make a smart choice for your future.

What is a Surgical Technologist?

If you consider becoming a surgical technologist, or surgical tech as it is often referred to, you should know that this is an allied healthcare professional who works alongside surgical teams and is in charge of patient safety.

These people are responsible for preparing the operating room and the patient before a surgical procedure.

Plus, their job is to assist during surgeries by handing tools and supplies to surgeons, nurses, and surgical first assistants and once the surgery is done, they may finish up with the patient and re-sterilize the room and equipment.

The surgery will not pass well without the help of surgical techs who are vital members of the surgical team.

They need to ensure that the surgeon has everything he or she needs to perform a procedure, meaning that as a surgical tech, you will have to work directly with patients and doctors.

What is a Sterile Processing Technician?

On the other hand, you may want to become a sterile processing technician.

This person has an even more specific role in the healthcare environment, as he/she is responsible for cleaning and sterilizing medical equipment and supplies.

They also work to maintain sterility in a healthcare setting, but what makes this profession different from a surgical technologist is that the sterile processing techs do not work directly with patients.

Other names for this job position include medical equipment preparer, central service technician, and central processing technician.

Typical Duties

The usual daily duties of a surgical technologist are:

  • Getting the operating room and the patient ready for procedures
  • Sterilizing equipment
  • Gathering supplies for the procedure
  • Passing instruments to the surgeon during procedures
  • Inventory supplies
  • Transferring patients after surgery

A sterile processing tech is also responsible for sterility but does not work hands-on with patients.

His/her typical duties include:

  • Cleaning medical instruments and equipment
  • Operating decontamination equipment
  • Examining equipment and instruments to determine if they need further cleaning
  • Reporting issues with sterilization and cleaning
  • Organizing and inventorying sterile supplies
  • Disposing of waste material

Work Environment

Both sterile processing techs and surgical techs are employed by hospitals, or they may also work for physician or dental offices as well as outpatient surgery centers.

Both types of healthcare professionals may be hired by medical staffing services full-time and permanently, but they may also be sent to temporary jobs as needed.

These workers are traveling techs.

Unlike surgical technologists, sterile processing techs may work for medical equipment manufacturing companies rather than medical centers.

Training and Education

How long your education will last and what level of training and education you will need to reach will depend mostly on individual employers.

You can choose to get certified in either career, even though most states do not require this for employment.

To become a surgical technologist, you will need to complete a certificate or associate degree program, which takes one to two years to complete.

You can then get certified through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting and we advise you to do this, as many employers prefer to hire techs who have had this training and are certified.

Sterile processing technicians can also earn a certificate or diploma, which may take between six and 18 months to complete.

Certification for these professionals is through the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management, and again, many employers would rather hire those candidates who have it.

Salaries and Career Outlook

Being that the majority of healthcare careers are growing, there is no need to worry about getting a job once you become either a surgical tech or a Sterile Processing Technician.

Careers in surgical technology are growing across the country at a rate of 12 percent, much faster than average job growth.

There is a difference in salaries between these two professions, and surgical techs earn a little more, which reflects longer training requirements and more varied duties on the job.

The average salary is $22.26 per hour and $46,310 per year, while for sterile processing techs, hourly rates are $15.

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