What Is The Difference Between Sterile Processing Tech And Surgical Tech?

For a successful career in healthcare that doesn’t need a four-year degree, you have more opportunities than you may realize. With a lot of background understanding, it can be easier to understand these jobs, and they may appear very similar. There are significant differences, though, between a surgical and a sterile processing technician. Find out about these careers and how they are similar and different to make an intelligent choice for your future.

Surgical Technologist

A surgical technologist is an allied healthcare expert who works with surgical teams to provide excellent patient safety. They are accountable for preparing the functional space and the patient before a surgical process. They aid during surgeries by handing supplies and tools to nurses, surgeons, and surgical first assistants. After surgeries are complete, they re-sterilize the room and equipment.

Surgical techs are essential members of the surgical squad because they are accountable for maintaining a sterile setting and ensuring the surgeon has everything they need to conduct a procedure. This hands-on job will have you operating directly with doctors and patients.

Sterile Processing Technician

Sterile processing technician has an even more precise role in the healthcare setting. This skill is accountable for cleaning and sterilizing medical supplies and equipment. They also work to retain sterility in a healthcare environment. Unlike a surgical tech, the sterile tech does not work directly with the patients. Instead, they work behind the scenes but play an essential role in patient safety. Other names for this job include central sterile technician, medical equipment preparer, and central processing technician.

What Are Their Typical Duties?

Some of the usual everyday duties for a surgical technologist are:

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

A sterile processing technician is also accountable for sterility but does not function hands-on with patients. Some specific duties include:

  • Cleaning medical equipment and instruments
  • Examining instruments and equipment to determine if they need cleaning
  • Operating decontamination equipment
  • Reporting problems with cleaning and sterilization
  • Disposing of waste material
  • Inventorying and organizing sterile supplies

Work Environment

The biggest numbers of both sterile processing tech and surgical processing technician are utilized by hospitals. They may also work for dental or physician offices and outpatient surgery centers. Both healthcare experts may be hired by medical staffing assistance, sending them to interim jobs as required. These workers are traveling technicians. Unlike surgical technologists, sterile technicians may work for medical equipment manufacturing firms rather than medical centers.

Training And Education

For either job, the education and training required to depend primarily on individual employers. It is possible to obtain sterile tech certification in either career, but several states do not need this for a job. Most surgical technologists require a certificate program, which takes 1-2 years to complete. Many employers like to hire techs that have had certification and completed the training.

sterile processing technician

Sterile processing techs can also attend school and are more inclined to earn a diploma or certificate, which may take between 6 and 18 months to complete. These experts are certified through the IAHCSMM (International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management). Certification is not required, but numerous employers would instead hire those nominees who have it.

Salaries And Career Outlook

Several healthcare careers are thriving, primarily allied healthcare careers like these. More medical centers and hospitals are hiring these specialists to improve patient safety and maximize cost savings. For example, employment in surgical sterilization tech is thriving across the country at a rate of 12%, much faster than average job development.

Salaries are higher for surgical techs, which need longer training prerequisites and more varied responsibilities on the job. The median payment in 2017 was $22.26 per hour and $46,310 yearly for sterile processing tech.

Benefits Of Becoming A Surgical Tech Or Sterile Processing Tech

Beyond their fundamental definitions, there are the daily benefits of each job. Weighing the benefits of each can help you reasonably understand which will be a good fit based on your passions, interests, and personality.

Sterile Processing Technician

Little Patient

Many people are extroverts, and many others are introverts. If you like to work independently with some interpersonal interactions, choosing a sterile processing technician may be an adequate choice.

Not Stuck Behind a Desk

If staying in a single place for prolonged periods makes you restless, you will enjoy the on-your-feet aspect of sterile processing. However, as you are tasked with keeping all the equipment clean, you will need to move into the hospital to collect and sterilize equipment.

Surgical Technologist

Give Direct Support to Surgeons

Several people in the healthcare sector are making a significant difference. But as a surgical tech, you see the difference you are making up close. You will be helping a surgeon potentially save a patient’s energy, and you get to be there each step of the way.

Every Day Looks Different

If you get bored quickly, doing the same assignments every day may lead to dissatisfaction and burnout. This is an essential consideration in selecting a surgical tech vs. sterile processing tech job career. As a surgical tech, you will have new patients and techniques daily. This can bring in each day at work exciting.


Surgical technology and sterile processing program careers are significant for patient safety. Both have a consequence and make a distinction in patients’ lives daily. The considerable disparities are in the interface with the patients, the degree of salaries, and training. However, both careers are rewarding, and you can feel good about them.

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