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Surgical Technologist vs Sterile Processing Technician

Sterile processing technician and surgical technologist may sound like one job to some, but they are not. However, they need to work together as one team for the same outcome, patient safety. 

Both careers support the work of the surgical team in a medical setting and are also integral to making surgeries run smoothly. They do, however, require different educational paths and fulfill different roles.

Sterile Processing Tech Job Description

What does a sterile processing technician do? If you’ve never heard of this career, that might be because it goes by many different names in various workplaces, including:

· Sterilization Technician

· Central Service Technician

· Surgical Processing Technician

· Instrument Technician

· Medical Equipment Preparer

Those job titles should give you a better idea of what these technicians do. They’re responsible for ensuring that equipment is cleaned, sterilized, and prepared for surgeries (and other medical and lab procedures). Their tasks on the job might include cleaning items that have been brought in from previous procedures, preparing and setting up equipment for upcoming procedures, putting away cleaned equipment, and ensuring that all equipment is in good condition. They may also be in charge of checking inventory and restocking. The Surgery starts in the SPD with sterilizing instruments and preparing equipment. The following are some of their duties;

· Manually cleaning of medical instruments, equipment and surgical trays

· Performs sterilizations on the above said items

· Examines equipment and instruments as well as reports any problems

· Testing and monitoring of autoclaves

· Assembling all necessary equipment such as surgical trays

· Keeping inventory and ordering all needed sterile supplies

· Packing and storing of sterile supplies

Surgical Technologist Job Description

What do surgical technologist do? Surgical technologists play an important role in operating rooms. Surgical Technologist (one who is educated from an accredited school) also go by different names;

· Operating Room Technicians

· Surgical Technicians (on job training)

· Surg Techs

· OR Techs

· Scrub Techs

· Surgical Techs

They help set up operating rooms before surgery and ensure that the necessary equipment is sterilized, maintain aseptic technique and prepare the OR for surgery. They help surgeons, doctors, and nurses with scrubbing in before surgery, ensure that patients are prepped, and assist surgeons by passing instruments or holding instruments during surgery. Some surgical techs might clean and prepare incision sites on patients, suture, put dressings on or may even learn to operate robotic surgical equipment. They too might be in charge of checking inventory and restocking. Some of the responsibilities include but not limited to;

· Setting operating room for surgical procedure

· Preparing and transporting patient to and from OR

· Gathering instruments and equipment needed for surgery

· Monitoring patient’s vital signs

· Assisting surgical team with gowns and gloves

· Keeping operating area as a sterile zone

· Disposing of used sponges, dressings, needles and gauze (keeping counts accurate)

· Takes charge of specimens and samples

Sterile processing technicians make sure that the instruments used in a hospital or clinic are safe to use and free of bacteria or other contaminants. They need to know about microbiology and how to prevent infections from spreading, as well as reliable procedures for storing medical instruments or moving them from place to place without exposing them to contamination. 

Surgical technologists get an operating room set up for surgery, make sure the surgical field and the surgical instruments are sterile, help the members of the operating team scrub in before the surgery begins, and pass medical instruments to the surgeon along with many other valuable roles.

Both roles need to put the patient first and maintain patient safety at all time. Treat every patient and/or surgical case as it was your loved one.


Surgical Technology Program Articles

Sterile Processing (pdf)


Infections Guide (pdf)


Safe Surgery (pdf)


Intro to Extern (pdf)