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Imagine working on your car and then eating a sandwich—without first washing your hands—or cleaning your dishes with a dirty, smelly rag. Imagine eating a bowl of cereal with a spoon pulled from the trashcan, or having a thermometer that was just used on another patient placed in your mouth without first being cleaned. While each of the above examples gives reason for pause and concern, none are as jarring as if a used surgical instrument isn’t thoroughly cleaned or sterilized prior to subsequent use.

This latter example is precisely why Central Service (CS)/Sterile Processing technicians are such valuable members of any healthcare facility. They’re often the unsung heroes in healthcare, working hard behind the scenes to prevent infection and other medical complications through diligent instrument handling and reprocessing practices.

As a sterile processing instructor at Keystone Technical Institute in Harrisburg, Penn., I’m responsible for preparing students to understand new technologies, new challenges, and changes related to the CS field. It’s also my job to help them understand current standards, protocols and best practices. Sterile processing is an ever-important and growing healthcare profession, and high demand for well-trained and educated CS professionals provides terrific opportunities for those seeking a rewarding career in this dynamic field.

As the population continues to grow and age—and requires more surgical procedures—the number of highly trained CS technicians is expected to rise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From fiber optics to robotics and beyond, advances in medical technology will introduce new surgical procedures and equipment, which will further underscore the importance of ongoing training and education of CS professionals.

Days of on-the-job training in sterile processing are becoming a thing of the past. Increasingly, today’s employers are looking to hire sterile processing technicians with real-world experience or some kind of formal education. Many facilities are reluctant to hire an unqualified applicant because extra training or onboarding costs are often required to bring the unskilled new-hire up to speed.

In the Central Pennsylvania region where I teach, there is a strong demand for qualified CS technicians. Nationally, growth in this field is expected to increase by 15-20% by 2020, according to The Occupational Information Network, and it’s understandable that facilities would seek the most qualified individuals to fulfill the vital role.

These skills transform students into vital, valuable members of the healthcare workforce. With a diploma in hand, students are prepared for careers in hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, health clinics, and other medical facilities.

Through involvement in an externship or through experience gained in a lab-like setting on campus, students will develop real-world skills needed to properly manage complex medical devices and deliver consistent, high quality customer service. This application of knowledge and skill sets contributes greatly to staff professionalism, quality service, infection prevention, and other positive outcomes—all of which serves to benefit the healthcare facility and, above all, the patients being served.

Want to learn more about the benefits of a career as a sterile processing technician? Click here or request more information.

This article was originally written by sterile processing instructor Lisa Ann Hall, CRCST, for IAHCSMM‘s October 2015 issue. 

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