STERILE PROCESSING UNIVERSITY
WHAT THE STERILE PROCESSING
PROFESSION IS ALL ABOUT
a sterile processing area (SPD) requires a technician to take on
multi-dimensional tasks and responsibilities that require specific
knowledge and skills, including an understanding of the following:
- Cleaning, decontamination, packaging, and sterilization of surgical instrumentation
- Processing and reprocessing of reusable medical devices
- Cleaning, testing, assembly, and distribution of movable patient care equipment
- The facility's purchasing procedures
- Storage, handling, and
distribution of sterile surgical instrumentation and devices, as well
as inventory control and cost recovery systems
nature of the work performed in SPD means that patient and personnel
safety is paramount. Sterile processing practices are highly regulated.
FUNCTIONS OF SPD
exactly is the role of the SPD technician? First, one needs to
understand what SPD does. SPD is the department that receives, cleans,
decontaminates, assembles, disinfects, and/or sterilizes reusable
medical and surgical devices for safe and effective patient care.
Depending on the healthcare facility, the department might be
designated Central Services, Central Supply, Central Sterile Supply,
Sterile Processing, Material Services, or another name. It has been
recommended by several organizations, including the Certification Board
for Sterile Processing and Distribution, Inc. (CBSPD), that the
department be called Sterile Processing to reflect the majority of the
work done in the present-day department.
In a hospital setting, SPD is usually divided into separate areas
according to the functions performed within each area. These areas can
include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Decontamination area, where
soiled items are received and cleaned. In a hospital setting, there
might be a dedicated elevator or dumbwaiter used to transport
contaminated items from the OR, L&D, and/or nursing units to
the SPD decontamination area. If there is not a dedicated system, a
transport method must be developed for the safe transport of
contaminated items from the using department to the decontamination
- Preparation and packaging area, where cleaned items are inspected, assembled, and packaged. This
area is often within the sterilization area, but it could be separate
and distinct. It might also be called a "clean work room."
- High-level disinfection room or area, where cleaned items are high-level disinfected and then passed
to the preparation and packaging (clean) area of the department for
- Sterilization area, where
terminal sterilization is performed. There might be a separate
sterilization room or area for ethylene oxide (EO) sterilization. There
might also be a segregated area for holding steam sterilizer carts
after they have been removed from the steam sterilizer to permit
cooling of items away from high-traffic areas.
- Sterile storage area, where sterile items are stored until needed. This area is used to
store sterile items received from outside vendors, sterile items
processed on site, or both. The location of the area where sterile
medical/surgical supplies are stored and distributed varies with the
- Sterile stores, where items
for patient care from outside manufacturers are stored. This area might
be a completely separate area, or it might be within the sterile
storage area, depending on the size of the facility. "Sterile stores"
is sometimes referred to as Medical Supply Distribution, Central
Supply, or a similar designation.
- Case cart area, where sterile
supplies (trays and/or sterile items from outside manufacturers) are
kept and picked for surgical cases. This area might be within the
sterile storage area.
- Dispatch, where sterile and
clean items are dispensed. There is usually a window through which the
items are dispatched to the transporter.
- Loaner area for the receipt
and return of instruments borrowed for specialty procedures. Although
such an area is not a requirement, many SPDs are now providing a
separate room or space for loaner instruments.
- Patient care equipment clean-up area, where patient care equipment is cleaned and disinfected.
There might be a separate area designated for this purpose. There is
usually a separate area for storage of cleaned and disinfected equipment.
of the specific scope of its work in a given facility, SPD is
responsible for providing dependable, reliable services to enhance the
quality of patient care. In other words, instrument sets, patient care
equipment, and other medical devices must be processed and distributed
in an accurate and timely manner so that patient care is not adversely
affected. The important work performed in SPD permits surgeons to
perform surgery and patients to heal. It has been said that the
department is "the heart of the hospital." Any healthcare facility
would find it difficult to function even for a few hours without SPD.
In an ambulatory surgery facility, the setup is usually similar to, but
smaller than, a hospital setting. The decontamination area is separate
from the preparation and packaging area. The sterilizers are usually
located in the preparation and packaging area. There is usually a
separate sterile storage area, but sterile trays and sets are sometimes
stored in closed cabinets within the operating rooms (ORs) or the
preparation and packaging area.
The MOST important part of being a sterile processing worker is to care
about the patients. The work is challenging due to the high work volume
and sometimes high stress (we have to deal with emergencies all the
time) however, in my 50+ years of nursing, it is the MOST rewarding
work I have done. This is because sterile processing technicians affect
every patient in the facility which is significant.
If you have family constraints, you can take the sterile processing
Ambulatory Surgery course and work in an Ambulatory Surgery center.
These centers do not require weekends, holidays or off-shifts. However
the type of instruments and sterilizers are similar.
I know you will find sterile processing very rewarding because you are
really helping patients. We might not be directly in the Operating
Room, but the instruments we prepared certainly are.
If you do not currently work
in a hospital or Ambulatory Surgery facility, it is recommended that you
volunteer some of your time at such a facility to put your book
knowledge to practice with hands-on experience.
There are HUNDREDS of sterile processing technician job openings all over the country so employment is not an issue!
We are here to assist you to become successful.
Nancy Chobin, RN, CSPM, CFER
Sterile Processing University, LLC
SPD Technician Course Page
Ambulatory Surgery Technician Course Page