Surgical Tech vs. Sterile Processing Tech

If you have ever asked yourself, is surgical tech and sterile processing tech the same? You’re not alone.

There is a growing demand for qualified healthcare workers, particularly for surgical technologists and sterile processing technicians, and they are both great entry-level career options in the medical field.

However, if you are considering either of the two, it is best to know that these are two different careers in the allied health field.

If you are looking for a new path, one of these options can work. It all depends on your priorities.


Both roles support the work of the surgeons in a hospital/clinic by ensuring that surgeries go smoothly. However, they require different education and different roles. Let's look at surgical technologist and sterile processing tech skills, as well as their similarities and differences.

What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

The job of a surgical tech is similar in terms of both clean-up and preparation. Surgical technologists, also known as operating room technicians are responsible for setting up operating rooms and ensuring that equipment is ready to use.

These techs may assist doctors, surgeons, and nurses in scrubbing patients before surgery, ensuring that they are prepared, and passing instruments and holding equipment/body parts in the right place during surgery. Some surgical techs may clean incision sites and learn how to operate robot surgical equipment.

What Does a Sterile Processing Technician Do?

The operating room's backbone is made up of sterilization technicians. They are responsible for cleaning sterilization instruments, keeping records of sterilization results, and otherwise tracking equipment and supplies.

They are also responsible for the safety and well-being of patients by keeping medical supplies clean. Hospitals can be subject to major lawsuits and problems if the equipment is not properly sterilized.

Some techs are also responsible to deliver and set up medical equipment for outpatients. This experience is useful for those who want careers in the medical office or clinical lab, as they do not have to interact with patients. They are also known by the title of medical equipment preparers. Experience as a sterile processor tech could lead to a job in a medical device company.

What are the Training Education Requirements for Both?

To become a surgical technologist, you will need to complete a certificate training program or a two-year associate's level.

For sterile processing technician jobs, you will need a high school diploma, GED, and on-the job training. However, you can take a course at your local community college to prepare you or enroll in a certificate program. This will require you to pass a college placement exam.

Employment Opportunities for both Surgical Technologists and Sterile Processing Technicians:

There are many job opportunities for surgical technologists or sterile processing techs in the following:

  • Hospitals

  • Surgical centers

  • Primary care offices

  • Companies that make medical equipment

  • Expectations for surgical technologists and sterile processor technicians alike:

  • Current knowledge about the types of surgical instruments and equipment

  • Understanding safety procedures and sterilization techniques

  • Attention to detail and precision are key

  • Ability to multitask and work in a team

Learn more about becoming a sterile processing technician with these articles:

How to Become a Surgical Technologist or a Sterile Processing Technician?

If you have what it takes to work in a medical environment, you should enroll in the relevant courses. Want to start your healthcare career today? Martinson College offers online and accelerated programs that can be used in today's growing healthcare industry. Look at their available courses here.