Associate Degrees and Certificates: Medical Supplies Program Overviews

Oct 21, 2019

Essential Information

A sterile processing technology certificate program prepares students to oversee the care and cleaning of surgical instruments. Clinical and classroom-based education is included, and the curriculum might include general education courses. The program length varies depending on the certificate level.

Associate's degree programs in surgical technology teach students to care for surgery patients as well as surgical equipment. Students learn though seminars, class work, laboratory experiences, and internships, and this program usually lasts between 18 months to 2 years.

Applicants to an entry-level sterile processing technology program should be 17 years of age or older and have a high school diploma or GED (General Education Diploma). When clinical training is involved, students must also submit their immunization records and tuberculosis skin test results, as well as a recent physical exam. High school students considering a program in surgical technology should take courses in anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, and math. Job shadowing experiences in an operating room are also useful. Individual schools require college courses in biochemistry or organic chemistry, advanced medical terminology, and patient care, as well as training as a nurse's aide. Clinical experiences and internships require background checks and drug tests.

Certificate Programs in Sterile Processing Technology

Certificate programs in sterile processing technology provide students with the entry-level training and knowledge they need to take the Sterile Processing and Distribution Technician's Exam, available through the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution ( The programs are found at community and technical colleges and teach aspiring technicians how to assemble, inspect, and sterilize the surgical instruments and trays used in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and operating suites. Students also learn how to order supplies and oversee inventories.

Program length and requirements vary. For example, a course of study culminating in an entry-level technician's certificate includes 12 semester hours of classroom work and 32 hours of clinical training. Programs leading to a certificate of proficiency require 32 credits of coursework in general education, biology and sterile processing technology, as well as participation in clinical practica. Students enrolled in a certificate program have to complete a first-semester seminar. Additional classroom-based instruction includes topics in:

  • Biological chemistry or human biology
  • Computer technology
  • Hospital administration
  • Interpersonal relations and professional development
  • Medical terminology
  • Sterile processing and technology

Associate Degree Programs in Surgical Technology

Associate degree programs in surgical technology teach students how to care for a patient before, during, and after an operation. They lead to an Associate of Applied Science or an Associate of Science. Students learn how to operate surgical equipment, including electrosurgical units, laparoscopic tools, suction machinery, and sterilizers. Programs also prepare them for the national certification exam, available through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (

An associate's program in surgical technology requires approximately 65-72 credits of coursework. In addition to classroom work, some programs include surgical seminars and operating room labs. Some schools also offer certificate programs in surgical technology for students who are interested in working for dental, health, or veterinary facilities and require less than 40 credits to complete. Students in a surgical technology program take courses and labs in:

  • Disease and pathology
  • Human anatomy
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Surgical asepsis
  • Surgical instrumentation

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Qualified graduates of sterile processing technology programs may be prepared for positions in clinics, hospitals and healthcare facilities. Students who complete an associate's program in surgical technology may also find work in ambulatory surgical centers, doctor's offices and outpatient care centers.

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgical technologists received a median annual wage of $47,300 in May 2018 (

According to the BLS, opportunities for surgical technologists are projected to increase by 9% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than the average when compared to all other occupations.

Continuing Education

Some of the credits earned through a certificate program may be applied to an Associate of Technical Studies in Sterile Processing Technology. The program can require approximately 68 credits to complete, nearly half of which are in general studies.

Graduates of an associate's program may be interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Surgical Technology. Although rare, a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, Information Systems and Economics, with a concentration in medical equipment and supplies distribution, is also available.

An associate's in surgical technology or a certificate in sterile processing technology will help you succeed in the medical supplies field. Graduates can find work in a number of areas including healthcare facilities, hospitals, or doctor's offices.

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