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Eye Opening Facts of the SPD Industry

The Dynamic World of Sterile Processing

For those of us who work in sterile processing we understand the role we play in patient care and the expectation of delivering quality medical devices to clinical care providers. We also know our role is critical as it drives surgical operations and patient procedures. But does everyone understand the “meat and potatoes” behind this highly technical operation? To give praise to our industry professionals we must understand the specifics to their daily lives in the field and the challenges they overcome.

Let’s take a look at some of the eye-opening facts about this fast paced and ever evolving field.


  • Sterile Processing is in high demand. Given the number of surgical procedures completed every year, it is not surprising that this unique skillset is in need. The demand is expected to grow anywhere from 10% to 12% between 2020 and 2030 since a sizable percentage of our population are senior citizens who rely on procedures and healthcare to support a healthy lifestyle. Currently there are over 50,550 instrument specialist technicians in the U.S. according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.


  • It is a highly labor-intensive workload. While most healthcare professions are demanding and require long hours of walking or standing, the SPD field is one of the most labor demanding professions of its kind. For example, a department may have 12 storage racks with 5 rows each totaling 60 shelves of inventory. This department supports 10 different patient care specialties which include anywhere from 25-150 trays each. Of their total inventory, let’s say 500 different instrument sets that vary from 5 lbs. to 25 lbs. In one 40-hour work week a sterile processing department (SPD) technician might lift, push, move, pull or carry up to 2,000 lbs. which is equal to 1 ton!


  • Qualifications vary in geographic regions. In the US there are currently 5 states that require certification to work in sterile processing, within that state (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Pennsylvania). There are 4 additional states active for legislation moving towards certification requirement. While globally, the qualifications vary in areas like Iran, Mexico and China. Many countries require higher education levels through master programs and even PhD requirements in some areas. There are counties that even require a pharmaceutical background to work in SPD.


  • Understanding medical terminology can drive success. While medical terminology courses and anatomy and physiology are not a mandatory requirement in all sterile processing education, it is one that is highly recommended. Most college programs require these for career paths in the operating rooms, such as surgical technologist and medical assistants, but why not for the SPD? Having a clear understanding of what parts of the body are exposed during surgery, as well as the application of the instruments and their intended use, can help  SPD techs find areas to evaluate the instrument functionality as well as locations of hard to find debris. This specific and unique language can help healthcare professionals find surgical case needs more quickly, aide in clarity when reading preference cards and understanding surgical schedules fluently. Medical terms help SPD professionals be successful but also help improve the patient outcome.


  • SPD can be dangerous. Medical equipment preparers are one of the occupations in healthcare that experience a high rate of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), known as ergonomic injuries. 62% of reported injury or illness cases were classified as MSDs from 2015-2019. SPD professionals are faced with a variety of risks in their duties, from hazardous exposure to chemicals, disinfectants or sterilant, to sharps safety and exposure to bloodborne pathogens and microorganisms. Each department needs to create  safety practices, exposure control plans and use of work practice and engineering controls to protects all workers.


  • Quality over Quantity is still best. While SPD is a production unit continuously supplying products to its internal customers it is always best to create a standard work practice that will help drive quality. An SPD tech might produce over 160 items in one week, and each product must be inspected in detail for damage, cleanliness and functionality. Every step in the process is critical, and the need for secondary re-work should be avoided by creating quality practices and allowing each technician proper time to complete the inspection. Work controls and data aides such as visual cues, media images and work sheets can help drive great production as can creating a department design or layout that accommodates lean work practices.


  • SPD directly affects infection prevention and control. Without proper decontamination, preparation, packaging, inspecting, assembling, handling, transporting and storing of sterile surgical instrumentation and complex medical devices including equipment, patients could be at risk for contracting a healthcare acquired infection (HAI). HAIs occurred in an estimated 722,000 patients in acute care hospitals and were responsible for 75,000 deaths in 2011. An estimated 157,500 surgical site infections (SSI) occur per year and, according to the latest 2013 reports, 2%-5% of patients undergoing inpatient surgery develop an SSI (Anderson).

These are just a few examples of areas within an organization that rely on the ability and support of the sterile processing professionals to conduct patient care activities.

Author: Randalyn Walters

References and Resources

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (2021). “Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Data” U.S. Department of Labor. August 18, 2021.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (2022). “(Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, May 2021, 2022). www.bls.gov

Magill SS, Edwards JR, Bamberg W, et al. Multistate Point-Prevalence Survey of Health Care–Associated Infections. N Engl J Med 2014;370:1198-208. 

Anderson, Deverick J., et al. “Strategies to Prevent Surgical Site Infections in Acute Care Hospitals.” Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, vol. 29, no. S1, 2008, pp. S51–61. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.1086/591064. Accessed 23 Mar. 2023.