Author: J. Vincent Sanchez, CRCST | Client Manager
If you’re embarking on a career in sterile processing, you might find yourself applying to jobs at your hometown hospitals—maybe the very hospital where you were born or where your friends and family have had surgery. But before you apply to work at a facility close to home, why not consider working as a traveling sterile processing technician? It’s the same job, but instead of being grounded to one locale, you’ll have the opportunity to travel across the country, working in places you might not otherwise visit.
Here’s what you should know about working as a travel tech:
What Is a Traveling Sterile Processing Technician?
A traveling sterile processing technician is exactly what it sounds like: a sterile processing technician (SPT) that travels. Often represented by health staffing agencies, traveling SPTs go wherever there’s a demand for their services.
Different parts of the country need more healthcare workers at different times of the year: Cities near ski resorts may need more orthopedic personnel during ski season. Natural phenomena and predictable risks of disaster drive hospitals to staff up for greater demand in the ER and OR. If more instruments need to be processed, the need for SPD personnel is right up there with the need for surgical nurses.
To become a traveling SPT, connect with a health staffing agency (or a few) to learn what opportunities exist. Certification requirements vary depending on the agency you work with, but it’s a good idea to at least have the basic certification from IAHCSMM or CBSPD. It’s also helpful to have some prior SPD experience, so you’re not coming in as a total newbie to the field.
Contracts typically last a minimum of 13 weeks. Planning your moves and finding housing is up to you, although some agencies provide travel reimbursement.
Pros and Cons of Working as a Traveling Sterile Processing Technician
Pro: You get to live in places you’ve never visited.
This is the whole point of being a traveling SPT—you get to go to new places, see new things, and make your (temporary) home in cities you might not otherwise have the chance to visit. If you’ve spent most of your life in the same part of the country, this is a great opportunity to see new landscapes and experience other subcultures while earning your living through a rewarding career.
Con: Traveling makes relationships difficult.
Short, temporary contracts can make it hard to develop relationships with the people you’re living and working with. Moving around a lot can also make it hard to keep up with your existing relationships. If you’re a single person, you’ll have to find a way to develop friendship on the fly and bounce back from goodbyes to start over when you get a new location assignment. If you’re in a relationship, you’ll have to learn how to maintain contact over long distances while also investing in the place and people where you live.
Pro: You get paid a premium.
Travel health positions often pay a higher wage than full-time, inhouse positions, even though the jobs themselves are exactly the same. This is due partially to the demand for those healthcare workers; it also serves to make up for some of the stress of moving from job to job and not being at a place for a long time. If you’re trying to pay off student debt or put money away for a house or other investment, working as a traveling SPT could be a quicker way to earn the finances you need.
Con: You might live in costlier places.
If you’re traveling from rural Ohio to work as a traveling SPT in Denver, Colorado, your cost of living will go up, not down. Traveling is fun, but it may mean taking assignments in places that are more expensive to live—just because you’re making a higher wage doesn’t mean you’ll have more money to spend (or save).
Pro: Diversify your experience.
Yes, you’ll be doing the same job everywhere you go, but different hospitals have different workflows and systems. You’ll learn new things at every hospital you contract with. This makes traveling a great way to gain new perspectives on how to effectively run an SPD. If you decide to stop traveling after a few years and take a full-time position, you’ll have a wealth of experience to draw from that could set you up for promotion to an SPD management position.
Con: Everywhere you go, you’ll have to adjust.
You may have learned one way of organizing workflows at your first hospital, and now you’re convinced it’s the best way ever—but every hospital you work at as a traveling SPT has its own systems and processes. It’s not your job to remodel the departments you contract with. You’re there to fill their gaps. This means you need to be able to adjust to different approaches every time you start a new assignment. If you’re not prepared to do this, traveling could end up being a miserable experience.
Working as a traveling sterile processing technician is a great way to gain valuable experience while seeing new places. Have you already worked as a traveler? Tell us about your experience.
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