A phlebotomist is a fairly new member of the modern health care team. Previously, nurses or physicians would be responsible for drawing blood samples for tests or other purposes. As administrative and other responsibilities have increased the regular duties of doctors and their staff, specialized fields such as phlebotomy have become more necessary.
Phlebotomist comes from the Latin word phlebotomy, which literally translates to “to cut a vein.” It began as blood letting, a method used in ancient times to the late 19th century to treat fevers and other illnesses. Phlebotomy also included the use of leeches. Today, while the methods have changed, phlebotomy is a common practice in hospitals to collect blood samples via needle for laboratory testing and other purposes such as providing supplies for blood banks.
Phlebotomist‘s Typical Work Environment & Tasks
Phlebotomists provide a face of the laboratory to patients at hospitals and health clinics. During the time they spend preparing for and drawing samples, they monitor patients, ensure they are at ease, and provide customer service. Examples of techniques used by phlebotomy technicians include venipuncture by syringe, venipuncture by butterfly needle, heel stick, fingerstick, and other blood extraction tools. Often, prior to puncturing the skin, the phlebotomist will apply a tourniquet to help in vein identification. Once the blood is drawn, it must be accurately labeled so that the correct testing is completed.
Other phlebotomists work within blood banks or blood mobiles. In this capacity, they collect blood and occasionally plasma samples from donors. This role also includes screening potential donors using predetermined interview questions, as well as biometric data. During and concluding the process, they ensure the safety of the donors and monitor them. Finally, phlebotomy technicians provide refreshments to donors after the procedure.
Phlebotomy technicians can find work almost anywhere that health care is provided. This provides flexibility and a portable career. Hospitals, physician offices, private clinics, and blood collection facilities are all available in most areas.
Phlebotomist Educational Background Requirements
In order to become a phlebotomist, an individual needs to have at least a high school degree or equivalent. Following that, depending upon state requirements, the aspiring phlebotomy technician will receive training either in a classroom environment, or on the job. Phlebotomy certifying agencies all require this educational background. It can be helpful during high school to take classes in the sciences, though this is not a prerequisite.
Skills for Success in Phlebotomy
Phlebotomy is more than just drawing blood from veins and knowing the anatomy of the circulatory system. It also involves understanding a bit of chemistry, engineering, and administration.
A successful phlebotomist will not only know how to best draw blood samples from patients, but will also do so with a calm and relaxed attitude. The ability of a phlebotomist to make small talk and converse on various topics can provide patients with a good distraction from the procedure. Individuals from all backgrounds require blood to be drawn and it is important for the phlebotomy technician to always be professional in their interactions, regardless of the patient.
Safety is paramount throughout the health care field, but especially when blood is involved. Phlebotomists are careful in cleaning the draw site, taking samples, and disposing of sharps and other blood drawing equipment. Properly following safety and biohazard procedures is a necessary part of the position and critical for success.
Organization skills are part of every sample draw, as there are often multiple tests run, with each requiring its own sample. Phlebotomists keep track of the different tubes, make sure they are drawn in the correct order, and label them. In some labs, the phlebotomy technicians will even do some of the lab work and machine maintenance.
Regardless of work environment, phlebotomists spend a good part of their day on their feet and moving around. For this reason, being in good physical shape helps to best work in this field.
Getting a Start as a Phlebotomist
The quickest way to get a start in the field of phlebotomy is to earn a certificate in phlebotomy. Certificate programs can take as little as two months and provide participants with the basics of physiology, anatomy, terminology, equipment, and technique required for a phlebotomy technician position. Most certificate programs mix lecture and lab time, providing clinical rotations and experience to help phlebotomists prepare for their first days on the floor of the lab.
A more robust associates degree program will cost more and take a bit more time, but will also provide additional general education and training that can help graduates also transition to other roles in medical technology or medical assistance.
Bachelor’s degrees in phlebotomy provide students with the skills necessary for a supervisory role or to serve as a medical technologist. This also provides a thorough general education that can be applicable to other fields.
Some phlebotomists have received their training for the position on the job. This is becoming less common as more states require certification to work in the field. Prospective phlebotomists should check their state’s laws and requirements before selecting a training program.
Phlebotomists from all of the different training routes are encouraged to obtain certification from one of the certifying agencies. Certification is viewed by many as proof of understanding of the basic concepts in phlebotomy. For those just completing a phelebotomy program, certification may help in finding a job more quickly.
Career Advancement as a Phlebotomist
Starting out as a phlebotomist is an excellent way to get started in a health care career. There are opportunities for advancement within phlebotomy in both training and supervisory roles. Other phlebotomy technicians move on to other roles in patient care or laboratory services. Either route provides opportunities for phlebotomists to increase both their pay and resposibilities.
Due to the expected increase in medical needs of the population, as large segments of the population age, phlebotomy as a profession is expected to experience significant growth in job opportunities between now and 2018. This important, first line in patient care is an excellent field for individuals who wish to be a phlebotomist or part of the patient care system.