Phlebotomy Career Information
Sometimes blood tests are necessary to provide valuable information to your health care providers about how your body is working.
That's why skilled professionals exist to do the job of collecting such samples. They specialize in drawing blood from patients while making them feel as comfortable as possible with the process. And they do it day after day, providing an essential healthcare service that contributes to the ability of doctors to diagnose and treat their patients.
Doctors require good information in order to properly care for their patients. That's why laboratory testing of biological samples is so important. Without timely results from lab tests, many medical patients would go undiagnosed or untreated. But, in order to get those results, blood must often be drawn.
At its most basic level, phlebotomy (also known as venipuncture) is the process of puncturing a vein in order to extract blood or introduce an intravenous fluid. It might seem simple, but the process is serious and invasive. Strict procedures must be followed in order to ensure the safety of patients and the quality of collected specimens.
Duties vary a little depending on where they work, but responsibilities can include:
- Assembling necessary equipment such as needles, vials, and tourniquets
- Explaining procedures to patients
- Helping patients to feel comfortable with the procedures
- Drawing patient blood samples using the correct tubes in the correct order
- Correctly labeling each blood sample
- Transporting blood samples to a medical laboratory for testing
- Collecting and transporting other lab specimens such as urine
- Entering patient data into a computerized records system
- Safely disposing of used needles
When drawing multiple blood samples from the same patient for different kinds of lab tests, they must take care to avoid cross-contamination between different blood collection tubes. This is because each tube is color-coded for the type of test to be performed, and each one has different additives that can negatively affect lab testing if they accidentally wind up in the wrong tube. To prevent such accidents, a phlebotomist must use tubes in a very specific order while drawing a patient's blood.
Although using a needle in a patient's arm is the most common way of drawing blood samples, other methods (known as "microtechniques")—such as using finger sticks or heel sticks—can also be employed for drawing minute quantities of blood. Heel sticks are primarily used for collecting blood from infants.
Besides collecting blood from medical patients, many venipuncturists work for blood donation centers and draw the blood of donors so that it can be used for other people's transfusions or surgeries (after being tested to ensure that it is safe to use).
Typical Work Environments
Work in this field can occur in a variety of settings, including:
- Blood banks
- Plasma centers
- Private medical clinics
- Dialysis centers
- Doctors' offices
- Medical laboratories
After gaining plenty of experience, some professionals choose to work for employers that provide mobile medical examinations on behalf of insurance companies. It is even possible for someone with a lot of experience to create his or her own company and provide such mobile services on a contract basis.
According to data from 2015, the median yearly wage was approximately $31,630, with the highest ten percent earning over $45,190.*
How to Become a Phlebotomy Technician
Compared to other healthcare occupations, the amount of training that's required for this profession is relatively minimal.
Your best bet is to explore the different training programs offered at schools near you. By seeking out a formal education, you can ensure that your knowledge and skills are up-to-par with industry standards, which can help you stand out to potential employers.
Some formal programs are accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
California is the only state with legally mandated phlebotomy certification requirements.
In all other states, professional certification is purely voluntary. You should know, however, that certification is not the same thing as licensure. A few states do require that phlebotomists register or obtain licensure through their state's department of health.
Professional certification can be valuable in helping you land a job or in helping you gain the respect of your healthcare peers. If you want to know how to become certified in California (or voluntarily in any other state), then you need to know which certifying agencies are most commonly recognized. The state of California lists the following as approved certifying organizations:
- American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
- American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
Additional organizations, other than those listed above, also provide certification, but it's best to check with employers in your area to see if they recognize a particular certifying body before committing to anything.
Regardless of the certifying organization you choose, you will have to pass a comprehensive exam. Exam content and fees vary from agency to agency. You may also have to prove that you've successfully completed a minimum amount of formal training from an accredited school.
The bottom line is this: In California, you definitely need professional certification to work as a phlebotomist. Everywhere else, it is best to check with prospective employers to see if it's necessary or desirable.
Benefits of the Job
Here are some of the most common benefits of working in this field:
- Relatively minimal training—Compared to most other occupations in the field of allied healthcare, phlebotomy requires only a small amount of training.
- Face-to-face interactions with different people—For anyone who likes people, you could have plenty of rewarding opportunities to meet and help a variety of people.
- Flexible and varied work schedules—Depending where they work, experienced technicians often have the ability to choose the shifts and schedules that best accommodate their lifestyles.
- A good starting point—You can gain a strong familiarity with different areas of a hospital as well as with related lines of work, which provides a solid stepping-stone to other healthcare careers.
Length of Training
Some courses only take a couple of months to complete, while others can take up to eight months. Overall, many programs tend to be at least 16 weeks long, often including up to eight weeks of clinical practice.
What Schooling Covers
Programs don't all share the same curricula. However, regardless of the specific program you choose, you are likely to encounter subjects such as:
- Basic anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Medical ethics and legal issues
- Circulatory system anatomy and physiology
- Stress management
- Safety precautions
- Infection control
- Infectious diseases and biohazards
- Patient identification
- Preparation and site selection
- Equipment and tube additives
- Risk factors and complications
- Corrective actions
- Proper disposal of needles and other medical waste
- Quality assurance
With experience (and sometimes further formal training), phlebotomists can have the opportunity to move into more advanced positions.
Some technicians eventually become supervisors. Others become mobile medical examiners, collecting blood and other lab samples on behalf of insurance companies.
Employment rates for phlebotomists are projected to experience a growth rate of about 25% by 2024.** Most of that growth will likely be due to an aging population and the greater need for laboratory testing that comes with an increase in medical conditions requiring diagnosis.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on April 7, 2016.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last accessed on February 17, 2016.
American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), website last accessed on July 30, 2015.
National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), website last accessed on July 30, 2015.
American Medical Technologists (AMT), website last accessed on February 10, 2017.
National Healthcareer Association (NHA), website last accessed on July 30, 2015.