Phlebotomists are trained professionals who draw blood from patients (or blood donors) under the supervision of a licensed physician or supervising medical practitioner. Some phlebotomists draw blood for laboratory testing. Other phlebotomists work with blood banks to collect whole blood and plasma to be used for transfusions in surgeries.
Day in the Life of a Phlebotomist
Phlebotomists follow a well-established set of medical protocols to ensure each patient receives safe care and attention. On a typical day, a phlebotomist will:
- Draw blood from the veins or capillaries of patients and blood donors
- Help patients and donors feel less anxious when having their blood drawn
- Verify that a patient's or donor's identity matches the labeling on each vial of blood
- Compare laboratory requisition forms to the labeling on each specimen
- Complete labeling the drawn blood for testing or processing according to protocols
- Enter and verify patient information in computer systems
- Assemble appropriate medical instruments such as needles, test tubes and blood vials
- Dispose of used needles and other biohazardous fluids and tissues according to applicable laws and policies
- Maintain a clean and sanitary work environment
Phlebotomists work in a wide variety of environments, such as:
- Blood banks
- Medical clinics
- Assisted living health care facilities
- Hospice centers
- Research labs
- Public health clinics
- Long-term care centers
- Patients' homes
Those who collect blood donations sometimes travel to different locations, such as offices or other types of sites, to set up mobile donation centers.
Most phlebotomists work in a full-time capacity. And because some of the facilities in which they work operate on a 24/7 basis, phlebotomists who are employed in hospitals, for example, may be required to work nights, weekends and holidays.
Important Characteristics for Phlebotomists
To be successful, phlebotomists need to manage the process of collecting blood safely for each patient, and certain characteristics are valuable to help them meet this goal. They are:
- Compassion and sensitivity toward patients, especially those who are uncomfortable having blood drawn or answering personal questions about one's sexual history
- An aptitude for the physical sciences
- The ability to stay calm and undisturbed at the sight of blood
- Awareness of how to communicate with patients, physicians and other health care workers
- Competence using computer equipment and software
- A detail-oriented mindset that allows them to process specimens and maintain records accurately
- The physical stamina to stand for long periods when required
Typical Steps for Becoming a Phlebotomist
The path to this career begins with getting a phlebotomist's education, followed by certification. The typical steps are as follows:
1) Graduate from high school with a diploma. Some phlebotomists may be able to start their career through on-the-job training, and having a high school diploma in hand is a good first step.
2) Earn a postsecondary nondegree award. Most phlebotomists enter the occupation having completed postsecondary education from a phlebotomy program. Phlebotomist training programs usually take less than one year to complete and are available at community colleges, vocational schools or technical schools. Phlebotomy courses include laboratory work and classes in anatomy, physiology and medical terminology.
Look for phlebotomist's schools accredited by one or more of the following organizations:
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
- National Phlebotomy Association
Make sure the school's accreditation status matches your state's health department or occupational board requirements.
3) Become certified as a phlebotomy technician. After completing phlebotomy training and courses — including classroom education and clinical experience — apply for certification. Almost all employers look for phlebotomists who have earned professional certification. Certification is required by these states: California, Louisiana, Nevada and Washington.
These organizations offer certifications for phlebotomists:
- American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
- Phlebotomist, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/phlebotomists.htm
- Summary Report for Phlebotomist, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/31-9097.00