Phlebotomy is a booming career path within the medical field. Phlebotomists are responsible for drawing blood from patients for different reasons. This is a practice called venipuncture. It’s considered an entry-level job, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It can take months of training to become a phlebotomist. This is because drawing blood is only part of what a phlebotomist is required to do.
Hospitals and clinics are looking for qualified phlebotomists now more than ever. This is because technology has made it easier to test more conditions through blood. The population is also getting older. The baby boomer generation tends to need their blood drawn more, so more phlebotomists are required as a result.
It’s not about just taking blood from patients, though. When you train to become a phlebotomist, you cover several different areas of study. It’s crucial for you to know the human body and its systems. You’ll also learn about things like lab safety and how to transport vials of blood.
When you look at everything a phlebotomist has to do on a daily basis, you might be surprised to know that you can become certified in less than a year. If you like working with people and want to jump on board with one of the fastest-growing healthcare positions, you may want to consider becoming a phlebotomist. But, it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Phlebotomist?
This guide will cover the daily responsibilities of a phlebotomist. Of course, you can expect to learn about drawing blood and the right procedures for that. But, the general scope of being a phlebotomist contains a lot of different things. Certain personalities are better than others for the job, as well as people with specific skills.
There are many different things to learn about this career. Once you know everything you’ll be required to do on a regular basis, you can better determine if it’s the right career choice for you. Starting with training, let’s take a closer look at what’s expected of a qualified phlebotomist.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Phlebotomist?
First, to become a phlebotomist, you’re required to take a training course. Training courses contain two parts. Through the first half, you’ll be in a classroom setting. This allows you to learn things like different functions of bodily systems. You’ll also learn safety rules and how to stay organized when handling blood. The second half of your training involves practicing venipuncture.
Becoming a phlebotomist can take less than a year of training. It can take a few extra weeks if you want to become a certified phlebotomist. Not all states need phlebotomists to be certified. But, more states are turning toward it. And, you may have a better chance of landing an excellent job in a hospital if you’re certified.
Training can be done at many different colleges who offer the program. There are also specific training centers that offer courses on phlebotomy. You can even take some courses online. But, you’ll still have to practice venipuncture in person to complete your training.
How Does a Phlebotomist Draw Blood?
The thing most people think about when becoming a phlebotomist is drawing blood. It’s one of the most significant responsibilities and needs to be done correctly every single time. That’s why training programs make sure you perform many successful ‘sticks’ before you’re ready to complete the course.
There are specific steps to follow when it comes to drawing blood. These steps need to be followed with each patient to make sure they are safe, and everything remains sterile. Some patients can complain about a bit of pain at the site of the needle. But, a good phlebotomist can make a stick feel almost like nothing!
The following steps are the standard procedure for drawing blood from a patient:
- Gather the equipment needed ahead of time. You should have everything organized on a tray to bring into the room for the patient. This includes things like gloves and blood-collection tubes, and different needles and syringes. You’ll also need lab forms and specific labels for each blood specimen.
- Once all your equipment is ready, you also need to prepare the patient. Make sure they are comfortable, explain what you’re about to do and see if they have any questions.
- Find the vein on your patient’s extended arm. Usually, the vein used for a blood draw is found in the crease of the arm where you bend your elbow. You should be able to find the vein before using a tourniquet.
- Tie the tourniquet 3-4 inches above the site of the vein.
- Make sure your hands are clean, and you’re wearing gloves. Then, disinfect the site where you’re about to draw blood. This can be done with an alcohol swab.
- Place your thumb underneath the venipuncture site and insert the needle to begin drawing blood.
- Once the correct amount of blood has been collected, remove the tourniquet and then the needle.
- Immediately apply light pressure to the venipuncture site. Then, cover it with a piece of cotton and a bandage.
Where Do Phlebotomists Work?
A phlebotomist should be prepared to work in a variety of different settings. Most work in hospitals, but there are many other options for locations. It’s vital that you can adapt to your surroundings and the people you’ll work with no matter where you end up working.
Even though hospitals are almost always looking for phlebotomists, you can also find a job in places like:
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- Private practices
- Nursing homes
- Blood banks
Some phlebotomists work on a ‘freelance’ basis. This offers flexibility, but how much money you’ll make depends on how often you work. You also need to market yourself to local facilities that use phlebotomists on a regular basis.
The working environment of a phlebotomist takes someone who doesn’t mind the possibility of several different elements.
For example, if you work in a busy hospital, you have to be able to keep up. You may see a dozen patients or more in a single day. You need to be able to keep up a fast pace while doing your job correctly and making sure your patients are comfortable.
If you work somewhere like a clinic or private practice, you may be able to slow down a little. Your patients may expect a bit more bedside manner in these locations because you do have more time. So, while you’re required to keep up with whatever environment you’re in, the next most crucial thing a phlebotomist needs to do is take care of their patients appropriately.
How to Handle Different Types of Patients
No matter where you work, one of the most significant responsibilities of a phlebotomist is to make sure your patients feel comfortable. Getting blood drawn for any reason isn’t usually considered a ‘fun’ experience for most people. For some, it can even be scary. You may find that patients become rude.
A phlebotomist is often the first medical professional seen before someone goes to the doctor or gets other tests done. So, if you can set a positive tone for your patient, you can help them through different procedures.
As a phlebotomist, you’ll work with a lot of different types of people each day. This is especially true if you work in a busy hospital. Dealing with difficult patients is part of the job, which is why it takes a particular personality type to be a good phlebotomist. It’s important to not only comfort patients who are nervous but remain calm with patients who are being difficult.
Some of the best personality traits for a phlebotomist include:
One patient may ruin your entire day with their negative attitude, but you can’t let that show to that patient or the ones who follow.
You’ll also have to work with patients of different ages. Phlebotomists regularly have to draw blood from children. This can take a bit more patience as many children can be scared of needles. If you’re good with kids, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about! Even if you’re not, though, earning that child’s trust by being friendly and calm usually does the trick.
Many seniors also have to get their blood drawn. Being able to reassure them and show them kindness is essential.
Finally, you’ll have to deal with people on a daily basis who aren’t patients. Unless you work for yourself as a mobile phlebotomist, you’re going to be a part of a team. In a hospital or clinic, it’s important to be able to work as a piece of that team and communicate with your fellow employees.
You all have the same goal in mind when it comes to diagnosing and treating patients. You’ll especially have to work closely with the people in the lab. Being able to work well with others to achieve a common goal is a necessary character trait for a phlebotomist.
Preparing Patients for a Blood Draw
As stated above in the steps to drawing blood, phlebotomists must prepare their patients to get their blood drawn. But, this involves more than just finding a vein and sterilizing the area. Preparing patients to get their blood drawn involves quite a bit of talking.
Here’s what you should expect to do when you come into a room for a patient:
- Introduce yourself to the patient and confirm their full name. This helps to prevent any confusion and ensures you that you have all the right supplies for that particular patient.
- Ask your patient if they have any allergies. You should also ask if they’ve ever had any issues when getting their blood drawn in the past.
- If you sense that your patient is scared or uncomfortable, it’s okay to take a few minutes to calm them down. Distracting them with casual conversation or trying to find common ground is an excellent way to do this. If you can get your patient smiling or laughing, there’s a good chance they won’t be as nervous about getting their blood drawn.
- Get verbal consent for the blood draw before you perform it. You should explain each step to the patient as you’re prepping them. But, before the needle goes into their arm, make sure they’re okay with it.
These steps for prepping your patient can go a long way in how the entire experience feels. It will create a more pleasant experience for your patient. But, it will also usually make things easier for you. These steps help to get rid of confusion and will often make your patient more comfortable and amenable to your care.
Phlebotomists Need to Be Organized
Phlebotomists are required to be extra organized. If they aren’t, big mistakes could start to happen. That could put patient’s lives in jeopardy and could get whatever facility you’re working for in a lot of trouble. So, what does drawing blood have to do with being organized?
It starts with the blood draw itself. Before you even see your patient, you need to make sure you have all the right equipment in front of you. Having the wrong syringes or types of blood vials will cause you to waste time finding the right ones. If you end up using the wrong equipment, you could cause harm to your patient.
Once you’ve drawn the blood from your patient, specific amounts need to go directly into different vials. Most of these vials are characterized by different cap colors. But, each one needs to be appropriately labeled before it gets sent to the lab. Mislabeling a vial can be extremely dangerous for the patient. It can result in a misdiagnosis. If this happens, the patient may need to return to get their blood drawn again.
Your organization skills are also critical when you’re transferring the blood samples to the lab. If you work in a hospital, there is usually a lab on site. Being careful and keeping each vial of blood properly organized when transporting it to the lab is essential. It makes the lab scientists’ job easier and allows them to do it correctly.
Do Phlebotomists Diagnose Illnesses?
One thing a phlebotomist isn’t required to do is diagnose illnesses from blood samples. Blood samples are being drawn today more than ever before. This is due in part to the fact that many different conditions and illnesses can be found in blood samples.
It’s only the responsibility of the phlebotomist to draw the blood from a patient and label it correctly. Then, it can get sent to the lab for diagnosis. A lab isn’t always necessarily looking for specific diseases. Everything from cholesterol levels to red and white blood cell counts can be determined through these samples.
When someone gets their blood drawn for any reason, a lab will test it, and the patient’s doctor will give the results. If the blood work is completely normal, the patient’s doctor may let them know online or with a phone message.
If the blood reveals a particular condition or something abnormal, the patient may need to come in for a visit. Unlike doctors, phlebotomists don’t see the same patients regularly. So, they aren’t at liberty to diagnose a patient with any blood disorder or give them their lab results.
Are Phlebotomists Responsible for Cleaning Up?
One of the other major responsibilities of a phlebotomist is keeping everything as clean as possible. When working with blood, cleanliness, and sterilization are important. This includes everything from using sterilized equipment to making sure the room you’re using is clean at all times.
Cross-contamination can lead to significant problems. You may lose your job, and the hospital you work for could get sued. Cleanliness is vital to keep things safe. This is for the patient’s sake, of course, but it’s also for your own. That’s why it’s essential to wear gloves and not touch the venipuncture site directly with your hands.
Once you’re finished seeing a patient, you should dispose of specified equipment pieces correctly. Needles need to be placed in specific receptacles. Some pieces of equipment may need to be placed in a biohazard trash receptacle.
If you work in a hospital, there may be a designated person to come in and clean/sterilize rooms each day. But, it’s your responsibility to make sure everything you’re using remains sterile. And, anything you touch should be clean to protect yourself and your patients.
Phlebotomists are also responsible for following the rules and regulations put forward by their place of employment. Every hospital and clinic have their own set of rules, and they often include safety procedures and precautions. You’ll learn general lab and safety rules while you’re training. But, knowing the specific rules of your work location is crucial if you want to do your job the right way and keep everyone safe.
Can a Phlebotomist Get Promoted?
If you become a phlebotomist and perform all your responsibilities well, you eventually might want to think about promotion. There is good news and bad news when it comes to gaining a different position as a phlebotomist. The bad news is that it doesn’t usually just happen to someone in a higher position giving you a better job.
The good news is that you can work toward a higher position as a phlebotomist. If you choose to do this, your training responsibilities increase and your job responsibilities may change slightly. If you find that the requirements expected of you as a phlebotomist leave you wanting more, there are ways to increase them and get a new job title:
- Donor Phlebotomy Technician (DPT): If you’re a certified phlebotomist, you can eventually become a DPT. This enables you to find employment at blood collection centers. This requires more training, a letter from your supervisor and passing a DPT certification exam. The other responsibilities are just like what you might do in a hospital. But, you’ll be taking larger amounts of blood from patients and transporting it to blood banks instead of laboratories.
- Phlebotomy Specialist: The requirements of a phlebotomist remain the same, even if you choose to become a specialist. But, there are different types of phlebotomy specialties. They each take more training, and you’ll have a specific ‘specialty’ to focus on along with normal procedures. Specializing in a specific type of practice can take years of experience. But, it also comes with a pay raise.
- Choosing a different medical career: Many phlebotomists use the job as a stepping stone to kickstart a career in medicine. While you’re working as a phlebotomist, you can continue schooling for things like nursing, or even to become a physician. Keep in mind that the requirements of these kinds of jobs are often far greater and more detailed.
It’s not required that you change careers or try to ‘move up’ as a phlebotomist. Some people work the same position in phlebotomy for their entire career. Though the responsibilities are the same each day, it’s an exciting job where you meet new people all the time. As far as an entry-level job goes, it pays well, and there isn’t too much training involved.
Getting a job in the medical field doesn’t mean you need to spend years training or going to school. If you have a passion for helping people, becoming a phlebotomist could be the perfect job for you. It’s a great entry-level position that allows you to work directly with patients. Depending on where you work, your days will never get boring, and you’ll have the chance to meet a lot of different people every single day.
As you can see, phlebotomists have a lot more to think about than just drawing blood from patients. It takes a certain personality and strong organizational skills to be a good phlebotomist. Now that you know the responsibilities, you can make a better decision on whether phlebotomy is the right career for you. If you’ve been considering a career in medicine, phlebotomy is a great place to start.