Phlebotomist Career Guide

Overview

Phlebotomists draw blood from people or animals for tests, research, transfusions or blood donations. They also collect urine samples to determine whether the urine contains blood. They can work in many types of health care settings, including hospitals, clinics, commercial laboratories, blood banks, hospices, medical practices, research laboratories and home health agencies. Phlebotomists are also able to draw blood using any the common methods, including venipuncture, fingersticks (also called fingerpricks) and heel sticks.

Venipuncture is the obtaining of blood from a vein, using a hypodermic needle or other instrument. Through this method, a phlebotomist can draw a lot of blood, which can be divided up to use for many purposes. Venous blood can be used for:

  • Rendering diagnostic tests
  • Monitoring levels of blood components
  • Administering medications, nutrition or chemotherapy
  • Removing blood that has too much iron or too many red blood cells
  • Collecting blood for transfusions into patients

Fingersticks are a simple pricking of a finger to obtain a drop of blood, which is usually collected in a capillary tube or on a test strip. Heel sticks are a means of sticking the heel to obtain blood; they’re generally used for infants, because infants have such small fingers that can be damaged easily.

Fingersticks and heel sticks collect blood from the capillaries, which are blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Capillary samplings are easy to obtain, so patients can learn to take these samples themselves. Capillary blood is commonly used for any of several tests:

  • Glucose levels. These tests are for checking the blood sugar levels of diabetics.
  • Hemoglobin levels. These determine whether a potential blood donor has a blood count that is high enough to be useful.
  • Mononucleosis. These determine whether a person has mono.
  • Complete blood count. These count the blood cells, providing a generalized look at the overall health of a person.
  • Genetic testing. These are normally used for infants, to determine whether they might have any hereditary disorders.

Phlebotomists need to possess a good bedside manner, because many patients are nervous about having their blood drawn, while other patients are in pain or are worried about their health condition. One must be meticulous in the collecting, testing and recording of samples, because lives can depend upon the maintenance of proper records.

Other Job Duties

Phlebotomists draw and collect blood samples, keep close records and prepare the samples for laboratory examination. They usually check a patient’s medical records and take a patient’s vital signs before drawing blood. In blood banks, they interview patients beforehand and check their records in order to determine whether the patients might have any diseases that would eliminate them from being a safe donor. They are often the only link between a patient and the laboratory, so they sometimes have to answer questions and reassure patients, and they need to be able to communicate effectively.

Phlebotomists need to assemble, sterilize and organize their equipment, while maintaining proper hygiene and sanitation. They need to be able to apply a proper tourniquet and locate veins, sometimes under difficult circumstances, keeping calm all the while.

When drawing venous blood for tests, phlebotomists have to know the proper additives to put into the blood tubes. For example, for some blood tests, the blood must be clotted, so the phlebotomist will insert a clotting agent into the tube before drawing blood.

Career Outlook

According to statistics from the US Department of Labor, medical laboratory technicians are projected to increase by 11% between the years 2010 and 2020, which is about the average for all occupations. Part of this increase is from the large number of people from the “baby boomer generation” who are now aging, because elderly people normally require more medical attention.

Salary Prospects

According to salary.com, the median expected salary in the US is $30,250. Indeed.com puts the figure at $30,000 and adds that this salary is 53% lower than the average salary for all jobs in the US.

In general, private facilities (like cancer clinics) pay much higher wages to phlebotomists than public facilities (like hospitals).

Educational Requirements

Though the educational requirements for phlebotomists vary from state-to-state, phlebotomists normally need much less education than most medical professionals. A bachelor’s degree is seldom required, though some obtain an associate’s degree. In some instances, all that is required is a high school diploma and a few months of training in a classroom and a laboratory.

Some states require certification, which normally includes a requirement for continuing education. Some employers require certification and a particular level of college education.

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