What Is a Phlebotomist?

This medical professional is specially trained to draw blood

In This Article

Nurse drawing blood from man's arm
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A phlebotomist is a person responsible for drawing blood from patients for lab tests, transfusions, or donation. Phlebotomists are trained to collect blood via venipuncture (when a needle is used to draw blood out of a vein), finger pricks, or in the case of infants, heel pricks. Phlebotomists typically work in hospitals, medical offices, clinics, diagnostic laboratories, and blood donation centers. Though other medical personnel, such as nurses, might draw blood, phlebotomists specialize in doing so.

Phlebotomists are what's known as "allied medical professionals." This designation usually includes any medical professionals—other than medical doctors or nurses—who have direct contact with patients in a clinical setting. Most allied medical professionals are technicians or technologists of some sort. 

Concentrations

Phlebotomists don't treat patients, but they do work closely with them. Depending on where they work, phlebotomists may see a specific age group more than any other. But they're trained to draw blood from babies, children, adults, and elderly patients on a daily basis.

Phlebotomists need to understand the purpose of the blood draw so they take the correct amount. For instance, blood donors usually contribute a unit of blood (500 milliliters or a little more than a pint) in a session. The volume of blood needed for laboratory analysis varies widely with the type of test being conducted. Typically one or several small (five-milliliter to 10-milliliter) tubes are drawn. Therapeutic phlebotomy, where phlebotomy is used as a therapy for a condition like hereditary hemochromatosis (iron overload), removes a larger amount of blood than blood donation and blood analysis require—typically a unit of blood once a week.

Training and Credentials

A high school diploma, or its equivalent, GED, is a basic prerequisite requirement for admission to an approved phlebotomy training program. However, many people hold an associate's degree in the field or have completed phlebotomy training as part of a bachelor's degree program in a health-related field, such as nursing.

Phlebotomy programs prepare students for employment quickly, from as little as eight weeks to less than a year depending upon the school type and program in which students enroll. The training program includes study in anatomy, blood collection procedures, proper storage and handling of blood samples, and safety precautions.

After completing the phlebotomy training program, most people go on to become certified. Currently, there are no federal requirements for licensure or certification. The rules for phlebotomy are set individually by each state. However, most employers will hire only phlebotomists who have successfully passed the certification exam. There are a number of certifying bodies, including the National Phlebotomy Association, the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians (ASPT), and American Medical Technologists (AMT). Each organization has its own specific certification requirements, but each requires phlebotomists to have performed a certain number of "sticks." For instance, the ASPT requires at least 75 documented successful venipunctures and five documented skin punctures. AMT requires that applicants have completed a minimum of 50 successful venipunctures and 10 successful capillary punctures from human sources.

After becoming certified, continuing education is required to maintain the certification.

Many professionals who plan to become a nurse or a doctor often start out by working in a medical office or hospital as a phlebotomist. Because phlebotomy entails a fairly short training period, and because phlebotomist jobs are relatively easy to find and obtain, phlebotomy is a great way for someone to try out working in a medical setting.

Appointment Tips

If you're getting your blood drawn for medical reasons, you'll probably have it done directly following an office visit. But lab hours can vary, so if you know you'll need a blood draw check ahead of time to be sure the phlebotomist will be there when you are.

Some blood tests—including glucose tests that check blood-sugar levels and tests that determine your cholesterol levels—require that you fast beforehand, so you may be instructed not to eat or drink anything except water for eight to 12 hours before your appointment. If you think fasting might be a problem, schedule your appointment for early in the morning and bring a snack for after the appointment.

If you're nervous about having your blood drawn, tell your phlebotomist. Whether you don't like needles or don't want to see blood leave your body, these experts are trained to put patients at ease. They know lots of tips for making your blood draw easier, including looking away or talking to someone to distract yourself. If your veins are small or hard to access, the phlebotomist can use a smaller needle. Keep in mind that drawing blood usually takes less than three minutes, so the process will be over quickly.

Full veins are plumper than veins that aren't as full, making it far easier for the person taking your blood to find a vein that can be easily punctured. So, unless you've been told not to eat or drink, make sure you're well-hydrated before having your blood drawn.

If you've fainted in the past when donating blood or having your blood drawn, be sure to inform the phlebotomist. In these cases, positioning is key. You shouldn't sit on top of the exam table; rather, you should be positioned in a low chair where falling is unlikely. 

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