Phlebotomy technicians, sometimes called phlebotomists, draw blood from patients or donors in hospitals, blood banks, clinics, physicians’ offices, or other facilities. They assemble equipment, verify patient identification numbers, and withdraw blood either by puncturing a person’s finger, or by extracting blood from a vein or artery with a needle syringe. They label, transport, and store blood for analysis or for other medical purposes.
Phlebotomy Technician Career History
Ancient people did not understand the role of blood, but they knew it was vital. Some believed that it might even be the home of the soul. Early Egyptians bathed in blood, hoping this act would cure illness or reverse the aging process. Some Romans drank the blood of dying gladiators in order to acquire the athletes’ strength and bravery. Over time, scientists began to understand how blood functioned and they searched for ways to collect it or transfer it from one person to another. The methods they used, the lack of sterile procedures, and their limited knowledge sometimes resulted in the death of the donor as well as the patient.
Modern techniques of blood collection, typing, and transfusion developed only within the last century. Today, professionals, called phlebotomy technicians, draw blood and work in clean, well-lighted laboratories, hospitals, and clinics.
Phlebotomy Technician Job Description
The first step a phlebotomy technician performs when drawing blood is to take the patient’s medical history, temperature and pulse, and match the physician’s testing order with the amount of blood to be drawn. Next, the site of the withdrawal is located. Typically, the large vein that is visible on the underside of the arm near the elbow is used.
Finding a suitable vein, however, is not always easy because there are a great many anatomical differences among people. Once a suitable site is located, a tourniquet is wrapped high on the patient’s upper arm. The phlebotomy technician checks the site for lesions, scar tissue, other needle marks, and any skin disorders that might interfere with the collection process. Then the site is cleansed by swabbing with a sterile solution. The technician positions the patient’s arm in order to make a proper puncture. The needle is inserted almost parallel to the vein and as close to the skin as possible. Then the hub of the needle is raised and the angle toward the skin increased so that the needle can pierce the wall of the vein. After the needle is advanced slightly into the vein, blood may be withdrawn. Generally this is done by releasing a clamp attached to the blood collection device or to the tubing. When the required amount of blood is collected, the needle is removed and sealed, the site covered, and the tourniquet removed.
After collection, the phlebotomy technician labels the blood, coordinates its number with the worksheet order, and transports the blood to a storage facility or to another laboratory worker. The phlebotomy technician also checks to make sure that the patient is all right, notes any adverse reactions, and administers first aid or other medical assistance when necessary.
Phlebotomy Technician Career Requirements
Biology, health, and other science courses are helpful if you wish to become a phlebotomy technician after graduation. Computer science, English, and speech classes are also important. In addition, if you plan on entering formal phlebotomy training programs, you should take the courses that fulfill the entrance requirements for the program you plan to attend.
Until recently, on-the-job training was the norm for phlebotomy technicians. Now, formal programs are offered through independent training schools, community colleges, or hospitals. Most programs last from 10 weeks to one year. They include both in-class study and supervised, clinical practice. Course work includes anatomy, physiology, introduction to laboratory practices, communication, medical terminology, phlebotomy techniques, emergency situations, and CPR training.
Certification or Licensing
Certification and licensing for phlebotomy technicians varies according to state and employer. Several agencies grant certification, including American Medical Technologists, the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians, and the Board of Registry of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists. Contact the organizations for more information.
To be a successful phlebotomy technician, you should enjoy working with people and be an effective communicator and a good listener. You should also be attentive to detail and be able to work under pressure. In addition, you should have patience and good manual dexterity.
Exploring Phlebotomy Technician Career
Volunteer at a hospital or other health care setting to get experience in and exposure to patient care techniques, medical procedures, and safety precautions. Take first aid and CPR classes.
Visit the American Association of Blood Banks Web site to learn facts about blood and blood donation. Become a frequent blood donor and use the opportunity to talk to the phlebotomist who draws your blood about his or her job.
Phlebotomy technicians work in a variety of health care settings. The majority of them work in hospitals or in outpatient settings such as clinics, physicians’ offices, reference laboratories, or blood banks. A few are hired by private industry or by insurance companies.
Many of the publications serving health care professionals list job advertisements, as do daily newspapers. In addition, some employers actively recruit employees by contacting students who are graduating from accredited programs. Some programs offer job placement assistance, as well.
At some hospitals, phlebotomy technicians advance through several different levels of responsibility and pay, depending on their training and experience.
One of the most common career paths for phlebotomy technicians is to work for a few years in a hospital or laboratory and then return to school to study medical laboratory technology or some other branch of clinical laboratory medicine.
There may also be supervisory advancement opportunities within blood bank centers. For example, you can return to school, obtain a bachelor’s degree, attend a specialized fifth-year program, and become a certified specialist in blood bank technology.
Experience, level of education, employer, and work performed determine the salary ranges for phlebotomy technicians. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2005 the median annual salary for clinical laboratory technicians, which includes phlebotomists, was $31,700. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $20,700 while the highest paid 10 percent earned $47,840 or more.
A specialist in blood bank technology with a bachelor’s degree and advanced training can usually expect a starting salary of approximately $40,000 a year.
Benefits such as vacation time, sick leave, insurance, and other fringe benefits vary by employer, but are usually consistent with other full-time health care workers.
Most phlebotomy technicians are supervised by other laboratory personnel and work in hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, reference laboratories, and blood banks. Some technicians may be required to work shifts. If they work for a blood bank, they may be required to travel to other sites for a blood drive.
Phlebotomy Technician Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that employment opportunities for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians are expected to grow faster than the average through 2014. Demand is expected to be greatest in medical and diagnostic laboratories, physicians’ offices, and other ambulatory care facilities. As the percentage of our population aged 65 or older continues to rise, the demand for all kinds of health care professionals will increase as well. There is a demand for workers who are qualified to draw blood at the bedside of patients. The growing number of patients with certain diseases, such as HIV and AIDS, also increases the need for phlebotomy technicians.