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Phlebotomists are allied health professionals who are responsible for drawing the blood needed to test for infections and health conditions. While some healthcare professionals, such as medical assistants or nursing assistants, are trained and educated to undertake a broad range of duties, others such as radiology technicians or phlebotomists are trained to become experts at specific healthcare tasks.
Phlebotomists are able to determine the right needle size to use, find the right vein on a patient, and collect the right amount of blood. They’re skilled at talking to patients who might be feeling nervous or squeamish during a blood draw.
As a phlebotomist, you’ll be helping doctors find an accurate diagnosis for patients. It’s an important healthcare role that’s in high demand. Phlebotomy is also a great way to get your healthcare career started quickly. You can complete your education in just a few months.
Phlebotomist vs Phlebotomy Technician: What’s the Difference?
The titles of phlebotomist and phlebotomy technician are often used interchangeably. Often, the only real difference is the preference of the facility or educational program. The same role will often be called a phlebotomist at one hospital and a phlebotomy technician at another.
However, there can be an exception to this rule. When a medical facility has both phlebotomists and phlebotomy technicians as positions, the role of phlebotomist will be the more advanced role. Generally, this role will be filled by someone with more experience, formal training, certification, or all three.
The phlebotomist might act as a shift leader and supervise the phlebotomy technicians. You might see a similar structure when positions are listed as “phlebotomist 1” and “phlebotomist 2,” or “basic phlebotomist” and “advanced phlebotomist.” Generally, one of these roles will be noted as entry-level, and the other will have more detailed requirements.
Phlebotomist Job Description
Doctors often give orders for patient bloodwork. Blood is drawn to check levels of important health signifiers such as cholesterol, blood sugar, lipids, and various hormones, as well as to check for the presence of infections or other health concerns.
Phlebotomists are the health professionals responsible for collecting this blood. They draw labs according to the orders written by the doctor, making sure to get the correct amount and use the correct tools. They then make sure the collected blood is delivered to a lab where it can be tested.
The basic role of a phlebotomist will stay the same no matter where you work. However, some of your additional tasks might look very different depending on where you work. In some settings, you might pick up administrative duties such as:
- Keeping medical records organized
- Helping to check in patients when they arrive
- Restocking the lab and ordering supplies
- Entering bloodwork information into medical records
These days, phlebotomists have access to electronic health records (EHRs), says D’Vaughn House, a phlebotomist, medical assistant, and research associate at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “At a lot of major healthcare providers in the U.S., you’ll use (an EHR software program) to record patient data and view orders for medical lab testing.”
Another aspect of the job that can vary? The method of blood collection. Not all phlebotomists collect blood in small tubes for lab work. Some phlebotomists are employed by blood banks or blood donation centers. The basic principles of the job are the same, but blood is collected in specialized donation bags. It’s then kept in designated, temperature-controlled areas. It’s not uncommon for phlebotomists to work in a hospital or medical facility and also volunteer at blood donation facilities, although these locations do also employ full-time phlebotomists.
Roles and Responsibilities
Your exact phlebotomy responsibilities will depend on where you work, but there are some job responsibilities that most phlebotomists share. Common responsibilities include:
- Identifying the best needle size and location for each blood draw
- Following proper infection control procedures before drawing blood
- Ensuring the correct use of collection tubes and containers for the requested lab work
- Taking collected blood to the lab
- Keeping blood drawing supplies well-stocked and organized
- Reporting any patient distress or concerns to nursing staff
- Documenting information in patient records
Typical Career Paths and Workplaces
Phlebotomists can find work in various medical settings. These includes some standard locations you might already have in mind, such as hospitals or physicians’ offices, as well as some less-common options. For instance, did you know that sometimes phlebotomists work for life insurance companies? At a life insurance company, a phlebotomist travels to the home, office, or other location of a life insurance applicant to draw their blood as part of the life insurance application process.
Sometimes, phlebotomists are also needed in times of emergency or crisis. Natural disasters and other major events often prompt large-scale blood donation drives or a rush of people wanting to donate to local facilities. Phlebotomists sometimes work long hours at these times to gather enough blood to help doctors and nurses care for people injured in the disaster.
Where Can a Phlebotomist Work?
Locations where you might find work as a phlebotomist include:
Is Phlebotomy a Good Job? Who Is It For?
Phlebotomists are healthcare professionals who interact with patients all day. To succeed, you’ll need plenty of patience, compassion, and understanding, along with excellent communication skills and the ability to stay calm in stressful situations. It’s also vital that you’re comfortable around needles, blood, and medical procedures.
“The traits a good phlebotomist needs are empathy, the ability to both give and receive constructive criticism, and an enhanced attention to detail,” says House. “(Necessary skills include) hand dexterity, rapport building, and motivational interviewing.”
Training & Education Needed for the Role
You can complete a phlebotomy education program in about four to eight months. Programs are available at community colleges, technical schools, career schools, and even through some large medical facilities. No matter where they’re offered, you’ll study topics like medical terminology and anatomy and learn the infection control and needle techniques that will help you do your job safely. Plus, you’ll get hands-on experience and practice to prepare you for work in medical facilities.
Phlebotomists who are looking to expand their careers can consider advancing their education. There aren’t additional degrees or advanced roles specifically for phlebotomists. However, many phlebotomists use their phlebotomy skills, experience, and education as building blocks of another health care career. Careers that make a great next step for phlebotomists include medical lab technician and medical assistant. If you’re interested in nursing, you might consider looking at a licensed practical nurse (LPN) program.
Licenses and Certifications
There are no national certification or licensing requirements for phlebotomists. You also won’t find any requirements in most states. The only states with rules about phlebotomist certification and licensure are California, Washington, Nevada, and Louisiana.
However, phlebotomists in the other 46 states should still consider becoming certified, because it’s preferred by nearly all employers and required by many. There are three primary certification options for phlebotomists:
Phlebotomy Technician (PBT) from the American Society for Clinical Pathology
Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT) from the National Healthcareer Association
Registered Phlebotomy Technician (RPT) from American Medical Technologists
These certifications are offered by respected agencies and are widely recognized and desired by employers. There are a handful of other certification options you can also consider. These prepare you for the same roles, but they have less recognition in the industry.
Certified Phlebotomist Technologist from the National Phlebotomy Association
Phlebotomy certification from the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians
Phlebotomy certification from the National Center for Competency Testing
Beyond earning potential, phlebotomy is a career with a lot of job security. Labs and blood work are essential to healthcare and to accurately diagnose patients. That means that there will always be a need for phlebotomists.