Butterfly Needles: What Are They & Amp; How Are They Used?

Blood tests are one of the most common and important tests for patients in both hospital and outpatient settings. By testing blood, doctors have a quick way to evaluate multiple organs and systems in the body. Not all needles used to draw blood are the same. One good option is the butterfly needle, which can also be used for IV fluids and medications. Although there are some disadvantages, a butterfly needle is generally a safe, effective option for healthcare workers.

What Is A Butterfly Needle?

Classically, a needle is simply a hollow needle that can be attached to a tube or syringe to either remove or insert fluids into the body. Some needles are double sided, with a smaller needle to penetrate the skin and a larger needle to go through a rubber stop and transfer blood into a test tube.

A butterfly separates these two elements. The needle to penetrate the skin is attached to a flexible tube, and this runs to a larger needle that can transfer blood to a test tube. Another variant has an attachment for without the larger needle. On both types there is a double-winged plastic tab near the needle to penetrate the skin. The whole contraption looks like a butterfly, which gave this device its name.

Are There Benefits To Using The Butterfly Needle?

For blood samples, the needle attached to a butterfly tends to be smaller than the standard needle commonly used. Combined with the flexible tube, this tends to make a butterfly more comfortable than standard needles. Also, they are less likely to cause a vein to collapse, making them advantageous for children, geriatric patients, or others with small veins.

Another advantage of this is that smaller veins can be used to obtain samples, such as those on the back of the hand. There are also advantages that a butterfly provides during its use.

Wh​​​​​ile Inserted in a Pa​​​​t​​​​ient

Retractable Needles

IV Use

Butterfly Needle Info And Tips

Although the smaller needle on a butterfly increases comfort, less blood flows through the smaller opening, making blood sample take longer than with standard needles. Healthcare workers should be patient when using a butterfly. 

One tip when using inserting a butterfly needle into a vein is to look for the "flash." This is when a small portion of blood enters the tube attached to the butterfly and tells the healthcare worker that the needle is inside the vein.

One thing to note is that the smaller needle and reduced movement of a butterfly will help decrease bleeding after a blood sample is drawn. This can be very important for patients with a clotting disorder like hemophilia or Von Willebrand disease.

Still, a smaller needle can have disadvantages. 25 or 27 gauge needles are so small that blood could clot inside the needle or blood cells could be destroyed. Fortunately, most butterfly needles are large, at 21 or 23 gauge. Also, a study showed that blood drawn from a butterfly was less likely to be destroyed compared to that when drawn from an IV catheter.


A butterfly needle is an excellent option for healthcare workers who need to access a patient's vein, both to draw blood samples and also to input fluids through an IV. They provide a more comfortable option during blood samples and can be used on smaller, more delicate veins, including those on the back of the hand.

For IV use, the tube attached to the needle can be attached to an IV bag and used for fluids, medications, and other tasks when used for a short timeframe. Healthcare workers should be patient as blood flows more slowly, and they should also watch for the flash of blood when inserting the needle.

Although these are good benefits by themselves, a butterfly needle can also reduce needle sticks. This is an important benefit to protect healthcare workers from being accidentally infected with serious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B. For this reason, many institutions have begun using a butterfly for all blood draws and eliminating the traditional needles.

What Is Phlebotomy?

What is phlebotomy? Phlebotomy, known in the 1800s as "bloodletting", is the act of draining blood from the body for medical purposes. In previous years, doctors believed phlebotomy, or "bloodletting" as they called it, could be used to cure various ailments and restore balance to the body.

Although this "bloodletting" may seem like an ancient practice, modern phlebotomy is a valid medical procedure used for blood draws, blood donations, transfusions, and research. ​Modern phlebotomy is used to diagnose, treat, and manage things like blood disorders, viruses and diseases, and certain types of cancers, as well as prevent future negative health occurrences.

What Is Phlebotomy?

Anytime we have our blood drawn, someone is answering the question: "what is phlebotomy." Phlebotomy, or venipuncture as it is often called these days, is the act of drawing and preparing blood from a patient by a trained medical professional known as a phlebotomist. Phlebotomy is also performed by doctors, nurses, and medical laboratory scientists for the use of medical testing.

Phlebotomists are trained to draw and prepare blood via vein, finger pricks, and, with infants, via heel stick. This training includes ensuring the proper amount of blood is collected and prepared. Phlebotomists work in a variety of medical settings including clinics, doctors' offices, hospitals, outpatient care facilities, diagnostic laboratories, and blood donation facilities.

Why Is Phlebotomy Important?

phlebotomist taking blood samples

To help answer the question of "what is phlebotomy" and what it entails, we can look at the important role it plays in health care. Blood tests, often ordered by physicians and other healthcare providers, provide a wealth of information about the health of a patient. Blood tests provide information that allows a provider to diagnose, treat and manage, and track the progression of conditions, illnesses, and diseases.

Blood tests may be ordered to track and regulate insulin levels or to diagnose blood disorders, viruses, and sometimes certain types of cancer. Phlebotomy acts as a ​therapeutic treatment in patients who experience high levels of iron or red blood cells by removing amounts of blood to decrease iron and red blood cell levels. Blood tests may also be vital in the prevention of future health episodes such as strokes or heart attacks.

In terms of "what is phlebotomy," it is a procedure that plays an essential role for patients with mental and physical disabilities. It allows patients who may suffer from memory loss or dementia or those with physical disabilities to communicate accurate information to their doctors. This need for phlebotomists among the geriatric community is why so many jobs in senior facilities exist.

In addition, phlebotomy plays an essential role in monitoring the health of expectant mothers and their babies. This process involves monitoring the blood of the mother during pregnancy for conditions like anemia and gestational diabetes, and monitoring the blood of the newborn after delivery to ensure they made it through the delivery process in good health.

Becoming a Phlebotomist


After discussing "what is phlebotomy," it becomes clear that the phlebotomist plays a vital role in administration, collection, and preparation of blood draws for diagnosis, treatment, transfusion, and research purposes. Phlebotomy requires a relatively short training period, usually under one year, as compared to other healthcare professions, making it the perfect field for those looking to work and help patients in a short amount of time.

A phlebotomist must be comfortable interacting with patients and working with blood, needles, test tubes, and blood vials, to name a few. A phlebotomist may be required to work long hours including weekends and holidays.

What Does a Phlebotomist do?

We can now answer the question of what is phlebotomy: but what is a typical day in the life of a phlebotomist like? A typical day for a phlebotomist presents many responsibilities. It includes assembling and maintaining equipment to be used for blood draws or transfusions, using a sample database, and preventing infection and other complications.

Any time a needle is introduced into the skin, there is a risk of infection. Phlebotomists prevent these infections by closely monitoring sterilization of the skin and working materials. Working as a phlebotomist may require long hours, including nights, weekends and holidays, and seeing a high number of patients. More detailed daily responsibilities of the phlebotomist may include:

conducting blood letting
  • Preparing patients for blood draws
  • Reassuring nervous patients
  • Verifying patient identity
  • Explaining the blood draw process to patients
  • Performing blood draws, finger and heel sticks, transfusions
  • Ensuring the correct amount of samples
  • Properly labeling patient samples
  • Assisting patients with adverse reactions to phlebotomy treatment
  • Maintaining blood draw instruments and supplies
  • Tracking blood samples in database
  • Following directions of supervising physicians
  • Maintaining integrity of patient samples

Most importantly, phlebotomists are responsible for maintaining the integrity of patient blood samples by ensuring the samples are drawn and transported correctly. Samples that are not drawn and handled correctly allow the specimen to degrade which can affect the accuracy of the medical testing being performed on the blood samples.

What Type of Education Does a Phlebotomist Need?

Most employers require the phlebotomist to have completed a phlebotomy certification program from an accredited college, university, technical, or vocational school. In addition, some states like California, Nevada, Washington, and Louisiana require a specific state certification to perform phlebotomy. Phlebotomy programs typically last less than a year and include classroom-based instruction and hands-on training.

NCCT logo

Phlebotomy training programs offer courses in health care areas such as medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, and clinical experience. At the end of the phlebotomy training program, the student will take a certification exam. Employers may also require the phlebotomist to maintain continuing education or certification through several certifying agencies including the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), or the American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Maintaining certification with these agencies requires yearly continuing education. Visiting the websites of these organizations will provide additional certification information.

How to Get a Job as a Phlebotomist

Once a phlebotomy certification is complete, the best places to apply, according to the United States Department of Labor Statistics (BLS), are with hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, and blood donation centers. The BLS predicts that these facilities will have the most job openings. Employers seek trained phlebotomists with good hand-eye coordination to aid in blood draw and attention to detail, since the labeling and tracking of many patient samples is required.

What Is Being a Phlebotomist Like?

Being a phlebotomist is not for the faint of heart. A strong stomach is needed, as phlebotomists must be able to see and handle blood. Depending on the medical environment, a phlebotomist must be comfortable with the sights, sounds, and smells that accompany hospitals and clinics. It is also important to note the varying hours that come with being a phlebotomist including nights and holidays.

How Much Does a Phlebotomist Make?

phlebotomist holding blood sample

As of May 2016, phlebotomists made a median salary of $37,710 according to the United States Department of Labor Statistics (BLS). The highest-paid 10 percent of the phlebotomy field earned $46,850, while the lowest-paid earned $23,330 in 2016. Additionally, a 2014 study of the medical field shows that 112,700 phlebotomists were employed within the United States.

This same study projects an increase in the number of phlebotomy positions by as much as 25 percent or 28,100 projected jobs by the year 2024. It is important to note that different states have varying rates of pay for phlebotomy positions. The states that pay phlebotomists the highest mean salary include California, Alaska, District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, the highest of all of these being California.

Job Satisfaction

What is phlebotomy if not satisfying? With the average American working longer, having a satisfying career is an important consideration. Among working phlebotomists, upward mobility and flexibility were rated as average in the field, while the stress level was rated above average. The upward mobility category included opportunities for advancement and salary and the flexibility category included an alternative working schedule and work-life balance. The stress level of the job took into consideration the work environment and the complexities of the job's daily responsibilities.


Modern phlebotomy has come a long way since the days of "bloodletting" and emerged as a valid and necessary part of the healthcare field. Phlebotomy is essential for diagnosing and treating things like blood disorders, viruses and diseases, and detecting certain types of cancers. Phlebotomy also helps to prevent future negative health occurrences. Phlebotomy is performed by technicians known as phlebotomists.

Phlebotomists receive clinical training and certification to perform blood draws for things like blood donations, transfusions, research, and routine blood tests ordered by physicians. Their jobs comprise many duties, from reassuring a nervous patient to collecting blood. To be a phlebotomist, one must be comfortable in a medical setting and with blood and needles.

Many jobs exist for the phlebotomist in doctors' offices, clinics, outpatient facilities, hospitals, diagnostic laboratories, and blood donation centers. If you are interested in the healthcare field, a career in phlebotomy can have many benefits such as rewarding work and competitive income.