What Is Phlebotomy?

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

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.

Conclusion

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.