How to Become a Phlebotomist
Having blood drawn is a fact of life for nearly everyone. Whether your doctor has ordered a lab test or you’re donating blood, it’s the trained phlebotomist who can make the experience a calm, efficient and safe experience. These professionals are trained to draw a patient’s blood in hospital, laboratory and other clinical settings, and they ensure safety standards by properly labeling samples and verifying patient identity. If a career in this growing allied health profession sounds appealing to you, read on to learn more. You’ll discover the qualities that make a great phlebotomist, learn about what these health professionals do each day and then determine the steps you’ll need to take to become a certified phlebotomist.
What Does a Phlebotomist Do?
A phlebotomist has several duties. First, they need to confirm the identity of the patient or blood donor and gather the appropriate supplies for the blood draw. Next, they need to communicate with the patient to both put the patient at ease and locate the best vein to puncture. Drawing the patient’s blood, or venipuncture, is the skill a phlebotomist trains for, and it is the key to patient safety and comfort. All specimens must be carefully labeled, and databases must be maintained by the blood draw professional, who is also responsible for communicating with doctors and other health staff.
Medical lab technicians are sometimes confused with phlebotomists, and though the jobs are related, there are also some key differences. Medical lab techs are responsible for analyzing blood and other fluids using microscopes and other laboratory equipment, and then entering the findings into computer databases. Phlebotomists, on the other hand, work closely with patients and can make all the difference in the experience of a nervous patient.
What Makes a Great Phlebotomist?
There are several traits successful phlebotomists tend to exhibit, as theirs is a profession that demands technical expertise and people skills in equal measure.
- The technical aspect of the job means you need to have good manual dexterity – being good with your hands is essential to drawing blood. You also need to identify the most appropriate vein in a patient’s arm (or elsewhere) for your blood draw. The quicker you can safely do this, the better.
- You should enjoy interacting with people and be able to comfort your patients when they are stressed or fearful. A calm, pleasant demeanor is a must in this job.
- A strong attention to detail is imperative for a phlebotomist. Proper identification of the patient, correct labeling of the specimen and careful data entry are all vital to ensure patient safety.
- Good communication skills are also a plus for a successful phlebotomist. You will need to communicate with doctors, lab technicians and other healthcare professionals.
- Finally, you should also be prepared to stand for long periods of time and practice good posture to avoid back and neck strain on the job.
Phlebotomist Career Outlook
- Phlebotomy is a fast-growing field, with jobs expected to increase by 25% from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The demand for blood analysis and collection professionals is expected to remain very high, which makes this a career that outpaces most other occupations in expected growth.
- Phlebotomists earn an average salary nationwide of $37,690 (BLS, May 2017).
- Certified phlebotomists earn an average of $2 more per hour than their non-certified counterparts, according to industry publication The Phlebotomy Examiner.
- Geography is also a significant factor in salaries. Below are the states that pay the highest annual salaries as well as those who employ the most phlebotomists, according to BLS statistics as of May 2017.
Highest-Paying States for Phlebotomists:
|District of Columbia||$40,930|
States with Highest Employment Rates for Phlebotomists:
|State||# of Employed Phlebotomists|
Phlebotomy training programs typically take less than a year, and a high school diploma or GED is typically all you need to enroll in a program. There are several different ways to approach your training, but it is important to do your research. Programs that promise training in just a few weeks are unlikely to be accredited and are not going to provide the practical, hands-on clinical experience that even entry-level jobs will require.
The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science maintains a list of programs that have received accreditation, a designation that becomes important once you are looking for a job or seeking certification. This designation, which indicates the program adheres to specific guidelines and standards, is also necessary for students seeking federal financial aid.
Types of Phlebotomy Training Schools
- Phlebotomy Training Centers: In these stand-alone institutes, training typically takes place in the classroom setting for the first half of the program, and in an “externship” in a hospital or clinical setting for the second half, where you will be trained in venipuncture. Typically, a high school diploma is the only prerequisite required for enrollment.
- Community Colleges: Many community colleges offer non-credit professional training centers for allied health careers, including phlebotomy. Non-credit programs are comprised of classes that don’t contribute towards a degree; rather, the classes you take are simply in preparation for the professional requirements of a specific job. As with phlebotomy training institutes, these programs usually split training between the classroom and clinical settings. In addition to a high school diploma or GED, applicants may have to take basic reading and math assessments before enrolling in a program.
- Hospital Training Programs: Some hospitals and health centers offer their own training programs, which are structured around class time and clinical hours. The advantage to these programs is their ability to place students in their own hospitals for hands-on training and employment upon program completion.
- Online Programs: Online programs do exist, but students should be careful to select courses that are accredited and remember that they will still need to take hands-on clinical classes as well. Programs that claim to be entirely online are almost certain to not be accredited, so do your research before paying for these programs.
Upon receiving your diploma or certificate, you may wish to pursue certification. While most states do not require certification, there are several benefits to obtaining phlebotomy certification. Certification, its benefits, pathways and related exams are covered in the Phlebotomy Certification section.
When working towards a phlebotomy technician diploma or certificate of completion in phlebotomy training, there are several core classes you are likely to take. While individual programs will differ, below is a sampling of courses you are likely to encounter.
- Medical Terminology: Understanding the medical terms and acronyms you will encounter is vital for every laboratory professional.
- Phlebotomy Methods: Drawing blood requires knowledge of where and how to puncture a vein, and varies for infants, children, adults and elderly patients.
- Anatomy and Physiology: This class teaches you about the structure of the human body from the cellular level all the way to the muscular and skeletal level.
- Safety Procedures: Learning how to keep yourself, your coworkers and your patients safe during blood collection and specimen processing is an important requirement of every phlebotomist.
- Blood-borne Pathogens: Phlebotomists are trained to identify bloodborne infectious diseases, including AIDS and hepatitis, modes of transmission and prevention techniques.
There are several different routes to certification from a recognized credentialing agency, and several benefits to earning this voluntary but increasingly helpful designation.
Benefits to Phlebotomy Certification
There are several benefits to obtaining phlebotomy certification:
- A few states require certification. California, Louisiana, Nevada and Washington all require this documentation, and it is possible that other states will add the requirement. Right now, there is no federal body that certifies phlebotomists.
- You may land a job more readily. Some employers require certification even if they aren’t located in a state that requires them, and you may make yourself a more attractive hire if you show that you have taken an exam and received a nationally recognized certification.
- You could qualify for a higher salary. Employers may be willing to pay you more if you’ve earned a professional certification.
Which Phlebotomy Certification is Best?
So which phlebotomy certification is best? That depends on several factors. There are several certification agencies, all of which require a high school degree, a diploma from an accredited training program and one year of supervised work experience unless otherwise specified below. Each of these agencies also requires you to sit for a qualifying exam.
- The National Healthcare Association certifies several allied healthcare professions, including phlebotomists. To become a certified phlebotomy technician, you will need to take the Phlebotomy Technician Certification (CPT) exam, which costs $117. Candidates for this certification must have successfully performed a minimum of capillary sticks on live individuals.
- The National Phlebotomy Association (NPA) offers certification that is recognized in all 50 states and makes online exam preparation resources including a sample NPA diagnostic certification exam, available to potential candidates. The NPA requires a minimum of 200 hours of theory and clinical experience before taking the test, which costs $130.
- The American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians may be of interest to new phlebotomists. It is possible to take the $60 technician exam and apply for the $30 certification with only six months of experience, and provisional certifications are also available under some circumstances.
- The American Society for Clinical Pathology offers several routes to certification, and the exam for PBTs (Phlebotomy Technicians) is $135.
- American Medical Technologists offer a certification and exam and require their applicants to have completed a minimum of 50 successful venipunctures and 10 capillary punctures.
Phlebotomy is a career that on a trajectory to grow faster than many other jobs and offers multiple ways to pursue both training and voluntary certification. If working in a clinical setting, communicating with other health professionals and making a difference in the comfort and safety of a patient’s experience is appealing, it’s time to explore your options in this profession. As long as you have a high school diploma or GED, you are ready to get started in this rewarding, growing field.
Written by Lynn Burke
Lynn Burke graduated from Harvard College in 1994 with a concentration in psychology. She has also received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California Berkeley and a master’s in educational leadership from Simmons University. A high school English teacher and College Board consultant in Boston, she has also been published in several publications including Wired News, The Wall Street Journal and The Oakland Tribune. Her articles frequently cover topics in education, healthcare, and forensic psychology.