What is a Phlebotomist & What Do They Do?

If you have ever had to get your blood drawn, chances are good that it was done by a phlebotomist. 

A phlebotomist is someone that draws blood from patients for different types of medical tests. Phlebotomists have to collect blood from patients safely, handle the sample without contaminating it, and deliver it safely to the laboratory for testing. 

Phlebotomists can work in hospitals, doctor's offices, clinics, surgical centers, and other healthcare facilities. They can have all kinds of schedules, including working regular business hours, weekends, night shifts, or holidays. 

This guide will go over more about what a phlebotomist is, where they work, their responsibilities, and more. 

What is a Phlebotomist?

A phlebotomist works as a member of a healthcare team to collect blood samples from patients. Almost every type of healthcare facility needs trained phlebotomists to help gather diagnostic and treatment information through blood sample testing. They can also collect blood and plasma for donation. 

Blood drawn by a phlebotomist can help all kinds of patients, from those needing a routine check-up to those severely ill in the hospital. 

What Does a Phlebotomist Do?

A phlebotomist does more than just collect blood. They actually need to have quite a few skills to perform their job well. 

Responsibilities of phlebotomists include:

  • Venipunctures. Venipunctures are the most common type of blood draw a phlebotomist performs. With these, the needle goes into the vein in order to draw blood.
  • Finger pricks. Finger pricks are used when only a small amount of capillary blood is needed, such as for checking blood sugar levels. 
  • Arterial blood draws. Phlebotomists who have earned their CPT II certification can perform arterial blood draws. Arterial blood draws are usually done in a hospital to guide the treatment of severely ill patients. 
  • Maintain clean technique. When a phlebotomist draws blood, they have to make sure they keep their client's skin clean and the veins free of potentially harmful bacteria. Phlebotomists will need the training to ensure that they don’t cause infection when they insert the needle into the vein. 
  • Use correctly colored tubes. Each blood collection tube has different additives inside to ensure it can be tested correctly. Using the wrong tubes can impact the validity of a blood test. 
  • Keep patients calm. One of the most important things a phlebotomist does is help keep their patient calm while performing a blood draw. Patients with a fear of needles may need a lot of encouragement to stay still and allow a needle to be inserted for sample collection. 
  • Verify patient information. Before a phlebotomist collects a blood sample, they need to verify the patient’s name and date of birth, as well as the blood test they need. Mislabeling samples with incorrect patient information can have devastating results. 
  • Send samples to be processed. Phlebotomists have to get blood samples safely to the lab after they are collected. Some samples can only stay in tubes for a few minutes before they expire and others have to be kept on ice, and the phlebotomist needs to know which is which. 

If you’re interested in becoming a phlebotomist, you may want to consider enrolling in our 4-week online phlebotomy training program. We prepare you to get your Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT) certification from the National Healthcareer Association and help you find a job.

What a Phlebotomist & Patient Interaction Looks Like

Many people feel nervous when they hear that they need to have blood taken. When a phlebotomist draws blood, there are a few specific steps they will take, including:

  1. Introduce themselves and ask you to verify your identity.
  2. Wash their hands and puts on a pair of clean gloves.
  3. Apply a tourniquet to your arm to make your veins stand out. 
  4. Look for a good vein to draw blood from. 
  5. Clean the area on your skin with an alcohol swab. 
  6. Insert a needle into your vein. 
  7. Attach a collection tube for blood donation or the correct vial for sample collection. 
  8. Remove the needle from your arm and apply pressure to the insertion site. 
  9. Label the collection tubes with your name and collection date and time. 
  10. Deliver the blood sample to the lab for testing. 

Reasons You May See a Phlebotomist

Phlebotomists play an important role in both preventative healthcare and caring for sick patients. Reasons you may see a phlebotomist include: 

  • Routine blood work. The most common reason to see a phlebotomist is for a wellness check. Blood collected at an annual check-up is typically done to monitor blood sugar, cholesterol, electrolytes, and iron levels. 
  • Blood or plasma donation. If you donate blood or plasma, a phlebotomist will be the person who inserts the needle into your arm. They will also monitor the machines and the intravenous site during your donation to make sure you do not have any problems. 
  • Cancer screenings. Blood tests can be done as part of a cancer screening. Certain leukemias, prostate cancer, and colon cancer can sometimes be discovered through blood testing. 
  • Therapeutic phlebotomy. Therapeutic phlebotomy is a relatively rare procedure that is done for people who have too many red blood cells or malformed blood cells. The red blood cells are removed from the body using a needle, and the plasma lost is replaced with saline. 

Where Do Phlebotomists Work?

Phlebotomists work in many different types of healthcare facilities. There is a high demand for phlebotomists all over the United States. 

Phlebotomists spend almost their entire workday on their feet. They are always moving from patient to patient, or walking to the lab to deliver blood samples. 

Most phlebotomists stay busy throughout their workday, and they get to interact with many different types of clients including pediatric, adult, and geriatric patients.

Hospitals

Hospitals are the most common place for phlebotomists to work. Phlebotomists in the hospital are needed 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. They collect blood from patients and may be called to collect blood in emergency situations. 

Because they usually collect blood from sick and dehydrated patients, phlebotomists in hospitals have to be very skilled to collect samples.  

Doctor’s Offices

Phlebotomists in doctor’s offices usually work during regular business hours and perform routine blood draws and health screenings. Often, people who collect blood in a doctor's office are medical assistants with phlebotomy certifications. 

Diagnostic Labs

Diagnostic labs allow patients to come in for blood testing with or without a doctor's appointment. Many employers send potential job candidates to diagnostic labs for pre-employment or random drug screening tests.  

Blood Donation Centers

Plasma and blood donation centers use phlebotomists to start intravenous (IV) lines for blood collection. Because IV insertion has a higher risk of infection and other complications than a regular blood draw, it requires special training and certification

Skills Required to Be a Phlebotomist

Being a great phlebotomist requires you to have a few specific skills, including:

  • Steady hands. Drawing blood from patients can be difficult at first. Safely dealing with small needles and tiny veins requires a steady hand and good manual dexterity. 
  • Attention to detail. Phlebotomists have to pay close attention to avoid infection and injury to their patients. They have to be able to find small veins and watch for changes in the patient's condition during the sample collection process. 
  • Patience. Whether it is taking their time to find a vein or helping calm a nervous patient, phlebotomists need to have a lot of patience to do their job well. Phlebotomists in a hurry may miss blood vessels, cause injury, or make nervous patients feel uncomfortable. 
  • Great communication. A phlebotomist should talk their patient through every step of the blood collection process. They need to be able to explain what they are doing and answer patients' questions about what is going on. 
  • Good people skills. Harvard researchers estimate that up to 25% of adults are afraid of needles. A phlebotomist with good people skills can help people manage their fears for a successful sample collection.

Phlebotomist Salaries & Job Outlook

The median phlebotomist salary in the United States is about $41,810 per year or $20.10 per hour. This varies based on experience, certifications, job location, and type of facility. 

Job opportunities for phlebotomists are expected to increase by 10% through 2031, which is much better than the average job outlook. 

Education, Certification, & Licensing Requirements for Phlebotomists

While phlebotomy is considered one of the easiest healthcare jobs, phlebotomists still need to be trained well to perform their duties safely and responsibly. 

Education Requirements

Phlebotomists need at least a high school diploma, and most organizations require their phlebotomists to complete a training course.

Training courses can be completed online or in person, and usually last just a few weeks. Phlebotomy training courses cover basic anatomy and physiology, infection control, and, of course, sample collection skills. 

Online programs are often the fastest and least expensive option for phlebotomy training. 

Here are some of our guides that can help you learn about phlebotomy training options:

Certification Requirements

Some employers are willing to provide new phlebotomists with on-the-job training, but most prefer to hire candidates who have already passed their certification exam. 

There are many different certification options for phlebotomists. Make sure you choose one that will be accepted by your new employer. One of the most widely accepted is the National Heatlhcareer's Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT) certification, which our phlebotomy classes here at Stepful prepare you for.

Licensing Requirements

There are no licensing requirements for phlebotomists. 

How to Become a Phlebotomist

If you are interested in becoming a phlebotomist, these are the steps you should take to get there. 

  1. Obtain your high school diploma or GED. Before you can enroll in a phlebotomy technician training program or look for a job, you will need your high school diploma or GED.
  2. Choose a training program. Decide whether you want to enroll in an online or in-person training program. Whatever type of program you choose, make sure they are accredited and have good certification exam passing rates. 
  3. Pass your certification exam. Most certification exams contain about 200 questions. While they are not extremely difficult, you will need to spend some time studying. 
  4. Apply for jobs. Use websites like Indeed and Monster to help you create a good resume and apply for jobs. 
  5. Maintain your certification. Once you get your certification and start working, you will need to complete some continuing education courses and renew your certification every one to two years depending on the certification. 

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