How to Become a Phlebotomist
Doctors and surgeons are not islands. They rely on entire teams of support professionals to provide safe and effective patient care -- including the phlebotomists who draw and handle patient blood samples for diagnostic testing. Accuracy counts, however, so it is important that phlebotomists be properly trained before entering the field. While most hands-on experience is eventually honed on-the-job, phlebotomists usually begin their training in formal phlebotomy degree or certificate programs. Here is a brief look at how to become a phlebotomist.
Phlebotomy program requirements and prerequisites
Phlebotomy schools come in many shapes and sizes, and so do the certificates and degrees they provide. Admissions requirements vary, too, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), most schools require applicants to have at least a high school diploma (or equivalent). High school and college coursework in areas like anatomy, physiology and biology is always a plus. How long students attend phlebotomy schools depends on the credentials earned. Those pursuing postsecondary diplomas and certificates may expect to commit to about a year of study, while those pursuing associate degrees typically need at least another additional year to graduate. Students must typically complete both classroom and laboratory coursework and may be required to complete a minimum number of clinical fields through internships.
Keep in mind that a phlebotomist's education rarely ends with graduation, especially for those who earn professional certifications through organizations like the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians and the National Phlebotomy Association. Candidates must typically meet minimum training and experience requirements and pass an exam to be certified, and many organizations require additional continuing education courses for certificate renewal. The BLS reports that Louisiana, Nevada and California were the only states, as of 2014, that required phlebotomists to be certified, though the majority of employers prefer to hire certified phlebotomists.
Necessary skills and qualifications for phlebotomists
Phlebotomists must master a number of skills in order to do their jobs effectively. Many technical skills -- like drawing blood, handling samples and maintaining equipment -- are learned either on-the-job or in phlebotomy schools. Other skills are seemingly more innate. The U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net Online reports that phlebotomists often need to the following skills and abilities:
- Strong listening and communication skills
- Strong language and writing skills
- Critical thinking skills
- Deductive reasoning skills
- Keen vision (particularly at close range)
- Manual and finger dexterity
- Deductive reasoning skills
- A strong attention to detail
Note that a strong desire to help others and patience -- particularly with scared or nervous patients -- are always helpful. Employers also appreciate technicians who are dependable, and who have a high stress threshold.
Phlebotomy working environment
Phlebotomists do more than collect blood samples, though that is their primary function. According to the BLS, these professionals must also interpret and confirm physicians orders, properly label and handle samples, sanitize and maintain equipment like needles and tubes, and accurately update medical records. Phlebotomists can work in a variety of settings, from medical laboratories and physician's offices to mobile blood donation units, but according to the BLS, hospitals employ the largest share. Most phlebotomists work full-time, and it is not uncommon for them log evening, weekend and holiday hours -- especially in hospital and laboratory settings.
ONet reports that the outlook is "bright" for phlebotomists. How bright? The BLS projects that phlebotomist employment will grow by 27 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022 -- much faster than the average for all occupations. Prospects should be best for professionally certified phlebotomists.
American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians, http://aspt.org/
National Phlebotomy Association, http://www.nationalphlebotomy.org/
Phlebotomists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/phlebotomists.htm
Summary Report for: Phlebotomists, O*Net Online, 2013, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/31-9097.00