Phlebotomist Education, Schools, and Career Overview
Patients seeking diagnostic or preventive health care may turn to doctors first, but there is actually a whole team of professionals committed to ensuring they receive safe, effective treatment. Phlebotomists -- the technicians that draw blood for laboratory testing -- are among them. Needle phobics may dread them, but phlebotomists play a key role in helping doctors diagnose and treat medical problems, including various diseases and nutritional deficiencies.
Phlebotomist Duties and Specializations
Phlebotomists do more than draw blood. According to the BLS, these professionals explain procedures to sometimes nervous patients, verify patients' identities, verify physician's orders, label samples, note procedures in patients' records, and assemble and maintain medical instruments (like needles, tubes and vials). They can work in a variety of settings, but according to the BLS, hospitals typically employ more phlebotomists than other places of employment. The remainder worked in medical laboratory, ambulatory health care services and physicians' offices. They tend to work full time, and may be asked to work evenings and holidays. Some may also work in mobile units from time to time, particularly when involved in blood donation drives.
How to Become a Phlebotomist
As with any other health care professionals, phlebotomists must be properly trained before ever touching a patient, and in most cases, this process begins with phlebotomy certificate or degree programs.
Phlebotomist degree programs
Future phlebotomists do not necessarily have to commit to years of training before entering the field, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), almost all employers prefer candidates with at least a postsecondary degree and, in many cases, at least one professional certification. Here some of the most common credentials phlebotomists earn.
- Postsecondary certificates and diplomas. The BLS reports that postsecondary certificates and diplomas remain the most prevalent credentials phlebotomists earn. These awards typically require one year of study, and involve both classroom and laboratory work.
- Associate degrees. Some phlebotomy schools offer associate degrees in addition to certificates and diplomas. Though they are less common than other credentials, associate degrees may provide students with more training -- usually including hands-on clinical work. Associate degrees typically take two years to complete, but some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to complete their educations faster.
- Professional phlebotomy certifications. Not to be confused with postsecondary certificates, which are entry-level credentials, professional certifications certify that working phlebotomists have received additional, specialized training through organizations such as the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians and the National Phlebotomy Association. Requirements vary, but candidates must typically hold at least a postsecondary certificate and pass a national exam to be certified.
No two phlebotomy schools and programs are identical, but most offer the same general training. According to The College Board, phlebotomy students will learn how to safely collect and handle blood samples. Courses vary, but commonly touch on the following subjects:
- Physiology of blood and blood vessels
- Puncture techniques
- Sanitation procedures
- Medical terminology
The BLS reports that phlebotomy students must typically complete both classroom and hands-on laboratory training. Some students will also accrue clinical hours by completing internships with area hospitals and clinics. Training typically continues once on the job, under the direction of more experienced phlebotomists.
Phlebotomist Salary and Career Outlook
As with many other healthcare professionals, national trends have recently spurred demand for phlebotomists. An aging population requiring more medical care, which keeps many healthcare jobs marked high in the job growth category. Job prospects should be best for phlebotomists with one or more professional certifications from reputable organizations.
Here’s an idea of the job growth a phlebotomist might expect:
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Additionally, here’s a snapshot of the salary a phlebotomist might hope to earn:
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This guide should provide a solid introduction to the field of phlebotomy, but it always pays to do your own research. You can learn more about phlebotomy careers by visiting the BLS or professional phlebotomy organizations online. It can also be helpful to research a number of phlebotomy schools to learn more about your options before settling on one specific program.
- American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians, http://aspt.org/
- Major: Phlebotomy, The College Board, Big Future, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-clinical-laboratory-science-phlebotomy
- 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