Let's face it, as the woman with a needle at the ready, you're unlikely to win any patient popularity contests. But the blood you draw as a phlebotomist provides a vital piece of diagnostics and screening for disease and illnesses. As a phlebotomist, you work with a team of laboratory technicians, drawing blood and sometimes collecting other bodily fluids or tissue for diagnostic testing. If you have a steady hand and a calming disposition, your patients will leave more at ease than when they arrived.
You begin by matching patients to the samples ordered and in some settings also check and note vital signs before extracting blood. This means making sure you have the correct patient by performing an identification check. You discuss procedures, explain each step before you begin and try to assuage any fears. Strong people skills are a plus in helping relax the wary, which makes the job of drawing blood easier.
The phlebotomist's job starts with a doctor's request for a blood sample. You use a needle to puncture the vein (venipuncture) or the skin, called dermal puncture, and draw a sample for diagnostic testing. In venipuncture, you'll locate the vein, sterilize the skin above it with topical alcohol, isolate the area with a tourniquet to cut blood circulation and the make vein more prominent, and insert a needle to extract blood. Phlebotomists also take blood from donors for blood banks and transfusions, and from patients whose blood is too thick from overproduction of red blood cells.
Store, Label and Send Off Samples
Each sample must be labeled with the date, time of sample, patient information and specific data on testing for the laboratory. In addition to your steady hand and easy people skills, you should be meticulous and detail oriented. Correctly labeling samples is crucial. Phlebotomists also deliver labeled samples to on-site labs and package samples for medical couriers who deliver them to third-party labs. Your packaging must ensure specimens are not compromised in transit.
Education and Certification
You need a high school diploma or GED to enroll in a phlebotomy training class. The certification courses cover collecting, handling, processing and transporting blood for testing, plus laboratory information systems, use of lab equipment and monitoring for quality control. Courses vary in length and cost. They may be offered at community colleges or vocational training and technical schools, or by the American Red Cross. You must also pass a state license examination before you're eligible for work.
Based in Portland, Ore., Holly Goodman began writing professionally in 1991. Her articles have appeared in "The Oregonian," "Dog Fancy," "High Times," First Wives World and on YouTango.com, among other publications. Her fiction has appeared in "The Journal" and at Literary Mama. Goodman has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The Ohio State University.