So What Does a Phlebotomist Do Exactly?
Remember your first needle?
“Don’t worry… it won’t feel any different than a mosquito bite….” Yeah, right. No mosquito I ever knew bit that hard or was that scary looking. The person on the other side of that needle was either a Phlebotomist or a Nurse with phlebotomy training. These are the people whose responsibility it is to acquire a blood sample from a patient by skin puncture or by venipuncture (withdrawing blood from a vein). In some less common instances, a phlebotomist needs to insert a catheter into an artery or pull arterial blood, though this is usually done in a hospital setting.
The Basic Duties of a Phlebotomist:
The absolute best Phlebotomists have great patience and work with a steady hand. Phlebotomists are motivated by wanting to make the experience as pain-free as possible, and understand that many patients are not happy about being there.
The amazing psychological challenge for a Phlebotomist is in finding ways to make that unpleasant trip to the doctor’s office, or laboratory, or donor clinic, into one that isn’t really all that scary or painful. Handling emotional, difficult, even angry patients is not an easy part of the job and they must be able to work under that pressure with a safe, gentle hand while maintaining cleanliness and clarity.
The Phlebotomy World Isn’t Without Its Dangers.
There are safety considerations and strict rules on the Phlebotomist’s side of the chair that are not trivial and are in place to protect the Phlebotomist from direct contact with the patient’s blood. A multitude of infectious diseases are carried in the blood stream, such as HIV-AIDs and hepatitis. A momentary distraction can result in an accidental “needle stick” injury and grave consequences. Patients are often in the hands of a Phlebotomist because they are unwell or need to be tested for one of many blood-borne illnesses.
Once the phlebotomist has drawn and collected the blood sample, they must verify patient records being sure to be exceptional about detail and accuracy. Often that includes patient interviews, details of blood pressure, appearance of skin & veins, heart rate and other vital signs pertinent to the patient’s health and the duties outlined by the employer.
If the phlebotomist works in a blood donor clinic or a hospital in which patient screening is involved, a detailed and precise health history is essential.
Record keeping and attention to detail are extremely important in this field. Phlebotomist will often use computers to input all the necessary data about each patient. Preparing samples for laboratory analysis and storing them appropriately are included in the responsibilities of the phlebotomist. In particular this means that a Phlebotomist must create clear, concise records and have very neat handwriting (don’t take lesson from your doctor!).
Patient management, progress and decisions about treatment are based on the results of the samples returned by the phlebotomist so it is always critically important that the records are clear and accurate.
Cleanliness is a Vital Skill
Cleanliness is absolutely vital to a Phlebotomist. They prepare for sample collection by assembling medical instruments such as needles, test tubes, and blood vials. The tubes and vials, sometimes syringes and needles are designated for a particular patient before sampling takes place. As many as 100 or more patients may be on the average daily schedule for a Phlebotomist so organization is key, as is maintaining an obsessively clean environment. Everything including the work area must be sterile to avoid causing infection or other complications.
Where Do Phlebotomists Typically Work?
Venipuncture is the procedure that is most common for collection of blood samples and using a needle to pierce the skin, blood is obtained directly from a vein. First, a tourniquet is applied to the patient’s arm. This makes visually locating a vein much easier.
In some situations a very bright light can be used to illuminate very small veins through thin skin, such as is found in children or the elderly.
Disinfection of the area is next, and then inserting a needle into the vein to draw blood into the collection tube. Standard operating procedures in this day are to use small vacuum tubes, which aid in more rapid collection and make patients less likely to faint or become nauseous.
Patients that have fragile or small veins can’t handle the amount of pressure placed on the thin walls of the vein by a vacuum so standard needle and syringes are used with slow withdrawal by the Phlebotomist.
At this point, proper labelling, storage and sometimes transport of the sample to the laboratory occurs.
Laboratory preparation can include spinning blood in a centrifuge to separate plasma and serum, planting micro specimens in petri dishes before being sent to the lab, or placing aliquots of the sample into multiple tubes for many analyses. More labelling and more data records are all a part of this procedure as well.
By the end of the standard phlebotomist’s day, 100s of patients have been interviewed, files have been recorded, equipment has been set out, samples drawn, laboratory conditions have been met, more records have been submitted, equipment and space has been cleaned for the 100th time, and the lights are getting turned off. This job is meant for compassionate people that like to help people, for those that have technique and ability to do things others cannot and to do it well, and in many cases, someone who can create calm in a fearful, emotional situation. For those people, it is a fulfilling and rewarding career.
Interested in becoming a Phlebotomist? We have a handy guide for how to become a Phlebotomist that will walk you through the entire process. Use our handy interactive map to find the certification requirements in all 50 states.
We also have a Phlebotomy school directory where you can look up community colleges and vocational schools that offer Phlebotomy training programs in your area. You may also want to consider taking online certification programs if that works best for you too.