Phlebotomists are clinical laboratory technicians who specialize in drawing blood samples – a process called venipuncture. The word “phlebotomist” derives from the Greek — “phleb” or “phlebo” meaning vein or blood vessel, and “toma” or “tomia” meaning to cut.
Phlebotomist Job Responsibilities & Duties
The phlebotomist’s most important job responsibility is venipuncture. Blood analysis is one of the most important diagnostic tools available to medical clinicians, so it is vitally important that a blood sample is obtained in a way that does not contaminate it. If more than one test has been ordered, blood collection tubes must be drawn in a very specific order, and the phlebotomist is responsible for knowing that order. Additionally, venipuncture is an invasive procedure that can be frightening or even painful to the patient if performed incorrectly. A phlebotomist needs to have excellent bedside manners as well as flawless technique.
The usual site for blood draws is the anticubital region of the patient’s forearm. Occasionally, however, this site is site is unsuitable so the phlebotomist must be able identify other suitable sites for the venipuncture. This requires a sophisticated knowledge of circulatory anatomy and physiology.
In addition to drawing blood, the phlebotomist is responsible for picking up lab test orders from medical staff and transporting blood samples to the laboratory where they will be tested. The phlebotomist needs to be able to verify patient information, enter data in a written or electronic database, and instruct patients in a clear manner. A phlebotomist must also be familiar with safety protocols regarding the storage and transportation of blood, as well as the proper disposal of all equipment used in venipuncture.
In managerial positions, phlebotomists may be required to supervise as well as perform blood draws. They may also be required to teach venipuncture techniques – not just to other phlebotomists but also to nurses and even, upon occasion, to physicians.
Phlebotomist Training and Education Requirements
Until relatively recently, phlebotomists only needed a high school diploma and a willingness to learn on the job in order to be hired for the first time. After all, sticking patients with needles isn’t everybody’s idea of a dream job.
In today’s highly competitive job market, however, most hospitals, clinics and blood banks require the completion of a specialized phlebotomist training course. Two hundred and twenty two community colleges throughout the nation offer phlebotomy programs that lead to certification and an associates degree. Additionally phlebotomy coursework is available through many vocational training schools nationwide.
Phlebomist Salary and Wages
A phlebotomist’s salary varies according to the area in which she lives and her level of experience. (Yes, phlebotomy is a primarily female profession: 87% of all phlebotomists are women.)
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 the median hourly wage for phlebotomists working in a hospital or private clinic setting was $12.50 per hour, while a phlebotomist working in a laboratory or a physician’s office could expect to make $13 per hour. Phlebotomists working in the private sector can expect to make a higher wage: phlebotomists working for Quest Diagnostics make between $12.80 and $16.25 an hour. California has the highest pay scale for phlebotomists: a phlebotomist working for Kaiser Permanente in the San Francisco Bay Area can expect to make between $15.11 and $20.47 an hour. Phlebotomy supervisors earn between $39,000 and $44,000 in a year.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Like most jobs in a clinical medical setting, phlebotomists have plenty of opportunity to work overtime for which they are paid at a premium rate.
California and Louisiana are the only two states in the nation where certification is a legal condition of employment as a phlebotomist; however employers generally give certified candidates preference when filling a job vacancy.
Three different associations offer phlebotomy certifications:
The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP): In order to sit for the exam, candidates must meet eligibility requirements that include a combination of classroom instruction and clinical components. The exam is administered on a computer, and can be taken at any time for an application fee of $125..
The Association of Phlebotomy Technicians (ASPT): In order to sit for the exam, candidates must meet eligibility requirements that include one year of part time professional phlebotomy work or six months of full time professional phlebotomy work. The application fee is $55 and only ASPT members can apply. In order to maintain certification, phlebotomists are required to complete six units of continuing education every year.
The National Phlebotomy Association (NPA) In order to sit for the exam, candidates must meet eligibility requirements that include 160 hours of classroom instruction and 40 hours of clinical practice. The application fee is $130 and the exam has both a written component and a practicum. In order to maintain certification, phlebotomists are required 1.8 units of continuing education per year.
Phlebotomist Professional Organizations
The two professional organizations for phlebotomists are the Association of Phlebotomy Technicians (ASPT) and the National Phlebotomy Association (NPA).