Phlebotomists: What They Do and What to Expect

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on May 17, 2024
6 min read

A phlebotomist is a medical professional who draws your blood and collects samples for laboratory tests, transfusions, research, or blood donations.

The word "phlebotomy" comes from the Greek words "phleps," meaning "vein," and "tomia," meaning "cutting." Early phlebotomists were trained in the art of bloodletting. They also used leeches for that purpose.

Travel phlebotomist

Travel phlebotomists, also called mobile phlebotomists, are trained and licensed phlebotomists who travel to different places to collect blood. For instance, they may work:

  • In a rural area where they travel to different people in the region to collect blood and specimens
  • In a doctor's office where they need phlebotomists to travel off-site
  • In a temporary blood donation center
  • In a setting where they work with homebound residents

Phlebotomists have been educated and trained in venipuncture. Venipuncture is another term for a blood draw or phlebotomy. It's the procedure by which a needle is used to take blood from your vein. This is usually for laboratory testing, but it may also be done to treat certain blood disorders by removing extra red blood cells from your blood. They also may collect blood or plasma for donation.

Most blood is taken from veins, but phlebotomists must also learn how to draw blood from capillaries. They use capillary sampling when a small amount of blood is needed. It comes from the finger, heel, or ear lobe.

Phlebotomists sometimes also handle other types of specimens, such as urine (pee), spit (sputum), stool (poop), and hair.

Phlebotomist responsibilities

Depending on where they work, some of their job duties include:

  • Following health and safety standards
  • Practicing infection control standards when working with patients and equipment
  • Confirming patient identities and personal information
  • Figuring out the right blood draw method for each individual based on age, health condition, and more
  • Finding the best draw site to use on your body
  • Preparing patients before the blood draw
  • Reassuring patients, explaining the process, and answering any questions about the process
  • Getting patient authorizations for insurance
  • Collecting blood using sterilized needles, vials, and other equipment
  • Assisting with blood transfusions
  • Labeling samples for storage or delivering them to the testing site or blood bank
  • Getting billing information, including copies of insurance cards and other information
  • Ordering and maintaining the stock of supplies needed for patient blood draws
  • Collaborating with your supervising medical team

In the U.S., the education and training you need to become a phlebotomist can vary from state to state. But, in general, you need to complete a certificate to work as a phlebotomist. You don't need a college degree to be certified as a phlebotomist. You will need to complete a phlebotomy program from a technical school, vocational school, or community college before you take a certification exam. This program usually takes about a year to finish, and sometimes less than that.

Your coursework gives you training on:

  • The role the phlebotomist plays in the medical field
  • Standards and codes you must follow in your job
  • Blood sample collection methods
  • Site collection methods
  • Labeling and storing samples safely and effectively
  • Patient health and safety

Phlebotomists must also get hands-on training for a minimum of 40 hours of practical experience before they take their certification exam.

After completing your program, you take a certification exam.

Phlebotomist salary

Your salary can vary depending on the type of organization you work for, the location you work in, and your education and experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2023, the median annual salary for phlebotomists was $41,810 per year or $20.10 per hour.

 Agencies that certify phlebotomists include:

  • American Certification Agency (ACA)
  • American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
  • National Center for Competency Testing/Multi-skilled Medical Certification Institute (NCCT/MMCI)
  • National Crediting Agency (NCA)
  • National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
  • National Performance Specialists (NPS)

Certified phlebotomist technician

 Many phlebotomy programs offer training for three levels of certification. For instance:

  • Limited Phlebotomy Technician, who is authorized to do skin puncture blood collections
  • Certified Phlebotomy Technician I, who is authorized to do skin puncture and venipuncture blood collections
  • Certified Phlebotomy Technician II, who is authorized to do skin puncture, venipuncture, and arterial puncture blood collections

Registered phlebotomist technician

The American Medical Technologists (AMT) offers certification as a registered phlebotomist technician (RPT). You can apply to take the exam if:

  • You have completed an academic program in phlebotomy within the past 4 years and have done 50 venipunctures and 10 skin punctures.
  • You have at least 1,040 hours of work experience as a phlebotomist within the past 3 years and have done 50 venipunctures and 10 skin punctures.

National certified phlebotomy technician

National certified phlebotomy technician is the certification you can get from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).

Most of the time, you will visit a phlebotomist for:

Routine blood tests

The most common blood tests include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) provides a count of your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets and includes several other measurements.
  • A comprehensive metabolic panel is a test of blood chemistry that measures the glucose in the blood along with other substances.
  • Blood enzyme tests can inform doctors about what's going on in the body, such as whether you have had a heart attack.
  • Lipid panels can tell doctors about your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Blood clotting tests can show if you are at risk of bleeding or abnormal clotting.

A phlebotomist may also draw your blood if you are enrolled in a clinical trial or research project.

Blood donation

If you donate blood, a phlebotomist will probably be in charge of your procedure. Before you give blood, you will be screened to be sure that you are an eligible donor, and a phlebotomist may do the screening. Phlebotomists who work with blood donation are also trained in the safe storage of blood products.

Therapeutic phlebotomy

Sometimes, people need to have blood removed because it has an overload of iron or too many red blood cells. The procedure is like blood donation but usually takes less time, lasting 5-10 minutes.

Before drawing blood

If you know you are going to have your blood drawn, you may want to prepare by doing the following before your appointment:

  • Drinking 8-16 ounces of water: This helps keep your veins plump, which will make it easier for the phlebotomist to find a vein in your arm.
  • Eating a healthy meal that includes protein and whole-grain carbohydrates. This may help prevent lightheadedness after your blood draw.
  • Wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a shirt with sleeves you can roll up, or layers so you can expose your arm easily.

To prepare you before drawing your blood, your phlebotomist will likely:

  • Ask for your name and birthdate or other identifying information
  • Determine if you are nervous or have concerns
  • Ask for your consent for the test
  • Locate an accessible vein and apply the tourniquet
  • Practice good hand hygiene, put on gloves, and disinfect the site where the blood will be taken

What happens when a phlebotomist takes your blood?

To draw your blood, your phlebotomist will likely:

  • Insert the needle and withdraw the required amount of blood, capping and labeling the samples immediately
  • Release the tourniquet, withdraw the needle, and apply gauze or a cotton ball to the puncture site
  • Ask you to hold your arm straight up for a few minutes, then put a bandage on the site
  • Dispose of waste materials and make sure you are okay before allowing you to leave

After seeing a phlebotomist

After your blood draw, your phlebotomist will usually tell you to leave your bandage on for 1-4 hours and avoid heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for the rest of the day. If you start to bleed where you were stuck with a needle, apply pressure and raise your arm straight up for about 5-10 minutes or until your bleeding stops. If you have any dizziness or lightheadedness, stop what you're doing and sit or lie down until you feel better. And don't do anything for about 24 hours that could injure you if you faint.

Phlebotomists are trained medical professionals who draw your blood and sometimes also collect specimens for laboratory tests, transfusions, research, or blood donations. You don't need to go to college to enter a phlebotomy program. You will usually go to a vocational or technical school or a community college and take coursework for a year or less. You will also get hands-on training. After that, you can sign up to take a certification exam.