You may not know the term "phlebotomist," but it's likely that you have used the services of one. You may have said "the person who draws blood." That is essentially what a phlebotomist does, but there is more to this job than meets the eye.
The word "phlebotomy" derives from the Greek "phleps," meaning "vein," and "tomia," meaning "cutting." Early phlebotomists were trained in the art of bloodletting. They also used leeches for the same purpose.
What Does a Phlebotomist Do?
Phlebotomists take samples of blood for testing. The blood samples may be needed to learn more about a particular patient, or they may be used in research. Phlebotomists also collect blood from donors for those in need of blood transfusions.
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 handle other types of specimens, such as urine, sputum, stool, and hair.
Education and Training
Phlebotomist training is a non-degree program that usually takes less than a year to finish. Technical schools, community colleges, vocational schools, and similar institutions offer phlebotomy programs.
Instruction consists of classroom training and clinical practice. Students learn medical terminology, anatomy/physiology, blood collection techniques, and safety procedures. In the clinic, they are required to do a certain number of sticks. For example, one program requires 25 vein punctures and 5 capillary sticks.
After they finish their training, students of phlebotomy may be certified. Several organizations offer testing with certificates for those who pass the test. The language used in the certificate programs can vary. You may see Certified Phlebotomist Technician (CPT), Registered Phlebotomist Technician (RPT), and National Certified Phlebotomy Technician (NCPT).
Students need a high school degree or GED to enter a phlebotomy program. Some phlebotomists receive on-the-job training instead of attending school, but most employers prefer certified phlebotomists.
Reasons to See a Phlebotomist
You might see a phlebotomist to have blood drawn if you are enrolled in a clinical trial or research project. Most of the time, you will visit a phlebotomist for reasons such as these:
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
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 safe storage of blood products.
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.
What to Expect at the Phlebotomist
For most blood draws, the phlebotomist will:
- Ask for your name and birthdate or other identifying information
- Determine if you are nervous or have concerns
- Ask your consent for the test
- Locate an accessible vein, ask you to make a fist, and apply the tourniquet
- Practice good hand hygiene, put on gloves, and disinfect the site where the blood will be taken
- 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 you leave, the phlebotomist will finish preparing the samples for storage or transfer.