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What Is a Phlebotomist?

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: 

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Routine Blood Tests

The most common blood tests include:

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 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.

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.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Journal of Blood Medicine: "Clinical Applications of Therapeutic Phlebotomy."

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: “Blood Tests.”

Northwest Career College: “The Evolution of Phlebotomy.”

Urban Institute: "Competency-Based Occupational Framework for Registered Apprenticeship: Phlebotomist."

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: "Phlebotomists."

WHO Guidelines on Drawing Blood: Best Practices in Phlebotomy: "2, Best practices in phlebotomy."

WHO Guidelines on Drawing Blood: Best Practices in Phlebotomy: "7, Capillary sampling."

WHO Guidelines on Drawing Blood: Best Practices in Phlebotomy: "4, Venepuncture for blood donation."

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