For those who are new at medical or technical work, the phlebotomy course of study will start from “scratch” and can take three years or more, depending on whether you go for a certificate, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, those who are fairly seasoned in the medical field — nurses or lab technicians in other specialties — may be able to qualify as phlebotomists with as little as a year of academic training. No matter from what point you decide to pursue a phlebotomy career, however, the courses involved will have certain elements in common.
The Basic Building Blocks
Students in phlebotomy courses start at the foundation: anatomy and physiology. They study the circulatory, lymphatic, respiratory, urinary, and muscular-skeletal systems — and how drawing blood from different parts of the body affects the whole. As their jobs are almost exclusively concerned with blood and blood products, they also concentrate on blood cell composition. This area also includes class material on infectious diseases, how each affects the bloodstream, and how such things affect the draw of blood on particular patients.
It goes without saying, of course, that successful phlebotomists aren’t phobic about needles! But it takes more than mere bravery to have the steady hands necessary to draw blood with minimal pain or injury to a patient under your care. That’s why many a school has its phlebotomists-in-training practice on manikins under careful supervision before “turning them loose” on actual patients.
Even when a technician is steady as a rock, he or she must know how to prevent contamination and/or dangerous mistakes from happening in the lab. A phlebotomist in training needs to learn exemplary “housekeeping” practices: lab equipment and areas must be kept clean and sterile, with spills cleaned up correctly and biohazard materials disposed of properly. He or she also must be focused enough to keep well-maintained records and label specimens correctly. Very few things are worse for a patient than a lab error that leads to a misdiagnosis or bad treatment advice. It’s part of the phlebotomist’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
If Good Blood Draws Go Bad
We’re all familiar with the standing gag of a burly football player who faints at the sight of a needle — but in reality, when something goes wrong at a blood draw, it’s not funny. Being aware that people may become dizzy, faint, or have another adverse reaction is one thing; being fully prepared to spot the warning signs and act on them is quite another. That’s why a successful phlebotomist has training in first aid and CPR — as well as calming and/or coping mechanisms for nervous patients.
Successful phlebotomists also always remember that venipuncture — the technical term for “puncturing” the vein to draw the blood — is a different experience for every individual. Veins are different in children, in young adults, in the elderly or frail, and in babies, and they dictate different approaches. The experience varies with what kind of blood draw you’re doing as well. Fasting blood tests can be difficult for people who suffer from low-blood-sugar problems; even “routine” draws, to a hospitalized patient, can feel like yet another invasion of their bodies in a situation where they’re already vulnerable. This is why most phlebotomy trainees undergo a set number of supervised hours, and number of venipunctures (not just on manikins but on people!) before they are determined to be ready to do it “solo.”
A Bit Daunting? Don’t Worry!
The good news? Much of what makes up a successful blood draw has to do with what goes on “between the ears” — both yours and your patient’s. If you’re calm by nature, a “people” person by preference, and someone who can keep your wits about you even when things go a little awry, your phlebotomy training will only be enhanced by your natural personality and affinity. Most of us don’t enjoy “blood work” to begin with, but the phlebotomist can take away some of that “pain” with a little extra care and diligence. If you’re that well-trained phlebotomist with an easyoing, positive approach, we won’t mind coming to you…even when you’ve got a needle in your hand!