How to Become a Phlebotomist

Overview

By Sarah Maurer

No one loves a needle stick, but the skillful touch of a good phlebotomist can make the process quicker and a lot less painful. Phlebotomists, also known as phlebotomy technicians, specialize in the crucial duty of drawing blood samples from patients for use in medical testing, transfusions, research, and donation.

Job duties of a phlebotomist include:

  • Prepare and arrange blood drawing trays
  • Ensure that phlebotomy equipment is sterile and safe
  • Take patient vital signs
  • Verify patient identity
  • Explain the procedure to patients and help ease their nervousness and distress
  • Draw blood using the appropriate technique
  • Enter patient, specimen, and insurance information into the computer
  • Label samples accurately and prepare them for processing
  • Transport samples to the lab
  • Dispose of needles and medical waste safely
  • Care for patients who have an adverse reaction to the blood draw (such as fainting).

A phlebotomist's most important job is to protect patients' health and safety. Failing to verify a person's identity or mislabeling a blood sample can lead to serious health consequences. It's also extremely important that the phlebotomist choose an appropriate site for the puncture as well as the best equipment for the job.

Many phlebotomists say that it's their interactions with patients that make the job so fulfilling. They enjoy helping people through their distress and providing more comfortable testing and donation experiences. Phlebotomists are also important players on the healthcare team who work closely with physicians, technicians, nurses and other professionals to care for patients.

Work Environment

Most phlebotomists - about 40 percent - work in hospitals. Commercial medical laboratories, physicians' offices, and blood banks also employ many phlebotomists. "Mobile" phlebotomists (those who travel to different labs and offices as needed) are becoming more common.

Most phlebotomists work full time. Hours are generally regular, but those in hospitals may cover some evening, weekend, and holiday shifts.

Phlebotomy careers require a great deal of human interaction. A phlebotomist may be the only person the patient meets when visiting the lab, so it's important to provide great service. Phlebotomists are also in near-constant contact with physicians, nurses and lab technicians.

Phlebotomists are at increased risk for blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis. It's extremely important that they follow safety procedures, wear protective clothing and dispose of sharps and medical waste safely.

Requirements

Education

The majority of phlebotomists complete a post-secondary certificate program through a community college, vocational school, or technical school. These programs typically take less than a year to complete and have both classroom and clinical components. Subjects covered include anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, and practical skills. Students practice blood draws on mannequins before trying them on real patients.

Phlebotomy education is not well regulated in most states, so it's important to be discerning when choosing a program. To find the best training:

  • Ask local employers who provides high-quality programs in your area
  • Consult the websites of reputable certification organizations (see the certification section below for more information)
  • Look for a program that follows the quality standards of the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI)
  • The clinical experience should take place in a government-certified laboratory (look for the acronym CLIA).

Training

About a third of phlebotomists enter the job with a high school diploma and train on the job.

Licensing and/or Certification

Phlebotomy certification is mandatory in California, Louisiana, and Nevada, and is strongly preferred by employers across the country. Certification is offered by many organizations, but not all are credible or recognized by employers.

If your state has mandatory certification, it will maintain a list of recognized certification organizations. For more information, click the state links above.

For candidates seeking voluntary certification, the Center for Phlebotomy Education recommends the following organizations:

Certification varies by organization, but most require completion of an accredited training program or equivalent work experience with an accredited laboratory. Candidates must also pass a knowledge exam (and, in the case of the American Certification Association, an additional practical exam).

Certified phlebotomists must participate in regular continuing education to maintain their credentials.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

People skills. Phlebotomists must be perceptive of patients' feelings and able to put them at ease. They must also be comfortable working in teams and with people from many other professions.

Communication. Strong speaking and listening skills are necessary in order to identify the patient, gain consent and explain the procedure.

Critical thinking. To draw blood safely, the phlebotomist must choose an appropriate puncture site as well as the best type and size of equipment.

Attention to detail. Testing mistakes can lead to significant distress and serious adverse outcomes. For this reason, phlebotomists must be exacting and accurate when handling, labeling, and processing blood specimens.

Coordination and dexterity. Drawing blood requires sharp eyes, steady hands and skilled fingers. Having good technique makes the procedure more comfortable for the patient.

Opportunities for Advancement

Phlebotomists with several years experience may move into supervisory roles. Those with an associate or bachelor's degree may be qualified to instruct within phlebotomy training programs. Phlebotomy can also serve as a springboard to other health careers, including nursing, medicine, or laboratory science.

If you would like to gain the necessary education to become a phlebotomist, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.

Salary and Job Outlook

Interactive Map of Income and Job Growth Projections

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for all phlebotomists is $30,670, or $14.74 per hour. The highest-paid ten percent earn more than $43,800, and the lowest paid ten percent earn less than $22,150.

Work setting has a significant impact on earnings. The highest-paid phlebotomists work for insurance carriers and specialty hospitals (although there are relatively few positions in these industries), while those in general hospitals tend to earn less.

Phlebotomist wages also vary significantly by geographic area. Pay is highest on the West Coast, in Alaska, and on the East Coast between New Hampshire and Virginia.

Phlebotomists should be in excellent demand for the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment is expected to grow by 27 percent between 2012 and 2022.

One reason for this trend is that more people are seeking health care services. The Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage, giving more people access to doctors and hospitals. Growth of the elderly population and growth in the number of people with chronic conditions are also driving demand for services.

One of the best ways that phlebotomists can increase their job prospects is to obtain voluntary certification.

The websites of local hospitals and labs often list open phlebotomist positions. Other job-hunting resources include the ASCP job board and the Phlebotek website.

Further Reading

Popular Degree Programs