How to Become a Phlebotomist
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A phlebotomy career enables professionals to work with a wide variety of people and to draw blood at hospital and healthcare sites or even through unique types of jobs. For example, some phlebotomists might go from home to home collecting blood samples from life insurance applicants that are used in underwriting procedures to determine their eligibility and rates.
Phlebotomists primarily collect blood using a procedure known as venipuncture, in which a vein is punctured to collect blood. For this reason, they should not only be comfortable working with blood and needles, but also collecting and transporting samples. However, the procedures to do venipuncture correctly and safely are learned in a phlebotomy program, so that students understand what they need to do protect themselves. Safety is always essential!
How Long Does It Take to Become a Phlebotomist?
The process of becoming a phlebotomist can take a year or less to complete, depending on the education program and whether a student pursues national certification. A few states also require separate certification requirements for individuals to be able to seek employment in that state, and this may make the process longer.
Education programs can take from as little as eight weeks but less than a year to finish depending upon the school type and program in which students enroll. Programs at vocational schools may be quicker whereas those at community colleges could take longer. Completing both the instructional and clinical hours of a program are essential to obtaining a certificate or diploma and then to finding employment. Some key points to know include:
- National certification is generally not required, but can be helpful in obtaining employment. This could take several months or more to complete, depending on how prepared a student is for the exam and how motivated they are to seek certification. However, there are generally time limitations as to when a student can have completed a program and still sit for national certification.
- Certification is required in just a few states, so it could often be possible to be working as a phlebotomist in less than a year, particularly when a student enrolls in one of the quicker-paced programs.
Phlebotomy Cost vs. Salary
Many phlebotomy programs cost just a few thousand dollars to complete, and the job outlook for the occupation is strong. In fact, career opportunities nationwide are expected to grow much faster than average, at 27 percent, from 2012 to 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This could result in some 27,100 new jobs becoming available over this time. The BLS also reports that the mean hourly wage for the field, as of 2014, was $15.33, and that the mean annual wage was $31,890. However, Alaska, Washington, D.C., New York, California and Maryland had higher mean wages for phlebotomists, reaching above $37,000, as of 2014.
The following traits could be important to those wanting to pursue a phlebotomy career:
- Compassion: Because some people do not like to have their blood drawn, phlebotomists need to be understanding and compassionate about this anxiety and fear.
- Dexterity: Since phlebotomists are inserting a needle into a vein, they need to be accurate and precise in what they do. Good hand-eye coordination is necessary, but so is the ability to successfully insert a needle into a vein during the first attempt.
- Attention to detail: Not only do phlebotomists need to be able to draw blood, they must draw the correct amounts, do so for the number of tests needed, collect that blood, track it, and enter it into a database. Extreme care must be taken not to mix up or incorrectly label samples.
Many phlebotomists work in laboratory settings, but others work for ambulatory services, providing them more flexibility on the job. Still, they may need to work weekend or evening hours, like in a laboratory. Keep on reading to discover more about how to become a phlebotomist, including the steps to take toward education and national certification.
Steps to Become a Phlebotomist
Many people want to know how to become a phlebotomist, so here are some general steps to take:
- Finish high school (Four years). To be accepted into a phlebotomy programs, students should have a high school diploma or a GED. In some instances, they may be able to start a phlebotomy career right out of high school, according to the BLS, but usually postsecondary education is necessary.
- Enroll in a postsecondary education phlebotomy program (Eight weeks to short of one year). A phlebotomy education typically takes a year or less to complete and results in a certificate or diploma. These programs, usually available through vo-tech schools and community colleges, include an education in anatomy, medical terminology and physiology. Classroom and lab work are important components of instruction, and while the requirements for enrollment can vary, they may include:
- High school diploma or GED
- A minimum GPA while in high school
- Immunization records
Once accepted into a program, students typically need to pay tuition and fees. These may or may not cover the costs for textbooks and a uniform. Also, students who drop out of a program after enrolling may be assessed a withdrawal fee.
When enrolling, students may wish to look for a program that is approved by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). More than 60 phlebotomy programs nationwide are listed as approved on the NAACLS site, meaning that they have reached certain education standards in phlebotomy and that staff and faculty have attained specific education levels.
- Pursue certification (Can Vary). Most employers prefer to hire candidates who have phlebotomy certification, according to the BLS. This certification can be pursued through organizations, such as:
- American Medical Technologists
- The National Center for Competency Testing
- The American Society for Clinical Pathology
There are different pathways to becoming eligible for certification, but often graduation from an approved program is at least one of the pathways. Also, a certain amount of clinical experience is often necessary to seek national certification. Once a candidate is eligible, they need to take and pass an exam to receive certification.
There are usually fees for these exams, and these exams vary based on the certification agency. The phlebotomy exam through the National Center for Competency Testing, as an example, is comprised of 125 scored questions and 25 unscored pretest items. Students have three hours for testing and they may need to demonstrate practical knowledge of some skills, such as taking blood.
In some states, certification is necessary to seek employment. According to the BLS, these states include:
- Maintain certification (Ongoing). Continuing certification requirements will vary based on the organization that certification was initially obtained through. However, an annual fee and completion of continuing education are typical requirements. There may be questions about why certification is so important, too, and although the BLS reports that it can help with hiring opportunities, American Medical Technologists (AMT) indicates that certification shows that holders:
- Are dedicated to maintaining quality work on an ongoing basis
- Have met knowledge standards set by a third-party agency
On top of this, the BLS reports the job prospects are the “best” for those who receive certification from any of the available reputable certifying organizations. In other words, although certification may take extra work and an ongoing commitment to education, it could result in career benefits.
Featured Phlebotomist Programs
Phlebotomy programs are generally offered on-campus at schools and institutions since students need to gain hands-on skills in blood withdrawal and collection. Below is a look at some of the programs that can be found in the U.S., but keep in mind that these only represent a small sample of programs that are available across the country.
Kaplan University offers a certificate program in phlebotomy that is 35 credits in all and can be completed on campus in Hagerstown, Md. Students take courses such as Medical Law and Bioethics, Diseases of the Human Body, and Human Anatomy and Physiology. A five-credit phlebotomy lab introduces them to concepts such as infection control, lab safety, and specimen handling. Students also complete a five-credit externship in which they practice obtaining blood specimens under the supervision of a professional. The certificate program is approved by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.
Seattle Vocational Institute offers a phlebotomy program that includes training in daily phlebotomy functions, venipuncture procedures, specimen custody, patient rights, and more. The program has the added benefit of having classes in the evening and being completed in two quarters. Finally, students are trained in the use and application of electrocardiograms.
Iowa Western Community College, in Council Bluffs, offers a phlebotomy program that covers 80 hours of classroom training and 120 hours of clinical experiences. In the sixth week of the program, students are given their clinical placements and, upon completion, should be eligible to sit for national certification through the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
Abrams College, in Modesto, Calif., offers the didactic portion of its phlebotomy program over two weeks: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 6 to 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This accounts for 48 hours in classroom study, for which students do need to pass all exams and requirements at skill stations to move on to the externship experience. The externship is 40 hours and occurs in a clinical laboratory setting or hospital. Upon successful completion, students receive a certificate and should be eligible to seek national certification and state licensure.
Universal Vocational Institute, in Miami, offers a certificate program that covers topics like blood collection techniques, CPR training, HIV/AIDS education, quality control, and specimen transfer. The program can be completed in eight weeks and requires just 165 hours in education. This includes 127 hours of theory and 38 hours of practical training. The Institute also offers career placement help.