Becoming a Phlebotomist - Accredited Programs, Certification & Salary

A phlebotomy career enables professionals to work with a wide variety of people and to draw blood at hospitals 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.

Other phlebotomists draw blood at clinics to rule out or diagnose medical conditions. Some phlebotomists work at blood banks and are tasked with keeping blood donors safe, comfortable, and entertained while they donate vital fluids to save lives.

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 to protect themselves. Safety and accuracy are essential skills for phlebotomists. For many patients, having blood drawn can be an uncomfortable experience fraught with anticipation, so phlebotomists must also have a calm and compassionate chair-side manner.

Careers in phlebotomy are in high-demand for nearly every healthcare facility. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that phlebotomy jobs are expected to grow 17 percent nationally between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations at 4 percent in the same period (BLS 2020).

In that decade, a staggering 22,800 new positions are anticipated in industries such as hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, ambulatory healthcare, physician offices, and outpatient care centers. Positions in long-term care and home health are also in high demand and most phlebotomists work full-time.

If working with blood and needles is not a career deal-breaker, read on to learn more about how to become a phlebotomist.

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 have separate certification requirements for employment in that state, and this may make the process longer.

Education programs can take from as little as eight weeks to 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 is essential to obtaining a certificate or diploma and finding employment.

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 only a few states, so it is 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 Program Cost & Career Salary

Phlebotomy programs aren’t very expensive relative to the salary you can earn. Courses range in cost from $700 to $3,000, depending on the school and length of training. Additionally, students who pursue certification will need to pay $90 to $200 for the test fee. States requiring licensure will also incur a $58 to $200 cost.

The BLS (May 2019) reports that the mean hourly wage for the field was $17.07, equivalent to $35,510 annually. However, California, Washington, D.C., New York, Alaska, and Washington had higher mean wages for phlebotomists—all above $41,000.

It does take special skills to become a phlebotomist. Constant client interaction and fast-paced workplaces require that professionals in the field have:

  • 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, but they must also 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 weekends or evening hours, like in a laboratory.

Keep 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 – Education & Experience

Many people want to know how to become a phlebotomist, so here are some general steps to take:

Step 1: Complete high school (four years). To be accepted into phlebotomy programs, students should have a high school diploma or a GED. In fact, most programs can be entered directly upon completing high school. Students who wish to pursue this career should take courses in health, science, and psychology to help prepare them for additional studies.

Step 2: Complete an accredited phlebotomy program (eight weeks to a year). A phlebotomy education typically takes a year or less to complete. Graduates receive a certificate or diploma. These programs, usually available through vocational schools and community colleges, include 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
  • Background check
  • CPR certification

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). Nearly 60 phlebotomy programs nationwide are listed as approved on the NAACLS site as of October 2020, meaning that they have reached certain education standards in phlebotomy and that staff and faculty have attained specific education levels.

Step 3: Pursue Professional Phlebotomy Certification (Timelines Vary).While certification is not required in all states it does increase employability. California, Louisiana, Nevada, and Washington do require phlebotomists to hold a certification.

Requirements to be eligible to sit for a certification exam vary based on the testing agency. However, for all agencies, aspiring professionals must:

  • Complete a phlebotomy education course
  • Hold a current CPR certification
  • Have graduated from high school or have obtained a GED
  • Complete the required clinical training either with a required number of on the job training hours or a number of venipunctures

Students should ensure they verify the requirements with each testing agency to ensure they meet the requirements. Once requirements are met, students can apply to take the exam for certification. Top recognized certification agencies include:

  • American Certification Agency for Healthcare Professionals (ACA)
  • American Medical Technologists (AMT)
  • The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT/MMCI)
  • The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
  • American Medical Certification Association (AMCA)
  • National Healthcareer Association (NHA)

Fees for these exams and the format of the tests vary. Fees range from $58 to $200. The phlebotomy exam through the National Center for Competency Testing, as an example, comprises 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.

Step 4: Maintain certification (annually). Continuing certification requirements will vary based on the organization that certification was initially obtained through. An annual fee and completion of continuing education are typical requirements. Maintaining certification demonstrates that a professional is dedicated to maintaining quality work on an ongoing basis and has met knowledge standards set by a third-party agency.

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, having a certification can result in career benefits.

Accredited Phlebotomist Certificate 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.

Abrams College, in Modesto, California offers the didactic portion of its phlebotomy program over two weeks, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays, and 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This accounts for 48 hours in classroom study, for which students 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.

Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio offers a short-term certificate in laboratory phlebotomy. The didactic curriculum is skills-based and trains students in all matters of blood collection, special blood collecting techniques, medical terminology, ethics, and other related areas. Students are required to complete an eight-week clinical externship in a hospital or medical clinic.

In the past three years, graduates from this program have earned a cumulative 95 percent pass rate on certification exams and 100 percent job placement upon completion of this NAACLS-accredited program. Transfer programs are available for students who want to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from a partnership institution.

Iowa Western Community College, in Council Bluffs, Iowa 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. Once admitted to the program, students must show proof of vaccination and follow a strict professional dress code.

Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida offers a phlebotomy certificate program that can be completed in two semesters. Students complete 60 hours of classroom instruction the first semester and spend the second semester completing 105 hours of phlebotomy clinical rotations.

To be eligible for admission, students must pass a background check and have received the required immunizations. CPR certification, HIPAA training, and bloodborne pathogen education are included in this course.

South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado, Arkansas is a one-semester program that prepares students for careers in phlebotomy. Through seven credit-hours of courses in phlebotomy, professionalism, patient relations, and medical technology, students are prepared to sit for national exams to earn certification in phlebotomy.

Students must maintain a grade of C or higher in all courses, complete 100 successful unaided collections, and work for a minimum of 100 clinical hours in assigned healthcare facilities. Practicum settings are assigned by the program director. This program is accredited by NAACLS and each class is limited to 14 students

Rachel Drummond
Rachel Drummond Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).