Phlebotomy Technician PBT (ASCP) Certification - Eligibility & Testing
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For those looking for an in-demand and entry-level career in healthcare, becoming a phlebotomist is an ideal career choice. Phlebotomists draw blood samples from patients to rule out or confirm a diagnosis or to collect whole blood for donation. Whether working in a clinic or blood bank, with a post-secondary degree and certification, phlebotomists can access a wide-range of rewarding and lucrative job opportunities.
Phlebotomy is a career on the rise. To meet the rapidly expanding needs of the healthcare sector so too is job growth expanding for phlebotomists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020) anticipates a 17 percent growth in this profession between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average increase projected for all occupations (four percent). In that same decade, an estimated 22,800 fresh new positions will be created. The median annual salary for phlebotomists in the United States is $35,510 and most certified phlebotomy programs require a high school diploma or GED for admission and take less than one year to complete (BLS 2019).
How does one become a part of this allied health career? Some employers may consider individuals with high school diplomas and clinical experience with venipuncture (i.e., drawing blood or introducing fluids into a person’s vein with a hypodermic needle). However, earning phlebotomy certification is highly recommended to prove competency and seek higher salaries in this growing field.
To become certified, prospective phlebotomists must complete a program from an accredited phlebotomy certification school that takes around one year. The National Accreditation Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) accredits phlebotomy programs and aspiring phlebotomists are encouraged to research post-secondary programs to make sure they meet the highest academic and professional standards. NAACLS-accredited phlebotomy programs generally have two courses and a clinical component such as an externship as well. This is the most common career pathway, but other routes are available to meet the exam eligibility requirements which are detailed below.
Read on to learn more about how to become a certified phlebotomy technician.
National Certification – PBT (ASCP) Exam
Upon completion of a NAACLS-accredited program and supervised clinical experience, the individual may be qualified to take the PBT exam. The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) awards the Phlebotomy Technician (PBT) which is an internationally-recognized credential.
The PBT (ASCP) exam includes 80 questions that must be answered within a two-hour time limit. The exam questions are multiple-choice and the test is computer-adaptive, meaning when a test-taker answers a question correctly, the questions get progressively more difficult or easier depending on whether a correct or incorrect answer is selected. Questions cannot be skipped. Questions are weighted depending on the level of difficulty.
The PBT (ASCP) exam is broken down into the following content areas:
- Circulatory systems: 5-10 percent
- Specimen collection (venipuncture, skin puncture): 45-50 percent
- Specimen handling, transport, and processing: 15-20 percent
- Waived and point-of-care testing (POCT): 5-10 percent
To apply for the exam, test-takers must create an account with ASCP and complete an online application. Required documentation and official transcripts are submitted at this stage. An ASCP evaluator will review applications and notify applicants via email whether their applications have deficiencies or if they’ve been admitted to take the PBT exam. As of 2020, the non-refundable exam application fee is $135 USD.
Phlebotomy Technician (PBT) Certification Eligibility Pathways
There are seven unique eligibility pathways to earn a PBT certification. Requirements vary, but generally, these prerequisite requirements must be met prior to pursuing phlebotomy training programs:
- High school diploma or GED
- CPR certification
- Up-to-date immunizations
- Successful completion of a phlebotomy program
- Supervised clinical experience (NOTE: The actual number of venipunctures or clinical hours required varies widely between certifying organizations)
- Letter from a program supervisor or phlebotomy school verifying course and clinical work completion
The ASCP accepts the following eligibility pathways, often a combination of education and work experience, to be eligible to sit for the PBT exam. Please note: high school graduation or equivalent is required for all of the following eligibility pathways.
- Route 1: Successful completion of a NAACLS-approved phlebotomy program in the last five years.
- Route 2: Successful completion of an acceptable two-part formal structured phlebotomy program within the last five years (40 hours of classroom training and 100 hours of clinical training a minimum of 100 venipunctures).
- Route 3: Completion of one year of full-time (35 hours per week) acceptable clinical experience as a phlebotomy technician in an acceptable laboratory in the last five years.
- Route 4: Successful completion of RN, LPN or other acceptable accredited allied health professional/occupational education which includes phlebotomy training and orientation in an acceptable laboratory with a minimum performance of 100 successful unaided blood collections including venipunctures and skin punctures.
- Route 5: Having valid medical laboratory technologist MT/MLS (ASCP) or MLT (ASCP) certification.
- Route 6: Having valid donor phlebotomy technician DPT (ASCP) certification and a minimum of 100 successful unaided non-donor blood collections including venipunctures and skin punctures in an acceptable laboratory within the last five years.
- Route 7: Successful completion of a phlebotomy program approved by the California Department of Public Health within the last five years.
To help applicants determine if they are eligible for an exam, the ASCP offers the Board of Certification (BOC) Eligibility Assistant. PBT certification is valid for three years.
Phlebotomy Technician ASCP Certification Renewals
Every three years, PBT certification-holders can renew their credentials. To help phlebotomists pursue and keep track of their professional development, the ASCP offers the Credential Maintenance Program (CMP). The content available through this program keeps PBT-holders up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in the field of phlebotomy.
To be eligible for renewal, PBT-holders must complete nine points of courses in the following areas:
- Laboratory or patient safety (i.e. quality control, quality assurance): one point
- Phlebotomy: two points
- Areas of lab specialty, management, education, or other related laboratory areas of interest: six points
The non-refundable application fee for certification renewal is $95 USD for three years. This fee can be reduced by $15 USD for applicants who hold multiple certifications (e.g. PBT and DPT).
State Certification for Phlebotomy Technicians
Nearly all employers prefer phlebotomists who have earned professional post-secondary certification from an accredited organization such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) or a similar organization. For this reason, the majority of phlebotomy technicians hold professional certification.
To illustrate this point, O*NET, an affiliate of the American Job Center Network, reported in 2019 that 45 percent of phlebotomist respondents had post-secondary certificates whereas 32 percent had high school diplomas.
That said, not all US states require phlebotomists to be licensed to legally perform work. In fact, the BLS shows that as of 2020, only four states require that phlebotomists be certified: California, Louisiana, Nevada, and Washington.
Read on to learn detailed information about state certification requirements for phlebotomists in these states.
In California, the state with the highest number of phlebotomists, all personnel who draw blood must be certified unless they are physicians, nurses, clinical lab scientists, or other licensed professionals. The California Department of Public Health reports that there are six agencies that qualify to certify a phlebotomist in California:
- American Certification Agency (ACA)
- American Medical Certification Association (AMCA)
- American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP)
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT/MMCI)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
According to the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, phlebotomists are categorized as clinical laboratory personnel and therefore are required to be certified.
In Nevada, both the individual phlebotomist and the office providing the procedure must be certified. Both applications can be found on the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health (DPBH) website.
The Washington State Department of Health reports that with an invasive procedure such as phlebotomy, individuals must have a medical assistant certification.
Please note that the specific number of venipunctures and supervised clinical hours for these four states vary by certifying agency and state requirements.