An image of phlebotomist examining a blood vial to accompany an article about how to become a phlebotomist

How to Become a Phlebotomist

Are you interested in a career in the medical field but unsure of which direction to go? The staggering cost of education might intimidate you from transitioning immediately into health care positions like nursing or laboratory sciences, but there are many entry-level positions that won’t ask you to break the bank.

One example is a career in phlebotomy. A phlebotomist draws blood from patients and doesn’t require a college degree or years of training to get started. All you need is to complete training from a phlebotomy program, which typically takes less than a year.

If you’re looking to become a phlebotomist, here are some steps to take to get started.

What Is a Phlebotomist?

A phlebotomist is a health care worker who draws blood for tests, transfusions, and research. They typically work in hospitals, medical labs, blood donation centers, drug testing centers, clinics, and doctor’s offices. Some of their responsibilities may include:

  • Drawing blood from patients and blood donors
  • Talking to patients while drawing blood to make them feel relaxed
  • Verifying a patient’s or donor’s identity so their blood is properly labeled
  • Labeling the drawn blood
  • Putting a patient’s information into a database
  • Taking and confirming a patient’s or donor’s history
  • Assembling, cleaning, and sterilizing medical instruments including needles, test tubes, and blood vials
  • Treating patients or donors when they have reactions

In addition to working with blood, phlebotomists may also handle urine and fecal matter samples for various testing.

How to Become a Phlebotomist

In order to become a phlebotomist, you must have a basic understanding of verbal and written communication skills, as well as basic mathematical proficiency. If you meet those requirements, here are the four steps on how to get started in phlebotomy:

1. Earn a High School Degree or GED

In order to enroll in a phlebotomy program, you need a high school degree. From there, you can apply for a phlebotomy program right after high school graduation. If you don’t have a high school diploma, work on earning your GED.

2. Enroll in a Phlebotomy Program

Once you have your high school degree or GED, you can look around and apply for a phlebotomy program. These programs are typically offered at community colleges, vocational schools, or technical schools. 

In these classes, you’ll focus on anatomy, medical terminology, and physiology, as well as how to ensure you’re taking quality samples while making your patient feel cared for and safe. Typically, these programs take less than a year to complete, though in some cases they may take a whole year.

3. Pursue a Certification

Most employers prefer to hire phlebotomists who have earned a professional certification. There are many different types of certifications, three of the most popular including:

  • Phlebotomy technician: Offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, this certification requires an additional year of experience on the job or a related certification. You must pass the certification exam and renew your certification every three years.
  • Certified phlebotomy technician: Offered by the National Health Career Association, this certification requires you to pass a 100-question exam. It must also be renewed every two years.
  • Registered phlebotomy technician: Offered by American Medical Technologists, this program requires 120 hours of coursework or 1,040 hours of on-the-job training showing proof of a minimum of 50 successful venipunctures and 10 capillary punctures. Once completed, you’ll need to stay in good standings and renew your certification every three years.

4. Maintain Certification

Based on where you complete your certification, you’ll need to maintain your certification every few years by renewing it. Typically, this involves an exam or classroom education to update you on any new procedures and equipment, as well as making sure you’re maintaining your knowledge of current practices. 

Some of these organizations include: 

  • The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
  • The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
  • The National Phlebotomy Association (NPA)
  • The American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Qualities of a Good Phlebotomist

Being a great phlebotomist isn’t just about understanding the necessary hard skills, such as knowing how to draw blood. Getting blood drawn is scary, especially for young patients or those who are being tested for serious conditions. 

As a phlebotomist, you want to make sure you are able and confident enough to reassure your patients and keep them comfortable and at ease. The most sought-after qualities in a phlebotomist include:

  • Dexterity: Since you’ll be working mainly with your hands, phlebotomists must be able to draw blood quickly and gracefully, so there is little to no hassle for the patient or donor.
  • Hand-eye coordination: Drawing blood is easiest for both the patient and phlebotomist when it’s able to be done painlessly on the first attempt. Controlling your hand movement to get the procedure done correctly ensures the patient feels a minimum amount of pain, which helps relieve their stress and prevent reactions.
  • Attention to detail: Phlebotomists work with a lot of blood vials daily. That includes labeling them correctly, storing them in the right place, and making sure they get to where they need to go for testing. As a phlebotomist, you’ll need to pay close attention to detail to ensure that these specimens don’t get lost, misplaced, or mislabeled. If you don’t, that can cause major issues for patients. 
  • Stamina: As a phlebotomist, you’re on your feet all day, going from patient to patient, so you’ll need to make sure you have the energy to keep up with the work demand.
  • Compassion: Most of all, phlebotomists need to make sure they can connect with their patients. Many people are afraid of needles and having their blood drawn, so a good phlebotomist needs to make sure they can talk to their patients and donors and keep their minds off the procedure.

Phlebotomist Job Outlook

As of May 2019, the average median pay for a phlebotomist is $17.07 per hour and $35,510 per year. In the next eight years, the number of employed phlebotomists is expected to increase by 23%, meaning there’s going to be a continued need for years to come. Getting certified as a phlebotomist is a great way to explore a career in health care and a good first step in entering the field.

If you’re a phlebotomist or other health care worker looking to pick up per diem shifts, visit us at Clipboard Health. We can set you up with health care shifts where you want when you want.