What Is a Phlebotomist and Does It Require a College Degree?

What is a phlebotomist, and does it require a four-year degree? A phlebotomist draws patient blood and only requires a certificate to be qualified.

Many individuals are interested in finding the answer to, "What is a phlebotomist and does it require a college degree?” but they also want a job that requires less education than a four-year bachelor's degree. I was curious to see what a phlebotomist’s responsibilities were, so I did some research, and this is what I found.

The job of a phlebotomist offers the chance for someone to become very skillful at a given task, without needing expensive schooling and years of training. Phlebotomists are tasked with drawing patient blood in a wide variety of scenarios; however, they require only certificate level training to be appropriately qualified.

So, What is a phlebotomist? There’s more to being a phlebotomist than collecting blood, and some phlebotomists elect to complete an associate’s degree instead of a shorter certificate program. A phlebotomist will also need to work closely with the patient they are collecting a sample from so that they can get a good sample, follow the correct procedures, and keep the patient at ease.

Phlebotomist Degrees

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A phlebotomist does not generally require a four-year degree as is often the case in other jobs in the medical field. To become a phlebotomist, all that is needed is that you complete a certificate program that lasts under a year, but some programs provide an Associate’s degree to those who complete them, and this may take up to two years.

How long it takes to complete the program will also depend on the institution where you are enrolled, and how fast the program progress is designed. For those who are working full time and going to school in the evenings, the total length of the degree may take longer as it is spaced out in smaller sessions over time to accommodate student schedules.

If you are interested in being a phlebotomist, you’ll need to attend both instructional classes and clinical hours to get both classroom learning time and hands-on time with patients. Vocational schools and community colleges frequently offer programs for phlebotomy in addition to several other related fields.

Achieving a national certification is not always necessary; however, it may help you find employment in certain institutions. Completing a national certification may take longer than the standard certificate offered at local community colleges, but it may also lead to higher pay and an easier time securing employment.

Few states will require national certification, so check with local institutions to see if they need it if you aren’t sure. It doesn’t hurt to scope out potential employers to see what their requirements are before beginning a phlebotomy program.

Certification can be earned from one of many different organizations, including:

  • The National Phlebotomy Association
  • The American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
  • The American Medical Technologists

To find out more about the programs offered at each of these institutions, you can visit their websites and discover the education and training that is required. There is often an exam required to earn a certificate, and work experience may also be factored in where applicable.

The American Society for Clinical Pathology offers a Phlebotomy Technician certification that costs $135 for the application fee and requires that the applicant pass an exam and have fulfilled other educational and training requirements.

The American Medical Technologists organization has a Registered Phlebotomy Technician certificate program and also offers access to the most up to date information regarding phlebotomy, and maintaining your certification. Maintaining this kind of certificate requires at least 120 hours of classroom time and many hands-on hours over three years.

The National Phlebotomy Association is another organization that is non-profit and specializes in all kinds of phlebotomy education. This education offers certificates to its students that pass an exam, and complete several other requirements, including clinical training, and classroom-based instruction.

When choosing a program to get your phlebotomy degree, make sure that you consider the type of accreditation that the institution has where you are enrolling. Many of these organizations will have evaluated programs that have met rigorous standards, and others may not have any accreditation at all. 

To find more information about the organization where you plan to enroll and their accreditation, check out the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).

Job Duties of a Phlebotomist

So, what is a phlebotomist supposed to do all day? A phlebotomist is specially trained to draw blood, and these jobs exist at blood banks, hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, medical labs, and other institutions where blood testing or sampling is required.

When you enroll in a phlebotomy program, you will be taught everything you need to know about potential job duties. However, there are some general tasks that you should be aware of before beginning a phlebotomy certificate.

Phlebotomists need to be very detail-oriented individuals as they are required to enter patient rooms or private spaces, introduce themselves, and help patients to relax. Not many individuals enjoy having their blood drawn, so part of a phlebotomist’s job is to help put a patient’s mind at ease during the process while also performing each detail of the procedure correctly.

Once the patient has confirmed their name, the phlebotomist can be to disinfect the area where the blood will be drawn, and apply any necessary tourniquets. The goal is for the phlebotomist to make a blood collection as painless as possible for a patient, but they must also label each sample correctly and prepare for complications.

Phlebotomists will need to prepare for complications that arise when blood is improperly drawn or when a patient has other medical conditions or allergies. Often the procedure for a blood collection must be altered to accommodate these factors, and unique situations require different equipment.

Working Conditions and Salary Expectations

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Phlebotomists can work in a wide variety of different organizations and are commonly employed by laboratories, health centers, and hospitals. It's also not uncommon to find a phlebotomist position in any health care facility that conducts blood tests as part of patient care, and these individuals are typically supervised by someone who is a medical professional themselves.

A phlebotomist needs to be very accurate and detail oriented when performing their job, and blood samples must be carefully labeled. In a larger facility or a facility where many patients are seen in a given day, a phlebotomist may need to extract dozens of blood samples from patients.

Phlebotomists will also have to take blood samples from patients who are afraid of needles or don’t like the sight of blood. To be a good phlebotomist, you will need to be skilled at helping the patient to relax so that you can best perform your duties with minimal interruption. 

Some patients will also be emotional and even distraught or angry due to health conditions, personal problems, or other unrelated issues. Fine motor skills are required to perform a blood draw well, and this occupation also demands a high level of organization and the ability to follow instructions carefully.

If you are an experienced phlebotomist, you may also be asked to train other phlebotomists who are new to the organization or who are inexperienced in this line of work. Skilled phlebotomists also help to organize programs for other phlebotomists that allow them to further their education, and help them maintain their certification status.

Phlebotomists can expect varying salaries based on where they work and their level of experience and education. A phlebotomist with an associated degree, for example, may potentially make more money than one with just a certificate. Employment at larger hospitals or facilities also can lead to higher pay but isn’t always the case. 

Phlebotomists that work in large hospitals earned an average salary of $31,890 in 2015, but in 2018 that number had risen to $34,480. The projected growth in this industry is anticipated to reach 25% by 2026, which is excellent compared to many popular professions that see growth in the single digits for decades.

There is also some on-site training that is likely to be required when you begin working somewhere, and this has become a standard onboarding procedure for most phlebotomy positions. 

Each hospital or medical facility will have unique guidelines for how different tasks are performed, and your training as a phlebotomist in these scenarios may count towards the hours required to keep your certificate up to date.

Is Phlebotomy the Right Field for You?

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To be a great phlebotomist, there are some key traits that you’ll need to possess, and these include compassion, attention to detail, ability to follow instructions well, and skill. It's not uncommon for phlebotomists to have to interact with fearful or otherwise emotional patients, and having a sense of compassion can make drawing their blood infinitely easier.

Dexterity is another crucial trait as veins are small, and blood draws should be as painless as possible. A phlebotomist will need to be very accurate when inserting a needle into a patient to avoid causing undue harm and pain. Often, a phlebotomist will get a single attempt to insert a needle correctly into a vein before a patient becomes disgruntled or uncooperative.

Author: Sandy Mayberry

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