7 Things That Every Phlebotomist Should Know

Hand with latex glove holding empty test tube. MEDIjobs

Although many medical careers require years of training, phlebotomy is one field that almost anyone can get trained in. Certified phlebotomist courses are a great entry-level medical career that often has good pay and benefits. The exact requirements for each position vary, but most phlebotomists draw blood from patients, and some work in labs to test patient blood samples.

Phlebotomy requires significant training and medical knowledge, but soft skills also matter. Plus, phlebotomists must strive for excellence both as individuals and as members of a team. In order to make the most of their careers, phlebotomists must stay up-to-date on best practices and basic research while keeping an eye open for promotions.

1. Dealing with Nervous Patients

While many patients simply don’t like needles, some have an intense phobia of them. Trypanophobia can persist even into adulthood, and medical professionals from all specialties must learn to help patients with this phobia.

Healthcare professionals must take this fear seriously, and trivializing it will only prevent the patient from seeking care in the future. For most patients with trypanophobia, the size of the needle doesn’t matter. The fear of needles is more about the anticipation of pain than about the pain itself.

Breathing exercises can be helpful for many patients, but severe cases may need anesthetic. By eliminating the anticipation of pain, a topical anesthetic can help reduce patient stress. Phlebotomists must give the patient sufficient time to calm down,  instead of rushing them through the process. Children, in particular, may require more time than expected, but scolding them will only make the situation worse.

2. Finding Veins

Most patients have veins that are relatively easy to see or feel, but some patients have veins that are very difficult to find. Even experienced phlebotomists and nurses may struggle to locate a vein and may end up having to stick a patient multiple times. This is especially common among patients who are overweight.

The best way to learn this skill is through practice. If you’re still struggling with certain patients, ask colleagues for tips. Remember to stay calm and work carefully – if you stick a patient more times than necessary, they may be even more nervous about needles in the future.

3. Answering Difficult Questions

Some patients may question the necessity of various procedures, including blood tests. As someone who is not a licensed physician, a phlebotomist must be mindful of how to answer these questions. Phlebotomists can answer some questions but should defer others to the physician responsible for the patient’s care.

A poorly-worded answer can cause a patient undue worry, or can even undermine advice a physician has already given. Since answering patient questions becomes easier with experience, don’t hesitate to defer to physicians on tough questions early in your career.

5. HIV and Bloodborne Pathogen Training

Phlebotomist training covers many health and safety concerns regarding bloodborne illnesses. Since best practices for handling and testing blood samples may change over time, phlebotomists must stay up-to-date on the latest research and areas of concern. While matters of diagnosis are up to physicians, a good phlebotomist will have up-to-date knowledge on how to handle blood safely.

However, compassion and sensitivity is a skill that cannot be fully taught in training. Despite improvements in care for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, they are still highly stigmatized and poorly understood by the public. Phlebotomists must handle HIV-positive patients with the same care and professionalism as for HIV-negative patients.

6. Privacy Laws and Workplace Policies

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is the federal law that covers most aspects of healthcare privacy. This law requires that patients’ protected health information (PHI) must be closely guarded. While most aspects of HIPAA deal with technology and information security, there are some parts that apply to individual practitioners.

There may also be additional regulations at the state level and among individual employers, so make sure to discuss rules and expectations with your employer during training. In order to avoid potentially violating policies, never discuss anything that happens at work on social media. If an acquaintance or friend comes into your clinic or hospital, their visit should not be mentioned to others in your social circle.

7. Getting a Salary Boost

Phlebotomy is an entry-level job, and average salaries hover around $15 an hour in most states. However, additional training and education, especially a science- or health-related college degree, can help dramatically. You can also go to nursing school to become an RN, which can pay much more.

A hospital lab phlebotomist also tends to be paid more than mobile phlebotomists, and many medical facilities will have phlebotomy supervisors. Once you have a few years of experience, consider applying for different jobs. Let your managers know if you are interested in a transfer or a promotion to a better-paying position.

Ready to Go?

If you have this knowledge and set of soft skills ready to go, then the medical world needs you. Demand for phlebotomists is predicted to increase, in part because the U.S. population is aging.

As long as you have steady hands, patience, and good customer service skills, you can get a phlebotomy job with a decent salary and stable working hours. If you already have a phlebotomy job, keep an eye out for opportunities to expand your skills and accelerate your career.

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