How to become a phlebotomist? Step-by-step guide.
Before getting into details, let’s define who are phlebotomy technicians and what do they do. Basically, phlebotomists are professionals who draw blood from patients. They can work either in federal or state hospitals, private practices or laboratories. You can read more about types of techs, job settings, etc. here.
This is an entry-level medical career that is often considered as a step towards more complex jobs, like nursing assistant, registered nurse, etc. It allows you to understand whether working with patients is what you want to do further. Still, there are lots of phlebotomy technicians who can’t imagine a better career, so it’s really up to you.
Here are some quick facts about phlebotomy career:
Post-secondary certificate / diploma
Most employers want it
Projected Job Growth (2016-26)*
25% (much faster than average)
Median Wage (2017)*
Now, let’s define clear goals you need to achieve in order to become a phlebotomist.
Step 1: Get a high school diploma or GED
Even though schools offering phlebotomy programs don’t require outstanding achievements, we still recommend paying attention to your grades at high school. A high school diploma, or its equivalent, GED, are a basic prerequisite requirement for admission. Also, in order to apply to an approved phlebotomy training program, you have to be at least 18 years old.
As for specific subjects, chemistry and biology are the ones you will use while undergoing training and in your daily activities on the job. Having good grades in these two will give you a competitive advantage over other candidates when applying for a phlebotomy course.
Step 2: Enroll in a Phlebotomy Training Program
Once you have decided that phlebotomy is a good option for you career (and it certainly is!), it’s time to find a phlebotomy school near you. These programs are short-term, usually less than one year. Some are as short as eight weeks.
During your training you will learn basic skills you need to apply as a phlebotomist. For example, drawing blood in a number of ways, using different techniques and equipment. Basic legal, lab safety and patient interaction subjects will also be covered. Apart of theoretical training, you will undergo hands-on practice in hospitals or laboratories.
The form below can help you find a school near you in a few clicks:
Want to know more about training options and degrees? Read our detailed guide to phlebotomy training here.
When choosing a specific training program, it’s a good idea to ask admission personnel if their program is approved by National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). Although it’s not a strict requirement among your potential employers, NAACLS sets the quality bar pretty high, so you can be sure their curriculum covers all subjects needed for your job.
Step 3: Certification & Licensure
Once you have completed a phlebotomy training program, you may want to become certified as well. Even though certification it’s not a legal requirement in most states to start practicing phlebotomy, in reality, the vast majority of employers still want you to have it before getting to work. Also, more advanced certifications allow you to broaden the range activities you perform on a daily basis as a phlebotomist, and therefore, can potentially increase your salary.
In the United States, a range of organizations offer certifications in phlebotomy.
The main of them are:
- American Medical Technologists (AMT)
- American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
- National Healthcareer Association (NHA)
Want to learn more about different types of certifications, their requirements and how they differ? Take a look at our detailed guide here.
California, Louisiana, Nevada, and Washington, require you to be certified in order to work as a phlebotomist. But, it’s absolutely worth it. According to our survey here, California offers the highest salaries in the US.
Certification exam usually consists of a theoretical multiple-choice test and a practical component. Now, this exam is usually a part of the vast majority of training programs, and you undergo it on final stages of your course.
Step 4: Employment
Once you have completed all the above steps, here’s the most important one – getting your job. Actually, with a rising demand for phlebotomists and other medical professionals, you’re likely to be approached by recruiters during the completion of steps above. However, don’t forget to be active yourself!
Even during your first acquaintance with phlebotomy job while doing practice in hospital, start making friends, talk to staff, go to HR and find out about employment opportunities. Don’t let this most important step be a last-minute thing.
What we want is a range of employers and options to choose from, right? To achieve this, you can apply not only to local hospitals or labs, but also blood donation centers, physicians offices, outpatient care centers or even consider becoming a mobile phlebotomist! Therefore, being proactive, not reactive will help you a lot.
Step 5: Maintaining your Certification
Even though at first it may seem like an easy job, continuing education and therefore, maintaining your certification is a must. Requirements vary among different institutions, but as a rule of thumb, it’s usually certain amount of CEs (Continuing Education credits) that you can earn through short courses within a period of two years.
Renewing certification in such a way will mean you are aware of, and can apply the latest developments in the industry to your day-to-day work.
How long does it take to become a phlebotomist?
As a summary, let’s briefly calculate how long it will take you to start a phlebotomist from scratch:
- Preparation and application to schools: 1 month
- Phlebotomy training itself: 1-2 semesters, or 4 to 8 months, depending on college
After these steps accomplished, you can consider yourself a phlebotomist, but we would recommend obtaining a certification that can take around 12 months to prepare assuming you’re working full time. This is why the entire process shouldn’t take more than 6 to 10 months, depending on the program of your choice.
What skills and traits should a successful phlebotomist have?
The following are important for those who want to work as phlebotomy technicians:
- Eye for detail. It’s extremely important to take the right amount of blood, label the sample correctly, input data into the database and track it. If not done appropriately, samples can mixed, lost, etc.
- Discipline. All of the equipment, supplies and workplace must be kept in perfectly clean, if not sterile condition.
- Dexterity and coordination. Working with sensitive equipment like needles means you want to have a good hand-eye coordination and know-how of all of your supplies. It’s very important that you don’t hurt the patient and handle the entire process with as little impact as possible.
- Excellent soft skills. It’s no wonder that many patients are scared of blood drawing procedure. This is true for some adults, let alone the kids. So, a good phlebotomy tech will be a caring and understanding professional who can find approach to any type of patient.