A phlebotomist is a healthcare professional specially trained to safely draw blood from their patients. Phlebotomists may draw blood samples in a health clinic for others to conduct tests on them, or they may collect blood donations. A career in phlebotomy does require formal training, including education and certification.
The first step to becoming a phlebotomist is completing a high school level education. Either a high school diploma or a GED will give you the foundation you need to enter a phlebotomy training program. Most of these programs will also require you to be at least 18 years of age.
Phlebotomy training programs are typically shorter and less rigorous than other medical programs, since a phlebotomist is trained in one very specific area of healthcare. Many colleges or technical schools have short-term phlebotomy programs that typically last less than a year. During this program, you will learn not only how to draw blood correctly and safely but also how to interact with patients. Many patients get nervous about needles or drawing blood, and part of your job will be to know how to reassure them. Other phlebotomy-related courses that you might take involve sanitary equipment disposal, lab safety, and possible legal issues.
Since this field requires plenty of hands-on experience, classes are a balance between lectures and practical application. You may work in a hospital or a small healthcare clinic to observe other phlebotomists at work. As you advance in your education, you’ll get the chance to practice yourself. By the end of the course, you’ll be able to demonstrate proficiency in the area by successfully completing several skin punctures and disease tests.
While not every state requires phlebotomist certification, some do, and you’ll have better luck finding a job if you’ve obtained the correct licensing. Some employers will only hire you if you can provide national certification credentials, like the Registered Phlebotomy Technician credential from the American Medical Technologists, or AMT. To find out for sure what you need, contact the health department or occupational licensing department in whichever state you plan on working.
There are also a few different certifications with slightly different requirements. You can become certified through the AMT, the American Association of Medical Personnel, or the American Society of Clinical Pathologists. Each organization has their own eligibility requirements, so research carefully before you pursue one. Your phlebotomy training program might meet the requirements for one certificate and not others — ask your professors to find out which one is best for you.
To give you an idea of what some of these certifications require, the AMT requires candidates to graduate from an approved training program, complete 1,040 hours or more of work experience, and pass a certification exam.
Getting a Job
Assuming you’re out of high school already, you can go from being an absolute beginner to being a licensed phlebotomist in about a year. Now comes the tricky part: finding a job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that phlebotomy jobs are readily available in both private healthcare clinics and hospitals. There are other options, however, such as working in clinical laboratories to screen and test the blood samples that other phlebotomists collect.
Whichever path you take, the BLS projects good job growth over the next several years — about 15 percent from 2010 to 2020. Their statistics also report that the average annual salary for phlebotomists is $30,910.
So how long does it take to become a phlebotomist? If you’re interested in working in the healthcare industry but don’t want to go through years and years of medical school, pursuing a career in phlebotomy is a great alternative. In just one or two years, you could be working full-time as a hospital phlebotomist, while your peers are still only halfway through their college degrees. It’s also a job that’s not likely to go away any time in the near future.