The average adult body contains approximately 5 liters of blood or 8% of a person’s body weight. Within that fluid are red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Blood transports nutrients and oxygen to cells while also helping to eliminate metabolic waste. Blood specimen are obtained by phlebotomists upon a doctor’s orders to determine the existence of disease as well as determining the body’s overall health. Phlebotomists are therefore indispensible to medicine. Healthcare professionals on all levels employ phlebotomists to assist in patient care in clinics and laboratories alike.
Every medical practice needs blood draws at some point. Phlebotomists are in demand in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and different kinds of laboratories. Depending on whether you want to work shifts or set hours, phlebotomists can choose their setting. Most phlebotomists will have some patient contact but whether you want that to be the primary part of your job responsibilities is also something you can choose. By pursuing clinic work or lab work, you can be responsible for testing the blood and never dealing with patients directly. Blood banks are another option. Phlebotomists working with a blood bank will obviously have the most patient contact and they will also have to be versed in using portable equipment.
Histology labs slice human, animal, and plant tissue and preserve them for microscopic observation. Pathology labs handle tissue and cells to study and diagnose disease. Within pathology there is also hematopathology which studies diseases of blood cells, white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, as well as cells, tissues, and organs comprising the hematopoietic system. Hematopathologists review biopsies of lymph nodes, bone marrow, and other tissues. In addition, the hematopathologist may be in charge of flow cytometric and/or molecular hematopathology studies. All these labs employ phlebotomists to work as part of their research teams. Part of the phlebotomy course of study will be to understand the role that different branches of medicine play and how phlebotomy intersects with them.
Hospital work probably offers the greatest diversity of patients. There will be patients of all backgrounds and ages and most importantly, diverse states of health. Sometimes a phlebotomist will be needed to draw blood from an elderly cancer patient whose veins are delicate and hard to find. Hematoma formation is a common problem in older patients. Other times, a patient might have catheter lines or other IVs already in place. The phlebotomist will learn how to handle each of these unique situations.
Collection tubes for phlebotomy are color coded according to size and additive. For example, red tops have no additive and are used when collecting to test for blood clotting, chemistries, immunology, and serology and for cross matching in a blood bank. Dark blue tops contain the additive EDTA and are used for trace element testing and toxicology. Part of the phlebotomist’s year-long course of study will be to learn the differences in collection tubes.
After one year of study through an accredited phlebotomy program, technicians can gain certification and begin their phlebotomy career. Though starting salaries may pay only about $22,000 a year, phlebotomy technicians should expect raises and benefit packages to increase with every year of experience.