Phlebotomist: What They Do and How to Become One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Being a phlebotomist is about more than just drawing blood. Find out what it takes to become a phlebotomist and why you might consider this over other health care jobs.

[Featured Image] A phlebotomist wearing scrubs draws blood from a patient in a hospital.

Phlebotomists are medical professionals specially trained to draw blood. Unlike some other medical professions, though, the time it takes to become a phlebotomist is relatively short.

You can expect to spend a couple of months in a phlebotomy program, where you'll practice sticking needles in people's arms and take an exam to show everything you know about drawing blood. In less than a year, you can work in an entry-level medical position, performing a valuable job in a doctor's office, medical lab, or hospital. When a doctor needs a blood sample to make a diagnosis, they turn to you.

In this article, you'll learn all about what phlebotomists do, where they work, how much they make, and their job outlook in the coming years. Most importantly, though, you'll learn what you have to do to join this important health care career and explore courses that can help you get started today.

A career as a phlebotomist can be flexible, varied, and exciting. If you're thinking about taking a stab at a new career, then read on to decide whether phlebotomy is right for you.

What is a phlebotomist? 

A phlebotomist, also called a phlebotomy technician, is a professional trained to collect blood samples from individuals. Depending on where they work, they also may assist with blood transfusions and blood drives. In addition to physically drawing blood from patients, they prepare blood samples for testing, collect patient information, and support patients who may be uncomfortable around needles.

Where do phlebotomists typically work?  

Phlebotomists work in various health care settings, including hospitals, medical facilities, and laboratories. You'll also find them in research centers, nursing homes, blood donation facilities, outpatient care centers, community health centers, and insurance companies. They may work for private companies or public agencies, usually under the guidance of senior medical or laboratory personnel.

More than drawing blood: Typical phlebotomist duties

As a phlebotomist, your primary duty is collecting blood samples from patients as ordered by a doctor or other health care professional. However, your practice may also include talking to patients about the blood draw process, checking vital signs, labeling vials, and keeping the work area clean and sterile. Depending upon where you're working, you also may be asked to perform the following duties during your shift:

  • Collect information and update patient medical records

  • Complete paperwork and label vials

  • Help patients feel more comfortable during the blood collection process

  • Order supplies

  • Set up the work area with the correct vials, needles, and other supplies

Potential salary and job outlook   

The mean annual salary for phlebotomists is $37,380 as of May 2021. How much you earn as a phlebotomist can vary depending on factors like where you live and work. Phlebotomists in outpatient care centers and medical and diagnostic labs tend to earn more, with an annual mean salary between $38,040 and $38,220. The salary may be lower in other facilities, including hospitals and doctor's offices [1].

Although this salary is lower than the mean salary in the United States, it is comparable to similar health care jobs. However, the agency does predict job opportunities for phlebotomists will grow much faster than average for all occupations by 2030. There were 135,500 jobs in 2021, which is expected to increase by 13,900 by 2031 [2].

Read more: Phlebotomist Salary and Career Guide

Skills required to become a phlebotomist 

As a phlebotomist, you’ll rely on a range of technical and human skills, such as dexterity, communication, and compassion. This makes sense when you understand the different types of people you may work with and the conditions you're working under. Precision counts. For example, a steady hand and nimble fingers are helpful when you apply a tourniquet and insert the needle into the patient's skin.

Some patients feel more comfortable around needles than others. Whether they are five or 50 years old, you may offer support to help them handle their needle-related fears. This could mean slowing down to listen to them, explaining the procedure in terms they understand, and showing them compassion when they may need it most. The following list includes additional skills that can help you be successful as a phlebotomist:

  • Attention to detail

  • Critical thinking

  • Hand-eye coordination

  • Mathematical skills

  • Organization

  • Problem-solving

  • Stamina

  • Work under pressure 

How to become a phlebotomist

You’ll likely need to complete an accredited phlebotomy program to become a phlebotomist, and some states also require you to obtain a professional certificate. However, some states may allow you to learn how to draw blood through on-the-job training. A handful of states, namely California, Louisiana, Nevada, and Washington, have certification requirements for phlebotomists.

Even if you plan to work in a state that does not require phlebotomy certification, you may find it helpful to complete certification. Most employers opt for the former if given a choice between a candidate with certification and one without. Completing the certification process shows that you have classroom and clinical experience and passed a test to demonstrate your field knowledge.

Get a Certificate

National organizations, such as American Medical Technologists, the National Healthcareer Association, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology, offer certification opportunities.

You need a high school diploma or equivalent and proof that you completed an approved phlebotomy program to earn these certifications. Some programs also require hands-on work experience. You can then pay a fee and pass the exam to receive the credentials.

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How long does it take to become a phlebotomist?

Depending upon your chosen educational path, it can take a few weeks to more than a year to become a certified phlebotomist. The certification course typically takes between 11 and 16 weeks (up to one semester) to finish. Qualifying for and passing the certification exam can extend the time it takes, especially if you need additional hands-on training before you can sit for the exam. 

Phlebotomy program costs

The cost for phlebotomy training can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Fully online programs tend to cost less than face-to-face programs, but you can find classes for as little as $500. If you choose to attend a program offered through a community college or health care training provider, you may pay more than $2,000 for the course. These prices may not include fees and course materials.

Phlebotomy certification exam costs

Certification exam fees vary between organizations but typically range between $120 and $150 per exam. The National Center for Competency Testing offers an exam for $119 [3]. A similar exam offered by American Medical Technologists costs $125 [4]. Some websites provide practice tests at no cost or for a nominal fee, and you may find free study guides online and available for purchase.

Continuing education

Once you have phlebotomy certification, you may need to take continuing education courses to keep the credential or stay eligible to practice in your state. Each state has its own set of requirements for maintaining your license. For example, New York does not require you to have a license unless you perform tests on the sample you collect. Conversely, in California, you can plan to renew your license every two years with six hours of continuing education. Be sure to check the state licensing agency's website for specific details.

Next steps

Start building your knowledge about the medical field through courses like Vital Signs: Understanding What the Body is Telling Us from the University of Pennsylvania. Or, earn a specialization like Medical Terminology from Rice University, available on Coursera.

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specialization

Medical Terminology

Develop your skills in medical terminology. Identify word parts (prefixes, suffixes, and roots) and abbreviations commonly used in the medical field, read and understand health records, and identify terms associated with all 10 major organ systems.

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Average time: 3 month(s)

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Skills you'll build:

Communication, Medical language, Health records, human anatomy

Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook, Phlebotomists, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/phlebotomists.htm#tab-5." Accessed November 22, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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