As an introduction to the roles and responsibilities of a phlebotomist, it is good to know the etymology of the word phlebotomy. Phlebotomy is derived from the Greek words phlebo, meaning vein, and tome, meaning to make an incision. From these meanings, phlebotomist is accurately described as a healthcare worker who is mainly responsible in collecting blood samples and other specimens from patients for significant clinical purposes. Collected specimens are used for the detection of abnormalities that may support or negate the initial or suspected diagnosis. Through competent actions of phlebotomists, the chances of obtaining accurate diagnoses are higher. With an accurate diagnosis, the chances of designing an effective and successful treatment plan are much favorable. The collected blood sample may be used to check for blood compatibility before a transfusion, consequently decreasing the risk of complications, such as blood incompatibility and hypersensitivity.
Phlebotomists are classified as medical laboratory technicians or clinical laboratory technicians. As a part of a larger group of healthcare workers, phlebotomists must coordinate and work closely with clinical laboratory technologists to ensure that the samples and specimens are appropriately collected, transported, stored and analyzed to ensure that an accurate diagnosis is attained. Although phlebotomists may only be a part of a larger group of healthcare workers, it is undeniable that they have the responsibility to improve the quality healthcare delivered to patients.
Phlebotomists are tasked to collect blood samples through the use of needles and tourniquets. They use different methods in drawing blood. Venipunctures draw blood from the vein, whereas arterial punctures draw blood from the artery. A capillary puncture is done if the blood sample has to be collected from a capillary bed. Phlebotomists are not limited to draw blood samples for testing and analysis. They are also tasked to obtain other specimens, such as urine and throat cultures, for diagnostic or laboratory testing.
Phlebotomists are also involved in direct patient interaction. They prepare patients before the procedure. They are also mainly responsible in labeling the specimens accurately and in appropriately transporting them to the laboratory. They are also tasked to maintain a safe and clean environment and to sanitize the equipment used during sample collection. There are situations when phlebotomists have to assist in certain administrative, clerical and technical activities.
Phlebotomist training programs are offered by community colleges and technical schools. The program is usually completed after two quarters of training and education. After completing the program, students should obtain a phlebotomist certification from one of the three certifying organizations: American Society for Clinical Pathology or ASCP, Association of Phlebotomy Technicians and National Phlebotomy Association.
Phlebotomist courses include classroom lectures focusing on essentials of phlebotomy, phlebotomy laboratory basics and AIDS and HIV education for healthcare workers. This part of the program strengthens the theoretical knowledge of students with introduction and discussion of topics in infection control, standard precautions, antiseptics, tubes and additives, laboratory safety, appropriate disposal of sharps and wastes, proper selection of anatomical sites, specimen identification and post puncture care. Pre-analytical sources of errors, risk factors and complications, medical and legal issues, quality assurance and ethical issues are also discussed. Phlebotomist courses like anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, data entry and record keeping are incorporated into the program.
After didactic training, students are required to complete certain number of hours in actual work environments. This is a requirement for completion and for phlebotomist certification. Potential phlebotomists are required to do a minimum number of procedures. Externship programs are supervised by experienced clinical instructors.