Blood work is the heart of the phlebotomist’s profession. It is what the majority of phlebotomists are involved in doing every day of their professional lives – taking blood for analysis in a laboratory. Let’s take a quick look at what it involves so that you’ll have some idea of what a phlebotomy career is like. That way, you can decide if this kind of work is for you.
In most cases, a patient will come to the laboratory where you work to have blood drawn, though in some instances – when the patient is hospitalized, for instance – you will need to go to the patient. The patient or a nurse will give you papers specifying how many samples of blood are needed and what kinds of tests they are needed for. You will be required to draw the blood, place it in tubes, label the tubes, and catalog the samples.
There are several methods of drawing blood. The most common is called venipuncture. In this method, you will use a relatively small needle to take blood from the patient, most commonly from the veins inside the bend of the elbow. (If this location is, for some reason, not accessible – for instance, if the patient has especially deep veins – you will need to find other locations, such as the back of the hand.) Once the needle is in the patient’s vein, you will need to attach collection tubes to it one at a time and draw the required amount of blood to fill the tubes before detaching the needle from the vein. If the vein stops giving blood – for instance, if the vein collapses – you will need to find a new site and continue.
If only a small amount of blood is needed, a finger stick will suffice. A lancet (a small needle) is used to prick the finger (or sometimes the heel), and the blood is captured in a device called a capillary. The finger is then cleaned and bandaged. For some purposes, it may be necessary to take blood from an artery. In that case, special care must be taken to avoid excess bleeding. The services of a phlebotomist may also be required to start an IV drip, where a special needle is inserted into the patient’s arm and taped down, after which tubing is attached to the needle for the purpose of dripping saline or other intravenous fluids into the patient’s arm. This will usually be done when the patient is hospitalized or in emergency care.