How To Earn Your Phlebotomy Certification- The 2015 Guide

phlebotomy badgeIf you’re considering a career in phlebotomy, earning your phlebotomy certification can be the difference between success or failure in your job search.  But just like going to college, picking a phlebotomy school is an important decision that should be made carefully.  Here are some questions you may be asking yourself at some point:

Do I NEED to be certified?

Unless you live in California, Washington, Louisiana, or Nevada, you are not required to get a license or certificate to practice phlebotomy.  According to Wikipedia:

Special state certification in the United States is required only in four states: California, Washington, Nevada, and Louisiana. A phlebotomist can become nationally certified through many different organizations. However, California currently only accepts national certificates from seven agencies. These include: American Certification Agency (ACA), American Medical Technologists (AMT), American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), National Center for Competency Testing/Multi-skilled Medical Certification Institute (NCCT/MMCI), National Credentialing Agency (NCA), National Healthcareer Association (NHA), and National Phlebotomy Continuing Education (NPCE). These and other agencies also certify phlebotomists outside the state of California. In order to qualify to sit for an examination, candidates must complete of a full phlebotomy course and provide documentation of clinical or laboratory experience. National Certification Career Association (NCCA) also provides phlebotomy certification which includes a 2 parts exam, Part 1 Skills Exam & Part 2 Written Exam.

What are the benefits of certification?

As is the case in other fields, a sufficient amount of experience can sometimes be more valuable than a certificate or diploma.  In most states, certification isn’t necessary for phlebotomists, but it in a field with low entry requirements, earning a certificate can prove you have a professional attitude and a commitment to excellence.  According to Phlebotek.com:

Technically, all but 4 states do not require any Phlebotomy Certification or License to draw blood. This means that anyone could draw your blood. Rest assured! Most employers only hire phlebotomists with valid certifications or diplomas. There are, however, many people that have years of experience that have never passed a phlebotomy education program.

Furthermore, becoming certified can improve your salary potential.  According to the Houston Chronicle:

A 2011 survey performed by the American Society for Clinical Pathology found that certification increased a phlebotomist’s pay by approximately 10 percent. Further, while roughly half of the phlebotomists in the study were certified, that number increased to over 80 percent among supervisors. This argues strongly for certification as an aid to promotion.

What topics are covered in phlebotomy certification class?

The curriculum includes courses on medical terminology, as well as human anatomy and physiology.  Some of the topics covered may include:

  • laboratory safety (including proper needle disposal)
  • infection control procedures
  • types of blood-borne pathogens
  • specimen collection
  • human anatomy and physiology

A well-structured certification program will focus on avoiding common mistakes that can ruin a sample or expose the phlebotomist or patient to risk.  This is due to the important role that biomedical samples play in a patient’s diagnosis, as well as the very real risk that comes with handling biomedical samples and the tools used to collect them.

In addition, in order for the certificate to be considered valid by the state health board, a training program must usually include a hands-on clinical component.  In this phase of the course, students will have the opportunity to draw blood and interact with patients in a supervised setting.

Here is an example of a typical phlebotomy training curriculum, in this case from Pima Medical Institute.

What prerequisites are needed to start phlebotomy training?

One of the advantages of pursuing a career in phlebotomy is its relatively low barriers to entry.  A university degree is not required to become a phlebotomist. It’s usually possible to begin one’s career with a year of relevant training.  However, most phlebotomy training programs will require you to have graduated from high school before you enroll.  You’ll need to provide a valid high school transcript or GED certificate in order to meet this requirement.  Since phlebotomy is medical field, it’s usually helpful to have taken one or more courses related to biology or chemistry.

Since some schools require students to complete certain course components online, you may need internet access in order to begin your training.  Ask your school’s admissions office if they have this requirement before enrolling.

Phlebotomists play an active role in helping patients stay healthy, which implies that the phlebotomists themselves must be healthy.  So one common requirement of a training program is for the student to go through a physical examination by their doctor, as well as obtain certain immunizations.

Most training programs require students to pass a background check and drug screening, which is paid for by the student.

Finally, students must be able to fulfill certain physical requirements, such as being able to stand and/or walk up to 6½ hours throughout an 8-hour shift, lift and move a minimum of 50 pounds, and reach forward 18 inches, bend, crouch, or stoop 20 times per hour.

a diagram you might see on your phlebotomy examHow long does it take to get certified?

Courses can range from 2-4 weeks to four to eight months.  The manner in which this time is spent can vary widely depending on the schools.  However, most programs include a minimum of 80 hours of classroom instruction, as well as 100 hours of clinical training (including at least 100 unaided skin punctures and venipunctures).  Remember- these are minimum requirements.  However some states have multiple exams and certifications, and each certification may require more than the minimum previously mentioned.  We’ve read stories (for instance, from Gina in Long Beach) that her school’s training program guaranteed 50 venipunctures, but when it came time to apply for her certification, some certificates required a minimum of 100 venipunctures.  So be sure to find out all requirements for the certification you want before choosing a phlebotomy school.

Once these requirements have been completed, students can schedule a certification exam through a governing body such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology or the National Phlebotomy Association.  If your state requires phlebotomists to be licensed, this can require a second examination.

Most certifications don’t last forever, and need to be renewed from time to time.  Some certification boards require 5-6 hours per year of continuing education in order to maintain certification.  Others simply expect you to be currently employed as a phlebotomist and pay a recertification fee.

Not all training programs accept applications year-round; some programs operate on a semester basis and therefore have application deadlines.  So if you plan on getting certified, start researching these deadlines well in advance of your planned start date.

How much does phlebotomy training cost?

This can vary widely.  Longer programs will obviously be more expensive- New York Med Training offers a 9-month class which can cost upwards of $25,000.  Shorter programs offer less classroom and practical training, and can be less expensive.  At the time of this writing, San Francisco’s Bay Area Medical Academy offered a 2-week intensive or 4-week evening course for $2,750.  Fast Response offers a 4-week course (including 65 hours of instruction and 80 hours of externship) for $2,995.00.  A 6-week course offered by the Texas School of Phlebotomy costs $700.  The shortest classes, such as a 2-day course offered by the Central Texas Phlebotomy Institute, can cost under $500.

Textbooks, lab equipment (such as nursing scrubs) are usually not included in this fee and must be paid for by the student.  Some schools offer reduced tuition or scholarships for certain groups, such as current or former military personnel.

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