How To Choose A Phlebotomy Training School

phlebotomy courseThere are hundreds of vocational schools throughout the U.S., and these range in quality.  Some are run by world-famous non-profit medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  Others are fly-by-night operations, and have the negative Yelp reviews to prove it.

With the increasing popularity of for-profit education companies, more and more complaints have been made from students who feel misled by unethical companies looking to make a quick buck.  The Federal Trade Commission has this to say:

While many of these schools are reputable and teach the skills necessary to get a good job, others may not be. They may promise more than they can deliver to increase enrollment — and their bottom line.  They may mislead prospective students about:

  • the salary potential of jobs in certain fields
  • the availability of jobs
  • the extent of their job training programs
  • the qualifications of their staff
  • the nature of their facilities and equipment
  • their connections to businesses and industries

That’s why this article was written- to give you the knowledge to ask the right questions before you write your school that tuition check.  Here are some questions to ask as you evaluate the school:

What are my other options?

Public schools (i.e. community colleges, public universities, etc.) frequently offer health career-related courses.  They are non-profit, meaning there is little risk that the school will disappear once you’ve paid your fees.  This also means your degree or certificate is more likely to be recognized by employers 10 years down the road.  Some public schools have established relationships with local hospitals and doctors’ offices, which means it can sometimes be easier to find an externship.  Finally, it might be easier to get financial aid if applying to a public school than a for-profit school, since public schools are more often accredited.

However, programs at public schools can take longer, and are usually offered less frequently (i.e. on a semester or quarterly basis, as opposed to on a rolling basis).  Also, the fact that public schools are funded by the government mean their incentive to exceed students’ expectations is dampened compared to those of a for-profit school.  Conversely, the fact that for-profit schools stand to gain financially from wowing their students means that some of them care deeply about seeing their students succeed, since doing so helps their reputation in the industry.

Apprenticeships or internships can be another option.  Not all states require phlebotomists to attend a phlebotomy training program, earn a certificate, or become licensed.  If you’re able to receive on-the-job training, for instance as a volunteer with the Red Cross or another recognized organization, this can be a great way to get your foot in the door without spending thousands on phlebotomy classes.

What are my goals?

Do you want to learn a skill, prepare for a certification exam, or brush up on skills you already have?  The answer to this question can determine which phlebotomy training program is right for you.  For example, if your goal is only to refresh your current skills and you already have a job, you may be OK with attending a school which doesn’t offer help finding an externship at a clinic or hospital.  If your main goal is to start your career as a phlebotomist, then a lack of help finding an externship may be a deal-breaker for you.

Is the school accredited and licensed?

Some states, such as California, require students to complete a certain number of classroom hours in a state-approved phlebotomy training program.  Accreditation is the state’s way of ensuring a school’s students get the education they paid for.  If you attend a non-approved program, you may be required to re-enroll in an additional, approved program before applying to take your phlebotomy license exam.

What are the requirements for admission?

Is a high school diploma or GED required?  Contact the school and ask about any prerequisites you’ll need to complete before attending.

What does the school provide?

Books, lab equipment, immunizations, proof of CPR training, state examination and license fees, and other necessities may be part of your phlebotomy training process.  Be sure to ask if any of these are included in the cost of your tuition, or if they’ll be added on top of the tuition fee.

How safe is the school campus?

Does the school have a reputation for student misconduct?  Is the school in a safe neighborhood?  Find the address of the school from its website and plug it into a website like CrimeReports.com to see how many police reports were filed in that area recently.

Can you visit the school and view the facilities?

Schools, especially for-profit ones, spend lots of money on websites, brochures, and other promotional materials to portray their facilities as beautifully as possible.  Especially if the school is local, you owe it to yourself to make an in-person inspection.  If the school has nothing to hide, they should be more than happy to let you see the facilities for yourself.  Your visit is also a good chance to ask all those questions you’ve been meaning to ask, such as:

  • What job placement assistance does the school offer its graduates?
  • Can I see a copy of the syllabus or class schedule?
  • Can I speak with any current students and learn what they think of the program?
  • Does the school accept financial aid?

Don’t be afraid to ask those questions!  A reputable school will be happy to answer any questions you have about its programs, will have your best interests in mind, and will want you to pick the school that’s right for you.

A good check list when visiting a school, provided by Peterson’s:

When you head out the door to check out campuses and make your final choice, take this checklist of dos and don’ts with you:

  • DO find out what the institution has to offer in student services, such as career placement and assistance in finding housing.
  • DON’T assume that if a program isn’t exactly what you want, things will work out.
  • DO pay close attention to the college environment, noting things like how you’re greeted when you walk in the door.
  • DO look at who is on the advisory board. Knowing who is included will give you an idea of the kind of employer you could be working for.
  • DO determine if credits are transferable.
  • DO read and understand everything you sign.
  • DON’T enroll without a high level of commitment.
  • DON’T think a career education automatically ensures you a job.

A good checklist of questions, provided by study.com:

The following questions and research tips may help you when looking for a vocational school:

  • Does the school offer the program you want?
  • Is the school/program licensed or accredited? If so, by whom?
  • What are the instructors’ credentials?
  • Could I obtain the training I want from another school, such as a community/junior college?
  • Do I even need this additional education, or will the employer likely train me on-the-job?
  • What is the total cost (include tuition, books, uniforms, lab fees, etc.)?
  • Is financial aid available?
  • Have any complaints been filed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or State Attorney General’s Office?
  • What is the school’s reputation in the industry?
  • What other services does the school offer students and graduates?
  • What are the facilities and equipment in the labs like? Are they up to date?
  • Are there other tools or supplies you must purchase?
  • What are the program’s completion and job placement rates? Debt upon graduation rate?
  • Will all my credits transfer if necessary?

For more information, check out the following links:

Career Colleges and Technical Schools – Choosing a School (from the U.S. Department of Education)

Choose A Career School Carefully (from Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education)

What Makes A Good Phlebotomist – The Top 10 Skills

phlebotomy_skillsOne of the most common questions that aspiring phlebotomists ask is “What skills should I try to develop?  What separates ‘good’ phlebotomists from the rest?”  Doctors and other medical professionals depend on the results of blood tests to help them diagnose patients, monitor treatment progress, and recommend courses of treatment.  A phlebotomist who does their job with speed and accuracy can literally help save lives.  The stakes are high, so it’s important to know which skills to focus on.

Without further delay, here are the top 10 skills required to be a good phlebotomist.  These are the skills you should aim to learn when you sign up for phlebotomy training:

“Hard” Skills

  1. How to draw blood from a vein

    This is the most obvious skill requirement, and includes familiarity with the equipment used (needles, gauze, vials, tourniquets, alcohol wipes, bandages, and needle disposal units), how to select a site for venipuncture (i.e. whether to use a hand, wrist, or arm vein), how to make non-apparent veins more visible, proper needle insertion technique, etc.

  2. First aid

    The phlebotomist should know how to handle medical emergencies that might occur when drawing blood, such as abnormal bleeding or loss of consciousness.

  3. How to properly dispose of sharp or contaminated objects

    Needlestick injuries are most likely to occur while removing the needle from the patient’s arm, and while disposing of an unprotected needle into a sharps container.  Therefore, proper disposal techniques are some of the most important skills a phlebotomist can acquire.  Proper disposal techniques are set forth by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

  4. How to label samples

    Clearly labeling samples helps match the correct sample with the correct patient, and helps avoid cross-contamination.  Relevant information includes a patient’s first and last name, their patient ID number, the date and time the sample was collected, and the name of the phlebotomist who collected the sample.

  5. How to decontaminate the drawing room, garments, gloves, and equipment

    This includes knowing what kind of disinfectant to use on which surface or fabric, and where to store used or contaminated equipment in (for instance, used needles or soiled gauze).

  6. Data entry skills and basic knowledge of medical software

    This is an added bonus, since patient and specimen information must  eventually be manually input into some sort of medical record database.

“Soft” Skills
  1. phlebotomy_patientAn ability to carefully follow verbal and written directions

    Doctors will often specify how many vials of blood to collect, and what type of vial to store them in.  Failing to follow a doctor’s written or verbal instructions can mean a wasted sample.  In addition, you should know and follow your lab or hospital’s procedures for reporting accidents.

  2. The ability to work well with others

    This includes maintaining a clear and open dialog with doctors, medical receptionists, nurses, fellow phlebotomists, and patients of all ages (including infants and the elderly).

  3. The ability to reason well under pressure and juggle multiple tasks

    In a busy facility, a phlebotomist may take dozens of blood samples per shift.  They must be able to work under pressure without sacrificing accuracy or safety.  You may be expected to handle other tasks as well, such as fielding patient inquiries, scheduling appointments, or troubleshooting specimen collection issues.

  4. Discretion

    You might be the only medical professional a patient encounters when giving blood for testing. You must use discretion and respect the patient’s confidentiality.

  5. A positive “bedside manner”

    Many patients, especially the young or elderly, may have a fear of needles.  Part of a phlebotomist’s job is to approach such patients with empathy and help them set their mind at ease.  A relaxed patient will result in a smoother draw than a nervous or combative one.

Phlebotomist Salary Data – The Revealing Guide For 2015

phlebotomist-salaryThere are dozens and dozens of websites out there with data on compensation in the phlebotomy field.  Some of them are clear and readable, but many of them (especially the ones from government agencies) are dry and hard to read.  But don’t worry!  We’ve sorted the useful info from the useless data and present the “cream of the crop” below for your benefit.

Without further delay, here are the top 10 fast facts you need to know about salaries in this growing industry.

  1. The median annual full-time phlebotomist salary in the United States is approximately $31,000.

    Glassdoor.com puts the amount at $31,897, The US government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a salary of $31,890, and Salary.com‘s research shows a figure of $31,404.

  2. The offer that an employer makes a candidate can vary significantly.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the bottom 25% of phlebotomists make $25,960 or less per year, and the top 25% make $36,750 or more per year.  The final amount will depend on several factors, including experience, location, etc.

  3. Part-time work is also available, but working less than a 40-hour workweek will of course mean a lower take-home pay.

    The mean hourly wage for a phlebotomist in the United States is between $13.50 and $15 per hour.  According to the BLS, the bottom 25% of phlebotomists make $12.48 or less per hour, and the top 25% make $17.67 or more per hour (sources- The US government’s Bureau of Labor StatisticsPayscale.com).

  4. Salaries can vary widely depending on the employer.

    Glassdoor lists hourly salaries for the top employers of phlebotomists, including LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, and the American Red Cross.

  5. Salaries can vary by experience level:

    According to the Houston Chronicle, “The ASCP survey reports an average hourly wage of $20.08 or $41,766 per year for phlebotomy supervisors. Experience is important, with most supervisors averaging 10.48 years of experience as opposed to an average of 8.69 years for staff phlebotomists.”

  6. Wages can vary significantly by state.

    The Houston Chronicle goes on to mention that “The highest-paying state in the survey was California, where phlebotomists averaged $23.36 per hour or $48,589 per year. Illinois, Colorado and Minnesota also offered above-average wages. Ohio had the lowest average wage at $12.10 per hour or $25,168 per year.”

    The graph below shows the counties in the nation with the highest and lowest average phlebotomy salaries, and was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website:

    phlebotomist salary by county

  7.  Your workplace setting or environment can affect your salary.

    Again according to the Houston Chronicle, phlebotomists who work in doctors’ offices or outpatient clinics tend to earn less than those who work in hospitals or labs:

    The highest wages for phlebotomists were in standalone laboratories, where they averaged $16.74 per hour or $34,819 per year. Certified phlebotomists averaged $14.02 per hour, higher than the $12.66 reported for their uncredentialed peers. Supervisors with certification earned $20.38 per hour, as opposed to the $19.02 earned by uncertified supervisors.

  8. Some work environments have more employment opportunities than others.

    The more phlebotomy jobs there are in a certain industry, the more of a “seller’s market” it is, and the more likely you’ll land a job with the salary numbers we’ve described here.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics has extensive data on which industries offer the highest number of phlebotomist job:

    phlebotomy industry job statistics

  9. Getting your phlebotomy certification may not increase your salary, but failing to get it may prevent you from finding a job.The American Society for Clinical Pathology conducts a salary survey among its members.  According to the results of a recent survey, “those who are certified earned approximately 10 percent higher wages on average. Certified phlebotomists might also have an advantage in seeking promotion to supervisory positions, which typically offer higher pay.”  In addition, three states (California, Louisiana, and Nevada) require phlebotomists to be certified.  And even if your state doesn’t require it, many employers may not grant an interview to individuals without a certification.  Reputable schools that offer phlebotomy training include Pima Medical InstituteKaiser Permanente School of Applied Health Sciences, and Bay Area Medical Academy.  Be sure to check Yelp.com for reviews of medical training programs in your area.
  10.  Other, similar medical jobs may net you a higher salary.

    According to this graph by payscale.com, the average salary for a licensed practical nurse (LPN) is almost 33% higher.  And the salary for a registered nurse (RN) is almost double.  U.S. News and World Report put together a list of the top-paying healthcare jobs, and many of them don’t require advanced degrees.

Conclusion

Don’t compare one job offer to another simply on the basis of hourly or annual salary.  Remember that a job’s total compensation is made up of many other factors besides salary, including:

  • Insurance (medical, dental, vision)
  • Bonus
  • Retirement contributions + employer matching, if any (401k, Roth IRA, etc.)
  • On-the-job training
  • Vacation, sick leave, and personal leave

Don’t forget to ask about these other factors as well.  Just don’t ask do so during the first interview- employers generally don’t look favorably on candidates whose #1 concern is money.

Salary.com does a great job of breaking down the average phlebotomist’s salary into the above categories.

What is a phlebotomist?

phlebotomist-with-vialOne of the most common questions we hear is “What is a phlebotomist?  What are the major duties in this line of work?”

Taking a blood sample is often an important step in diagnosing diseases, especially during the initial stages of patient consultation.  Blood is drawn from patients by a qualified phlebotomist (also called a “venipuncturist”), and is studied and tested for health problems or early warnings of disease. Blood can also be drawn for life saving transfusions, either immediately or after being stored and transported to a hospital or blood bank.

How Does A Phlebotomist Draw Blood?

Drawing blood from a patient entails making a small surgical perforation into a vein using a sterilized hypodermic needle, in order to draw blood from the patient.  While this may seem simple, it requires training and skill to perform successfully.

Verifying the patient’s information (including blood type and allergies) is the first step.  This is usually done by asking the patient to fill out a standard medical questionnaire prior to being treated.

Next, the patient is led to a clean and sanitary location and instructed to lay their arm out on a table or other flat surface, at which point the phlebotomist will apply a tourniquet and find an adequate vein to draw from. The patient will be asked to make a fist and hold it tight while the puncture site is sanitized using a sterile alcohol swab. After the needle is inserted, the patient will relax their arm and the tourniquet will be removed.  When drawing blood, a phlebotomist will always wear gloves to prevent infection or transmission of any blood-borne diseases.

Once a blood sample has been taken, gauze and a band-aid are applied to the wound in order to seal it and expedite healing. It’s important for the phlebotomist to properly dispose of all needles and contaminated objects, and to use proper handling techniques with any collected blood samples. Finally, maintaining a positive “bedside manner” (i.e. the ability to comfort and reassure patients who are nervous or young) is a major asset in this line of work.

Where Do Phlebotomists Work?

As a phlebotomist, you might work in one of several different environments.  Phlebotomists can be found in hospitals, medical or diagnostic labs, plasma donation centers, or even mobile blood banks. According to Payscale.com, “The typical work environment is an office setting with several draw rooms, a hospital, or long-term health care facility…Phlebotomists’ work hours are generally flexible during the day with the option to work weekends and/or holidays depending on location and the facility’s hours of operation.”  They are usually supervised by a more senior medical professional, such as a clinical laboratory technologist.

What Skills Should A Good Phlebotomist Possess?

As with any profession in the medical field, proper technique can mean the difference between safety and injury, both for the phlebotomist and his or her patient.  Since a phlebotomist’s primary duty is to draw blood from a vein or skin puncture, an aspiring phlebotomist must be trained in the proper procedures for needle insertion and removal, handling of blood samples, and disposal of sharp or contaminated objects.  A critical skill is knowing how to avoid contaminating samples, and what temperature to store it at (blood is extremely perishable).  Other skills, such as a positive bedside manner and clear communication, are important as well.  Click here for a list of the top 10 most important skills a phlebotomist should possess.

value of a phlebotomy certificationWhat If I Don’t Have These Skills?  How Can I Acquire Them?

Classes are available at many campuses across the U.S.  Depending on the school’s curriculum, these classes may cover the skills mentioned above.  Additionally, many phlebotomists start their career as volunteers with an organization like the Red Cross, in order to get experience and to meet any certification requirements related to a minimum number of punctures or blood draws.  Having extensive volunteer experience can help make it easier to obtain full-time, paid work as a professional phlebotomist.

How Can I Prove I Have These Skills?

Certification is available from several organizations, including the National Phlebotomy Association, the American Society for Clinical Pathology, and American Medical Technologists.  Be sure to ask your prefered certification board about prerequisites, since each organization has its own requirements.  These may include in-class instruction, hands-on training at a jobsite, or a combination of both.  Additionally, students are usually required to demonstrate their completion of at least 100 successful vein and skin punctures.

Am I Required To Be Certified In Order To Get A Job?

Three U.S. states currently require all phlebotomists to obtain certification- California, Louisiana, and Nevada.  Additionally, even if your home state doesn’t require certification, it can be advantageous for you to obtain it.  According to the Houston Chronicle, “The ASCP’s salary survey showed that those who are certified earned approximately 10 percent higher wages on average. Certified phlebotomists might also have an advantage in seeking promotion to supervisory positions, which typically offer higher pay.”

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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