The Job and What's Involved

Phlebotomists collect blood from patients so that it can be sent for analysis. Blood tests help doctors and other medical staff investigate symptoms and diagnose illness. They are also used to check the level or effects of drugs that might be harmful if an incorrect dose is given.

The usual method of collecting blood samples is to insert a needle through the patient's skin into a vein and draw off into a special tube or tubes the amount of blood needed for testing. Blood is usually taken from a vein in the inner elbow. Before inserting the needle, the phlebotomist applies a tourniquet, or tight band, above the area where the blood is to be taken.

The work involves:

  • Checking requests for blood samples made by medical staff before starting work.
  • Explaining the procedure to patients and their parents, carers or relatives, if appropriate.
  • Reassuring patients who may be distressed, in pain, or worried by the sight of blood or needles.
  • Taking the blood sample without harming the patient.
  • Inserting a hypodermic needle into the vein and drawing off the blood into a tube.
  • Applying a clean dressing to the puncture wound made by the needle.
  • Labeling each sample tube with the patient's details, either by hand or using pre-printed labels.
  • Delivering the blood to the appropriate laboratory within an agreed time limit.
  • Filling in forms, entering data into a computer and re-ordering stock.

The work may also involve skin prick testing for allergies, and other nursing tasks.

Patients may be suffering from a wide variety of complaints. They may be any age from babies to older people. There are special procedures to follow when taking blood samples from babies or children, or from patients who are unconscious, confused or mentally ill.

In a busy outpatient department, there may be large numbers of patients who need blood tests within a limited time, so the phlebotomist needs to be focused and able to work under pressure. In some areas, community phlebotomists work alongside district nursing teams which may involve visiting patients at home or in residential care.

Phlebotomists must follow procedures carefully. Mistakes in collecting and labeling samples could have serious consequences. They must always work within health and safety and infection control guidelines and local policies and procedures.

Most phlebotomists work in the NHS (National Health Service). They may be based in hospital laboratories, wards and outpatient departments, GP practices and health centres. Some work for private pathology laboratories.

Full-time phlebotomists work 37.5 hours a week during normal daytime hours, from Monday to Friday. They may work on a rota system to cover weekends and bank holidays. Most phlebotomists, though, work part time and may combine the work with another role, such as a medical laboratory assistant, healthcare assistant or nurse.

Some phlebotomists who work in the community or are based at different sites may find a driving licence useful.

Phlebotomists wear a uniform. They need to comply with strict health and safety measures to prevent infection to patients and themselves. This includes wearing disposable gloves when taking and handling blood samples, wearing other protective clothing such as plastic aprons when necessary and complying with requirements for hepatitis B immunisation.

A new entrant to the NHS earns £13,233 a year. Senior phlebotomists usually earn between £17,732 and £21,318 a year. Managers may earn up to £33,436 a year.

Many phlebotomists work part time, paid on a pro-rata basis (a proportion of the full-time salary according to how many hours they work). Salaries are higher for phlebotomists who work in and around London and may vary for those working in the private sector. There are extra payments for working unsocial hours.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most phlebotomists are employed by the NHS. Others work in the private healthcare sector and in private pathology laboratories. Opportunities for phlebotomists are increasing as more health screening initiatives are being introduced. There is a shortage of phlebotomists in some areas, especially London.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers. They are also advertised on the NHS jobs website and through some recruitment agencies. It may also be worth contacting the human resources department or phlebotomy manager at a local hospital or local NHS primary care trust to ask about positions for trainees.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements to begin training as a phlebotomist though it is useful to have some GCSE's (A*-C), preferably including English, maths and a science, or the equivalent. This is particularly helpful for those who want to progress to more advanced work.

Other qualifications which may be useful include BTEC Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in health and social care. The Diploma in society, health and development may also be relevant.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most training takes place on the job and can last up to six months. The areas covered include:

  • The role of phlebotomy within the pathology department.
  • Methods of blood collection.
  • Anatomical and physiological considerations in choosing appropriate sites for taking blood samples.
  • Taking blood from different patient groups, including children and older people.
  • Aspects of blood taking and requirements for different sample tubes and labeling.
  • The importance of professional standards and codes of practice.
  • The health and safety aspects of phlebotomy.

During training, phlebotomists usually gain experience in different settings, including patients' homes and residential care homes.

Candidates who have completed their training are awarded a certificate of competence that allows them to work without close supervision. They may be able to work towards other healthcare qualifications, including infection control certificates.

Short training courses and workshops are also offered by the National Association of Phlebotomists.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A phlebotomist should:

  • Be able to work well with people of all ages and from different backgrounds.
  • Have a calm, caring manner with patients who may be nervous or distressed.
  • Have good manual dexterity.
  • Have a meticulous approach to work and be attentive to detail.
  • Be able to work unsupervised, but also be able to work well in a team.
  • Be able to work under pressure and within time limits.
  • Respect confidentiality.
  • Be able to follow health and safety procedures and local guidelines.
  • Not be squeamish about blood or needles.
  • Keep up to date with research and practice and be able to incorporate this into their work.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced phlebotomists within the NHS may be promoted to phlebotomy supervisors, senior phlebotomists, team leaders, phlebotomy trainers and phlebotomy managers or service managers.

Get Further Information

Institute of Biomedical Science,
12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214

National Association of Phlebotomists,
12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7833 8784

NHS Careers
Tel: 0345 606 0655

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