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:
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.
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.
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.
Most training takes place on the job and can last up to six months. The areas covered include:
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.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A phlebotomist should:
Experienced phlebotomists within the NHS may be promoted to phlebotomy supervisors, senior phlebotomists, team leaders, phlebotomy trainers and phlebotomy managers or service managers.
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
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.