One 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:
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.
The phlebotomist should know how to handle medical emergencies that might occur when drawing blood, such as abnormal bleeding or loss of consciousness.
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.
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.
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).
This is an added bonus, since patient and specimen information must eventually be manually input into some sort of medical record database.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.