Correctly label blood samples for processing
How to become a phlebotomist
If you’ve never heard of a phlebotomist before, chances are you’ve already met one. These allied health professionals, who may also be called phlebotomy technicians, draw blood for tests, donations and even research purposes.
Becoming a phlebotomist can be a great entry point into the healthcare field or a sustainable career on its own, especially for those who don’t wish to invest a lot of their time in schooling. Certificate programs that last only a few months, for example, can give you the training you need to start your career as a phlebotomist.
What is a phlebotomist?
Our blood can tell us a lot about our health—it can help us detect signs of infection, anemia, thalassemia, heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure and many other diseases and conditions. When a doctor orders bloodwork for a patient, phlebotomists are the ones responsible for collecting those blood samples.
“Phlebotomists are the individuals that draw blood specimens,” said Diane Crawford, CEO and founder of the National Phlebotomy Association (NPA).
Phlebotomists collect and prepare blood for testing, but they are not the ones who actually test the blood—that responsibility falls on medical lab technicians.
Depending on where they work, some phlebotomists draw blood for reasons other than testing, such as for blood donation or medical research.
Phlebotomists can work in a variety of settings, including:
What does a phlebotomist do?
A phlebotomist’s job can vary slightly depending on where they work, but no matter who they work for, their job duties generally include the following:
Adhere to proper infection control procedures
Draw blood samples from patients or blood donors through venipuncture
Enter blood sample information into the appropriate database(s)
Prepare and maintain equipment such as needles and blood vials, and properly dispose of them after use
Explain the blood draw process to patients, answer their questions and help patients feel at ease
Confirm a patient’s identity before taking blood samples
Some phlebotomists may also be responsible for collecting urine or other types of samples. They must instruct the patient on the proper collection procedures and then label samples for processing.
Median annual phlebotomist salary
According to the 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for phlebotomists is $38,530. Unlike registered nurses who have a very wide range of salaries—the bottom 10% of RNs earn $61,250 while the top 10% earn more than double that at $129,400—phlebotomists’ salaries fall into a much smaller range.
There is just over a $20,000 per year difference between the bottom earning 10% of $30,250 and the top earning 10% of $51,610. Below you can see the phlebotomist hourly pay, also called the median hourly wage.
Median Hourly Wage$19
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$48,210||$40,740||$55,450|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
The BLS also states that the employment of phlebotomists is expected to grow 7.7% through 2032, compared to the 3% average across all occupations.
“…job growth for phlebotomists is expected to be faster than average through 2032 says the BLS.”
Factors that affect phlebotomist pay
Your earning potential as a phlebotomist can vary based on several different components. For starters, your location can affect your wages due to the area’s cost of living, minimum wage laws and more. For example, the areas with the highest median annual wages for phlebotomists include the District of Columbia, California, Massachusetts, Washington and New York.
Experience is another big factor that contributes to a person’s salary. It may be easier for phlebotomists with more years of experience to secure higher-paying roles or leadership positions that come with more responsibilities and a higher salary, such as a lead phlebotomist or something similar. Having a phlebotomist certification can also boost your credibility and could lead to better pay.
The type of workplace could also affect your earning potential. Of the five industries that have the highest level of employment of phlebotomists according to the BLS, the highest paying industries are as follows, from highest to lowest:
- Employment services
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories
- General medical and surgical hospitals
- Ambulatory healthcare services
- Offices of physicians
Advancing your career
Requirements to become a phlebotomist
Except for a handful of states, there are no universal requirements for becoming a phlebotomist. In most places, the qualifications for phlebotomist positions are determined by individual employers. Although some may offer on-the-job training, most employers today require that phlebotomists have either a diploma from a certificate program and/or a phlebotomy certification.
This wasn’t always the case. When Crawford first became a phlebotomist, most phlebotomist roles only required on-the-job training. You may not have even needed a high school diploma. As a result, she founded the NPA in 1978 to establish a professional standard and code of ethics for phlebotomists.
“We established that there was a need to have a general education—finish high school—and then from that, the training curriculum itself we developed,” Crawford said. The NPA’s standards are not nationally adopted or enforced, but they provide a valuable framework that many employers and education programs choose to follow.
Only California, Washington, Nevada and Louisiana require phlebotomists to be certified or licensed. Although each of their requirements differs slightly, all four of these states require phlebotomists to complete a phlebotomy training program (such as a certificate program) or earn a phlebotomy certification in order to draw blood.
Is becoming a phlebotomist right for me?
Becoming a phlebotomist may not be for everyone. An aversion to blood and needles, for example, may be an obvious sign that you’re not cut out for the job.
If that isn’t an issue for you, then working as a phlebotomist could be a great way to get exposure to working in the field of health care, interacting with patients and collaborating with other health professionals. If you discover that you enjoy working in health care, your experience as a phlebotomist could be an excellent foundation for other careers, such as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), LPN, registered nurse, medical lab technician and so much more.
You may also discover that a career as a phlebotomist can be a lifelong career all on its own. With above-average job growth projections, you can expect to enjoy a stable career serving others and performing an essential component of patient care.
“When we interview people for the school, what I hear them say is that they like people and they wanted to work in the lab. And they want to draw blood, and then some of them want to start their own program,” Crawford said. “There are a myriad of reasons why people do it and it’s like becoming a physician—you have to be inspired and have that commitment.”
Published: October 5, 2023