If you are looking into choosing a phlebotomy school, you will most probably find yourself confronted with a veritable ocean of choices and no idea where to begin. In this article, we will address the basics of phlebotomy classroom training and discuss the hallmarks of a good training program.
How to become a Phlebotomist. The two main routes
Becoming a qualified phlebotomist can take anywhere from four months to two years, depending on the route you take. There are two main ways to become a phlebotomist, and both routes place a very strong emphasis on practical training. Indeed, the practical component of your training program is the most important part of your education in this field, and will count for a lot with potential employers.
- Workplace Training: Many phlebotomists begin their careers by working in the field as full-time or part-time phlebotomists, gaining the technical expertise and people skills they need on the job. In order to compete in the job market however, anyone taking this route should sit for the phlebotomist qualifying exam. Although the requirements vary somewhat from state to state, most states require candidates for the phlebotomist certification exam to have at least six months of full-time work under their belt or one year of part-time work. Given the intense competition for phlebotomist positions across the country, it is always better to err on the higher end of the scale – one year of work experience is always better than six months, and if you can show more field hours, then all the better!
- Phlebotomy schools: The more traditional method of receiving your phlebotomist certification is to enroll in a vocational program and get a Certificate in Phlebotomy or go one step further and get an Associate’s Degree. A Certificate in Phlebotomy can take four months to a year to earn, while an Associate’s Degree program can take anywhere from a year to two years to complete. The length of the program varies depending on the school you choose and the state in which the school is located. Degree and Certificate programs are two-pronged, including both a classroom and a practical component.
Phlebotomy classes. What you will study
- Human anatomy and physiology: This section of your studies will give you a basic understanding of the workings of the major organs of the body as well as the systemic avenues whereby they function. While you will get a solid overview of the entirety of human anatomy and physiology, the primary focus of your study will be on the circulatory system, in particular the structure, function, and composition of blood cells.
- Venipuncture techniques: You will learn a variety of blood draw and collection techniques, including how to work with patients who might have certain blood disorders, such as hemophilia, which makes blood clotting very difficult.
- Sample labeling procedures: The blood samples you take will be used for a variety of testing procedures. It is vitally important that you learn the appropriate labeling procedures as well as best practice protocols concerning transferal of the vials to the lab and record-keeping methodologies.
- Safety procedures: Both the patient and the technician are somewhat at risk when a blood sample is being drawn. Some patients can overreact and the technician can end up being punctured. Or the patient might have a blood disorder that makes blood draws a more difficult proposition. You will learn the correct safety procedures to mitigate the risks to you and the patient and you will also learn how to interact well with patients, showing empathy and compassion while still remaining professional.
- Professional best practices and standards: This section focuses on familiarizing students with matters concerning quality assurance, patient care, and patient privacy. Usually, best practice standards are drawn from the guidelines set down by the major health care accrediting agencies.
- Legalities: Drawing blood can be a precarious process for some patients and just as with any other healthcare specialization, it is important to know your legal rights and responsibilities as well of those of your prospective patients. In addition, your coursework may include a section on relevant state laws that are specific to your state alone.
How much does it cost to get into phlebotomy school
The costs associated with training to become a phlebotomist depend primarily on the route you take. An Associate’s Degree will typically cost more than a Certificate Program from a vocational or trade school. There are also additional costs, some of which are optional, including lab fees, practice kits, and text books. The qualification exam carries an additional fee and professional phlebotomists also have to pay for continuing education classes, periodic certification renewals, and membership fees to certain national associations.
- Educational costs: A certificate program, usually available at vocational and trade schools, can cost between $300 and $800, while an Associate’s Degree typically costs somewhere between $650 and $1500. Some Associate’s Degree programs can cost as much as $2500, but a price tag this high should certainly be inclusive of all of your lab, examination, and certification fees.
- Books and Equipment: The typical cost estimate for textbooks hovers around $125, while the costs for a phlebotomist’s kit and practice equipment can range from $100 for a basic practice kit to close to $500 for more advanced equipment.
- Qualification Exam: There is a fee to register for and take the qualification exam at the end of your educational program. Many programs include the fee with the program costs, but some do not.
- Continuing Education: All practicing phlebotomists are required to take continuing education courses so that they can keep up with the latest developments in phlebotomy theory and technique. This also helps you stay in touch with the newest guidelines in industry best practice.
How to choose the right school and keep safe from the shady institutions
Phlebotomy training programs can be found in a variety of educational institutions, including community colleges, vocational training schools, and at colleges and universities that offer a comprehensive range of courses in health care and medical sciences. Course offerings may vary slightly from state to state as each state has its own requirements when it comes to phlebotomy training and certification. However, the key points to keep in mind are listed below:
- Location: Due to the slight variation in state based requirements, it is important to make sure that you pick a program that meets the specific requirements of the state you plan to work in once you complete your training. This holds true regardless of whether you choose to attend an online or an offline school. This is particularly important in terms of the practical component of your training – all states have different regulations regarding the minimum amount of work experience candidates must show to work as a phlebotomist in that state. In addition, some states require all practicing phlebotomists to pass State Board or Licensing exams, all of which have specific and varying practical training requirements.
- Accreditation: Ensure that the program you choose to attend is accredited by one of the major national phlebotomy accrediting agencies, such as the National Phlebotomy Association. If you cannot find an accredited program in your state, consider enrolling in an online program that is accredited. Most employers will give preference to candidates who have studied at an accredited institution.
- Course Components: As long as you ensure that your course of study includes the following components, you can rest assured that you have chosen a good program.
- Classroom module: At least 40 hours of theoretical classroom training. However, most phlebotomy courses require 120 hours of classroom training and this is more the norm. If possible, it is always better to choose a program that comes closer to that 120 hour mark.
- Practical Module: At least 120 hours of practical training. This can take place partially in the classroom setting, but most often occurs in the field, in various healthcare and venipuncture settings. This can include hospitals, medical clinics, testing labs, and even blood donation centers. The practical module is part of your educational program, and as such your program fee will typically also cover the cost of your practical training.
The importance of this portion of your training cannot be stressed enough. This is the most crucial component of your course of study and you will not pass your program until you have successfully completed this module. In addition to the prescribed hours of practical training, you will also be required to perform at least 100 blood collections on your own before you can pass the course. A program that does not require a mandatory minimum of 120 hours of practical training as part of its coursework raises immediate red flags and should be avoided like the plague!
Keep in mind that this is often the most difficult portion of your training. Many people are not comfortable with needles and can become difficult, some patients might have trouble clotting after you draw the sample, and others might simply faint at the sight of their own blood. Given the unpredictability of the work and the many variables that are involved, practical training can certainly be very challenging. However, it is never boring, always interesting, and most importantly, it gives you an excellent idea of what your workday will be like once you become qualified.
- Job Placement Programs: Ensure that the program you choose to attend offers a well-established job placement assistance program with a proven track record of successful and rapid post-graduation job placement. The hallmarks of a good job placement assistance program include a roster of connections that covers the biggest employers in the industry, such as the major healthcare networks, as well as a history of efficient job placement.
- Online vs. Offline: While there are many online programs to choose from that offer students flexibility and a generally lower price tag, it is usually best to opt for an offline program. The main reason for this is that an online course cannot offer you a practical component, and you will have to enroll in an offline program to meet that requirement. In addition, the vast majority of online programs are not accredited.
- Industry Best Practice Compliance: Phlebotomy, despite the lack of external regulation, is internally regulated by maintaining compliance with the major national accrediting institutions. Choose a program that follows these industry guidelines as well as those set out by such health science regulatory bodies such as CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments). Some of the major national phlebotomy associations include
- National Phlebotomy Association
- American Society for Clinical Pathology
- National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences
- Association for Phlebotomy Technicians
- Reputation: This is perhaps the most important factor to consider when deciding on the right phlebotomy school or course of study for you. It is an unfortunate and somewhat mystifying fact that despite the critical importance of phlebotomy to the field of practical health care, it still remains a sadly unregulated industry. As a result, pretty much anyone can set up a phlebotomy training program, drawing in students with the enticements of a low price tag and a short program schedule. In fact, some even offer weekend courses, claiming that students will be fully trained as phlebotomists at the end! There is absolutely no merit to going to such a school. Any worthwhile program will hit all of the markers discussed above and will have a solid reputation. This is key – always take the time to look up what former graduates, current students, and industry insiders are saying about the schools you are considering. The internet is an excellent source of information, as are the national phlebotomy and health sciences accrediting bodies. Another great resource is your local phlebotomist – this might sound odd, but check out your local hospital, blood donation center, or clinic for a list of contacts. Anyone who is passionate about their profession will be more than happy to speak with you and give you some direction.
When deciding on the right program for you, remember that it is up to you to research your options thoroughly before you narrow down your choices. Pick a school that gives you a full spectrum of theoretical and practical training and make sure that it has a good reputation. As long as you work hard, you will end up with a valuable degree that can easily translate into an immensely rewarding career.
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