Phlebotomists take blood samples from patients, then label and send them off to the laboratory for analysis and testing. If you’re interested in working in a healthcare role and don’t mind the sight of blood, read on for the skills, requirements and training you need.
Where they work
Phlebotomists work in a variety of healthcare settings – mainly in hospitals, either on wards or in outpatient clinics, but also in GP surgeries, clinics and health centres. Some visit patients at home and in residential or care homes.
Depending on where you’re based, you will work as part of a healthcare team alongside nurses, GPs, healthcare science staff working in blood sciences and biomedical scientists.
Skills and personal qualities needed
This is a hands-on healthcare role and you will need to be able to explain procedures to patients, so good communication skills are essential.
‘People can be anxious about having their blood taken, and a calm and friendly manner in essential in order to put patients at ease,’ says Marion Beal, a trained phlebotomist with more than 10 years’ experience.
‘You need a steady hand and to be as gentle as possible when taking blood. You don’t want to harm the patient or disturb any nursing care that they are receiving.’
Speaking and acting with confidence is a key requirement – and this comes with experience.
Marion explains: ‘If you act with confident, the patient is more likely to relax. Knowing how to engage someone in conversation and distract them from what’s happening can make the procedure easier to deal with – particularly for children, the elderly and the vulnerable.’
You should also be able to work methodically and keep accurate records.
‘Once you’ve taken a blood sample, it will need to be labelled and stored correctly, then sent to the laboratory within a certain time frame. You’ll need to follow set procedures and make sure you complete records and enter data on a computer carefully. The last thing you want is for blood samples to become contaminated or mixed up,’ says Marion.
Although there are no set entry requirements to become a trainee phlebotomist, most employers will ask for 2-3 GCSEs (in subjects such as English, maths and a science) or equivalent, such as a BTEC or equivalent vocational qualification in healthcare.
Many people work as a healthcare assistant before training in phlebotomy. You could also do an apprenticeships in healthcare in order to get the experience you need to become a trainee phlebotomist.
Marion says: ‘Employers will be looking for candidates with relevant work experience. If you can demonstrate previous experience of working in a caring role, whether paid or voluntary, it will give you an advantage.
‘Try to arrange a week work-shadowing a phlebotomist if you can – it will give you a good idea of whether you will enjoy the job.’
Training and development
You will usually receive on-the-job training, which can take up to six months to complete. This will include theory and practical work. You will learn about the role of phlebotomy within the pathology department, the importance of professional standards and codes of practice, methods of blood collection and labelling, choosing appropriate sites for taking blood samples (venepuncture) and health and safety.
You will also learn how to take blood from different patient groups, including children and older people, with a wide range of conditions.
Once completed, you may be awarded a Certificate of Competence, which would allow you to perform the role without supervision. You may then choose to advance your knowledge and skills by working towards the Level 2/3 Diploma in Clinical Healthcare Support or the Level 3 Diploma in Blood Donor Support. You could also take a specialist short course, such as Paediatric Venepuncture Training, with the National Association of Phlebotomists.
Full-time phlebotomists can earn around £15,251 to £17,978 a year.
Most jobs are within the NHS, but there are positions available within the private sector. With experience you could go on to become a team leader or manager. Some phlebotomists may undertake further study and train for a biomedical science job, in cervical screening or immunology for instance, while others may choose to study for a degree in nursing.
You may check out the current Phlebotomy roles available in the NHS and other healthcare centres and hostpitals, in your preferred UK region.