Are you interested in becoming a phlebotomist? We have tips and resources to help guide you along this in-demand career path.
Phlebotomy is a good option for students seeking an accessible and affordable way to start a medical career. In most cases, it is possible to become a phlebotomist by earning a certificate from an accredited phlebotomy program. Moreover, earning an associate degree in a related subject such as biology, nursing, or human sciences may improve your earning potential and expand your job opportunities.
But first, let’s take a closer look at the career path for aspiring phlebotomists.
In short, there are four basic steps to becoming a phlebotomist:
But what does this process look like? How long does it take? How much does it cost? And what are the most common pathways into the field?
Read on to find out...
Phlebotomists serve in a critical support role in the medical field. Phlebotomists are primarily responsible for collecting blood draw samples from patients in a wide variety of healthcare settings. Phlebotomists may work in hospitals, clinics, charitable blood donation facilities, and more.
As noted above, phlebotomists and phlebotomy technicians are primarily responsible for drawing blood from patients and preparing these blood specimens for testing. But there are a number of other important duties that phlebotomists will typically perform.
These duties may include:
These are all essential responsibilities in the patient care process. But in a lot of ways, the role of the phlebotomist goes beyond these important duties.
Some patients experience anxiety or even fear over blood drawing. Most patients experience at least mild discomfort. As a phlebotomist, one of your most important responsibilities is showing compassion, providing comfort, and serving as a calming presence.
Bottom Line: While your basic job description is to draw and handle blood samples, your real role as a phlebotomist combines the technical aspects of diagnostic testing and a human-centered approach to patient care. Simply stated, “bedside manner” is critically important in this line of work.
There are no fundamental differences between a phlebotomist and phlebotomy technician. In most cases, these may be considered interchangeable names for the same position.
Your actual job title may vary depending on your employer. However, whether you are referred to as a phlebotomist or a phlebotomy technician, your responsibilities are essentially the same as those described in the section above.
In some instances, a registered phlebotomy technician may have more specific “lab tech” responsibilities such as maintaining, operating, and sterilizing medical equipment. But these distinctions have less to do with job title than with the specific job description from a given employer.
Before reading on, it’s important to understand the difference between earning a phlebotomy certificate and a phlebotomy certification. Though these terms sound similar, they are actually quite different:
As noted above, there are several different pathways to certification, but the rules may differ from one state to the next. Make sure you know the requirements in your state before choosing your path to certification. These factors will impact both the length and cost of your education.
The length of time from high school graduation to employment can vary depending on the path you choose to take. However, you can generally expect to complete your phlebotomy education and certification over a period of 1 to 2 years.
In most states, you have three pathways to becoming a certified phlebotomist:
An associate degree program may be preferable if you’re seeking a well-rounded educational experience in addition to practical training in phlebotomy. Most associate degrees require 60 credit hours, many of which can be completed online.
While an associate degree will take more time and cost more than a certificate program, there are a few good arguments in favor of this option:
If you decide to pursue an associate degree, look for a program with a concentration in phlebotomy. If your associate degree does not include a phlebotomy concentration, you will likely be required to complete a certification training program—which typically takes 4 to 6 weeks—before taking your certification exam.
Bottom Line: An associate degree may cost more than a certificate program, at an average of just over $10,000 per year over two years. However, this is a much more affordable option than many other healthcare careers that require a four-year degree, such as registered nursing. The average annual tuition for a four-year degree is higher than $19,000.
Before you choose the right path for you, there are a few factors to consider:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) as two leading accrediting agencies for phlebotomy certificate programs.
According to the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), an agency which administers the Certified Phlebotomy Technician (CPT) examination, 93% of employers prefer certified phlebotomy technicians. In other words, we strongly recommend pursuing an educational path that leads to certification. This will significantly improve your employment outlook.
You will need to sit for a certification examination. Many vocational degree programs include a certification exam prep component. If your associate degree does not include this component, it may be advisable to spend 4 to 6 weeks preparing.
There are numerous verified agencies that are authorized to administer the certfication exam including:
Mometrix notes that the overall pass rate for the national certification exam is just over 75%. Be sure you utilize the study guides, practice tests, and other resources available to you in preparation.
Bottom Line: The length of time it takes you to become a certified phlebotomist will depend on your career goals. While it is possible to become a phlebotomist in less than a year, your career goals and state-based requirements may require specific credentials.
Make sure you know which credentials you’ll need before choosing your educational path. And consider the associate degree a great way to add other valuable employment skills to your practical phlebotomy training.
As noted above, you have several options for becoming a certified phlebotomist. The cost of your education will depend on the path you choose:
Whichever of these paths you choose, you will be required to pass the National Certification Exam in order to become certified in your state. The cost of your exam will vary from state to state, but will generally cost about $50 to $150.
Bottom Line: No matter which path you take, the education required to become a phlebotomist is relatively affordable compared to the education required for many other patient care roles. For instance, lab technicians and registered nurses must typically earn a bachelor’s degree, which costs an average of $19,000 per year over a minimum of four years. Even the costliest path of entry for phlebotomists—the associate degree—will take half the time and a quarter of the cost.
The most basic level of certification is Limited Phlebotomy Technician (LPT). This licenses you to draw blood using a basic skin puncture technique. Additional testing may be required for higher levels of certification such as Certified Phlebotomy Technician I (CPT I) and Certified Phlebotomy Technician I (CPT II).
CPT I and CPT II certification license phlebotomists to perform a wider range of blood drawing techniques.
Certification may not always be required by your state, but it is highly recommended.
Indeed, certification is technically optional in many states. However, many prospective employers will expect or even require certification. As noted above, surveys show that the vast majority of employers prefer to hire certified phlebotomy technicians.
Bottom Line: In other words, you are strongly advised to pursue certification regardless of where you live. As noted directly above, the cost of certification testing is relatively low ($50-$150). For this modest cost, you will receive a credential that will significantly improve your employment prospects, opportunities for advancement, and earning potential.
As noted above, there are several different pathways to qualifying for certification. However, the most popular and affordable way is to earn an occupational certificate in phlebotomy. Numerous two-year schools offer excellent phlebotomy certificate programs that incorporate both classroom instruction and clinical training.
Read on for a look at some of the community colleges, vocational schools, and technical institutes noted for their phlebotomy certificate programs.
Tuition + fees
Eastern Arizona College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
Eastern Arizona College offers a two semester phlebotomy technician program. Completing this program qualifies you to sit for the American Medical Technologists (AMT) certification Examination.
Tuition + fees
De Anza College’s Health Technologies Department offers a Certificate of Achievement for completion of the Phlebotomy Technician I program, which trains students in the clinical skills of performing venipunctures, setting up lab tests, and processing specimens for testing in clinical labs. The certificate program is recognized by the California Department of Public Health- Laboratory Field Services.
Tuition + fees
Elgin Community College offers a two-semester vocational training program that combines classroom education with on-site clinical lab training. Completion of the program qualifies students to sit for the phlebotomy technician certification exam offered by the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP).
Tuition + fees
College of Lake County offers a Career Certificate program that consists of 96 credit hours—a combination of theory studies and clinical laboratory practice. Students must also complete a 3-week real-world practicum under the supervision of phlebotomy or medical tech professionals. Students completing the program, which includes a fast-track 11-week option, are eligible to sit for national certification.
Tuition + fees
Cuesta College offers a 1-semester, 18-week certificate program which is divided into classroom-based instruction and a real world clinical externship. Cuesta’s program is included in the California Department of Public Health’s list of Approved Phlebotomy Training Schools.
Tuition + fees
Florida Gateway College offers a 165-hour Occupational Certificate program combining classroom instruction and clinical practice over the course of single semester.
Bottom Line: The community colleges and vocational schools above generally require in-person instruction because the hands-on, clinical training is a critical part of your phlebotomy education. This means that the best way to find the best phlebotomy program for you is to check out course and certificate offerings at the best community colleges in your state.
Once you are certified, you are qualified to seek work as a phlebotomist in your state. Phlebotomists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and blood donation centers. But before you decide exactly where you want to work, there’s actually quite a bit to consider.
The section below offers a deeper dive into the job opportunities and salary range that await you after earning your phlebotomy certification.
The job outlook for phlebotomists is very good. Phlebotomists enjoy both a stronger than average rate of growth compared to all jobs, and a high median salary compared to other medical support roles.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that job openings for phlebotomists will grow roughly 10% between 2021 to 2031. This is twice the 5% rate of growth for all occupations combined.
Phlebotomists are part of a broader growth trend in the healthcare sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the United States economy will add nearly 2 million jobs over the next decade. The demand for phlebotomists is likely to grow over that time.
There are a number of reasons for this strong growth outlook including:
Indeed, phlebotomists work in an extremely wide range of settings such as diagnostic laboratories, public health agencies, outpatient care centers, blood banks, and more. This means employment opportunities abound throughout the expanding healthcare labor market.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, phlebotomists in the United States earned a median salary of $37,380 per year in 2021. This is higher than the average pay for all medical support personnel, which was $28,990 in 2021.
In fact, in 2021:
In other words, phlebotomists earn a higher than average salary as compared to other medical professionals with equivalent education and certification. However, there are several factors that can play a major role in your earning power, including:
Each of these factors can have a big impact on how much you are likely to earn as a phlebotomist. But it’s important to look at the big picture. As noted, phlebotomists can work in a wide variety of healthcare, diagnostic and research settings.
But the salary range can vary according to setting. 36% of all phlebotomists work in hospitals, where the average pay was $37,430 in 2021. Another 35% work in testing and diagnostic centers, where the median pay was $40,570. And at the highest end of the pay range, phlebotomists who worked for charitable organizations earned an average salary of $57,210.
So what does that mean for you? When you pursue your education and certification, make sure you know what top-paying employers are looking for. While you can earn a phlebotomy certificate in a year or less, earning an associate degree in Nursing, Health Science or Biology may qualify you for some higher-paying positions in the field.
And of course, bear in mind that factors like geography can also play a major role in what you’ll earn. Phlebotomists in states like California ($48,070) and New York ($45,390) earn the highest median salary. But the cost of living is also comparatively high in these states. The same is true for phlebotomists living in major metropolitan areas–both the pay and cost of living are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Bottom Line: How much you earn as a phlebotomist will depend on the full combination of factors above. While phlebotomists do earn a higher-than-average salary among medical support personnel with a similar level of education and training, it’s up to you to determine the right combination of industry, credentials, and geography.
For instance, if you plan to work and live in a costlier state, you may benefit from earning more advanced credentials and certifications. (See below for more on these credentials and certifications.)
Phlebotomists who are already working in the field may also pursue continuing education courses and ongoing certification. Here, you’ll have an opportunity to take continuing education phlebotomy programs and remain up to date on best practices, new equipment, and more. This can also be a great way to enhance your skills and potentially qualify for other healthcare industry career opportunities.
You have a lot of options for continuing phlebotomy training through leading professional associations like American Medical Technologists, Phlebotomy Training Specialists, and more. It may be possible to add to your qualifications with training in specialized equipment, organizational management skills, or additional medical training. Each of these added skills could improve your earning potential.
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