Whether they are taking it, testing it or storing it, blood bankers and phlebotomists surely come in contact with blood more than your average person. But that's because they love it: they enjoy the challenges that come along with their jobs, but even more so, they enjoy getting to help patients.
Working in Blood Bank
When Rosario Cordova was completing her rotations during her internship in MLT school, she became fascinated with the challenging field of blood banking.
"Blood banking is like doing a puzzle. You have to put all the pieces together to be able to see the whole picture," said Cordova, MLT(ASCP), blood bank/core technologist, Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville, NJ. "And in order to make sense of this, you need to be well-educated and trained."
This year, the blood bankers at her facility implemented the Galileo Echo analyzer, something Cordova, who has worked at Clara Maass for about 6 years, was happy with. She loves the computer side of the industry and has been instrumental in successful and seamless computer upgrades and implementation of automated equipment, explained Carole DeMartino, MT(ASCP)SH, assistant lab director and blood bank manager.
There is a great need for blood bankers in healthcare right now, said DeMartino, who has been in the field for 45 years. "With fewer graduates choosing a career in the clinical laboratory field, there are many opportunities for knowledgeable blood bankers at this time," she noted. "Confident and experienced blood bank techs are valued in all hospitals and medical centers because they are expected to make sound decisions in critical situations."
DeMartino has high hopes for the future of blood banking because of all of the huge advancements that have happened so far.
"Human blood itself is lasting longer and is being harvested for more and more of its integral elements," she mentioned. "There are actually machines to cleanse our blood of abnormal toxic proteins and even possibly changing donor blood to become type O which is the universal donor. It is an exciting and interesting time."
Being a Phlebotomist
Back in 1994, Ken Tringali, CPT(NPA), was working in the warehouse at Faulkner Hospital, Boston. He knew the phlebotomy supervisor well, and one day, decided to ask her if there were any openings in the lab. She told him about the phlebotomy position.
"She gave me the job description and I thought, 'I'm not sure this is for me,'" Tringali recalled. "I had no idea about drawing blood and working in a lab, but the opportunity to learn a new skill intrigued me."
He met with the lab manager and the phlebotomy supervisor, and with their help, was trained to be a phlebotomist.
For Nancy Barath, CPT1(ASPT), St. Bernardine Medical Center, San Bernardino, CA, her quest to become a phlebotomist started when she was sitting in the phlebotomy chair herself. "I was having my blood drawn for a physical appointment and a new trainee asked if I minded if she drew my blood. I said no problem, and thought that would be great for me to look into doing," she remembered. "I was not working, 56 years old and bored to tears."
She found local training online, and completed everything, including the externship, in 3 months. She found a job fairly quickly afterward.
Both a challenge and a perk of the job for Tringali, who is now a phlebotomist for Millennium Physician Group, Port Charlotte, FL, is working with all different types of patients. "No two days are ever the same," he said. "Some days everyone is easy to get blood from and all the patients are in a good mood, and other days are the opposite."
He loves talking to patients and learning information about them, such as where they're from and what sport teams they like. "Having something to talk about while drawing blood on a patient makes all the difference because before they know it, you are done," Tringali added.
But Tringali wants to stress to aspiring phlebotomists that drawing blood is sometimes only part of the job. He also performs waivered tests such as flu, strep, serum and urine pregnancy tests.
"Being a phlebotomist for most companies comes with a laundry list of responsibilities. I think that scares a lot of students fresh out of school. I've been told many times by students, 'they never told me I'd be doing this. I thought I just had to draw blood,'" he explained.
A challenge Barath finds in phlebotomy is making sure your skills are up to par. "I truly believe I became competent after 6 months and really good after a year," she explained. "It's simply an acquired skill that takes lots of experience."
She also noted safety is always a concern for the phlebotomist. "The fact that you are being exposed on the frontline to an untold number of infections and diseases is definitely a factor to consider," Barath added.
There are tons of opportunities out there in the phlebotomy field "for people who are willing to work hard and be a team player," Tringali mentioned.
Once phlebotomists have their skills down and get a job at facility, they are in for an enjoyable career, Barath said. "I tell young people who ask me about the job that I think it's a great field for a young person to get into," she noted. "The education is minimal, the costs are reasonable and once you get your foot in the door, you can have a career with decent pay and great benefits for life."
Amanda Koehler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of ADVANCE.