Phlebotomy Program Welcomes New Blood
You may have heard that the nation is facing critically low supplies of donated blood, but you may not know that there is also a shortage of phlebotomists, the healthcare professionals whose job it is to draw blood for donations and medical tests.
The shortage is due in part to the challenges of training new phlebotomists during the Covid pandemic. Linn-Benton Community College has run a 15-week phlebotomy training program twice a year (fall and winter) for nearly twenty years, but between Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, the college was only able to offer the program once. This January the LBCC Phlebotomy program welcomed its first new class of students in almost a year.
According to Linda Carroll, LBCC Dean of Healthcare, the Phlebotomy program experienced difficulties early in the pandemic. Phlebotomy students finish their training with a five-week clinical practicum, essentially a supervised apprenticeship, at a hospital or clinic. However, at the start of the pandemic, hospitals and clinics were unable to host student practicums due to concerns about virus transmission and shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) for regular staff.
Even when these initial problems eased, students were still hesitant to return to the program. Low enrollment forced the program to pause again last fall. Whitney Funk, the Director of LBCC’s Phlebotomy program and herself an LBCC Phlebotomy graduate, said that it was the first time they had experienced low enrollment in the seven years she has taught for the program.
This winter, enrollment recovered enough for LBCC to once again offer the Phlebotomy program. The program’s 11 new students will take up to 40 hours a week of classes for 10 weeks. The classes include Phlebotomy (blood collection and preparation from adults, children, and infants), Medical Terminology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Medical Law and Ethics.
Students who pass their classes with a grade of 70% or better will be assigned to five-week clinical practicums in local hospitals. Students do not receive pay during this time, but if they perform well, they are likely to receive job offers once their practicums are complete. According to Carroll, full-time phlebotomists in Oregon earn a median salary of $39,823 per year with benefits. Due to the severe shortage of phlebotomists, some hospitals are also taking the unusual step of offering hiring incentives. Samaritan Health Services, for example, is currently offering applicants $1,000 sign-on bonuses at three of their hospitals.
While the pay and benefits may be tempting, being a phlebotomist is not for everyone. For one thing, phlebotomists cannot be squeamish.
“Blood, guts, gore – you just got to be prepared for it all,” said Funk.
Phlebotomists must also be able to remain calm and draw blood quickly even in stressful situations, Funk said. Students train for this by first drawing blood from each other, with the goal of eventually being able to draw blood from beginning to end in less than five minutes. According to Funk, during the first ten weeks of the program each student will draw blood between 30 and 50 times from their classmates.
Sierra Thayer, a 2018 graduate of the program and now a phlebotomist at the Corvallis Clinic, said, “The only thing I didn’t like [about the program] was that we poked each other. It’s either you get poked or you don’t get to poke at all. I didn’t like getting poked, but I had to get over that.”
In addition to drawing blood from each other, students must also perform at least 120 draws from actual patients during the practicum.
Erika Arnold graduated from the very first LBCC Phlebotomy program over 19 years ago and is now Lead Phlebotomist at the Corvallis Clinic. Arnold believes that the practicum experience is invaluable to students.
“When we hire people from the LBCC program they have been really great because they have work experience,” she said.
Arnold acknowledged that there are other phlebotomy programs that can be completed in much less time than LBCC’s, but they usually do not offer practicums. And, according to Arnold, without work experience, “Those people don’t get jobs.”
In addition to being a career, phlebotomy can be a way to gain valuable clinical experience for entrance into other health care programs. Funk says that about half of her students eventually go on to nursing programs or medical school to become doctors.
Arnold also thinks of phlebotomy as a stepping stone.“It’s a foot in the door in the medical field. If I decide to step up or do anything different in the medical field at least I have this skill set,” she said.
Both Arnold and Thayer say that they love being phlebotomists, largely because of the relationships they form with their patients.
Even after 19 years in the profession, Arnold said, “I still enjoy it! I really enjoy the patients! They are wonderful! … We’re just trying to make that spark, that connection with each person, be as good as we can with them and make them feel special because giving your blood is not fun.”
Additional details about requirements for applying to LBCC’s phlebotomy program can be found on LBCC’s Special Admissions page or by contacting Lorraine Lara, LBCC’s Academic Advising Assistant for Healthcare at firstname.lastname@example.org.