MIDWEST TECHNICAL INSTITUTE — EAST PEORIA
280 High Point Lane
East Peoria, IL 61611
MON–FRI: 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM
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280 High Point Lane
East Peoria, IL 61611
MON–FRI: 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Joining us on this episode is Nichole Duckworth, the phlebotomy program director for Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College.
Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College have six locations, located in Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi. They are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Lee Doubleday: Joining us today is Nichole Duckworth, phlebotomy instructor at Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College. Today, we would like to discuss the phlebotomy career. As a leading provider of education in phlebotomy, we couldn’t think of anyone better to call than Nichole Duckworth with Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College.
Let’s start by telling our listeners exactly what a phlebotomist is. Can you briefly explain what a phlebotomy technician does?
Nichole Duckworth: Sure. Thanks for having me on the show. A phlebotomist is an individual that takes blood and other samples from clients or patients and then sends it to be analyzed at the laboratory. And the samples then are used to diagnose illness or to evaluate the effectiveness of medications—or to even just get a baseline of the individual’s health.
Lee: So when I go to the doctor’s office and they need to take a blood sample from me, the phlebotomist is the person who comes in and ties up my arm and draws the blood for me, and then passes that along to someone else within the practice to send it to a lab to be analyzed to tell me whether or not I have anything in my system that I shouldn’t have or if I’m sick or not. Correct?
Nichole: Right. Right. They also use phlebotomists to collect whole pints of blood. And those people are usually used in the blood donor centers. So, people who are out there taking whole pints of blood from people to save other people’s lives, phlebotomists do that as well.
Lee: Wow, that’s really cool. Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up because I was originally thinking, “Oh, phlebotomists work at a doctor’s office,” but I didn’t even think about the donation buses and maybe working for Red Cross or some other blood donating company. And there’s a demand for that all over the country, I’m sure, as COVID-19 has sort of impacted the world and a lot more people are looking into getting an education in health care, I could see phlebotomy being a really great option for someone who wants to make a difference in this world.
Why don’t we start also by answering a couple of questions around career outlook and career growth for phlebotomy technicians? What does the career outlook look like for phlebotomy technicians, both at a national level and then maybe a little bit more granular within your campuses?
Nichole: Okay. So according to the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics], employment for phlebotomists is projected to grow by 23% from 2019 to 2029. That’s at a much faster point than most other occupations. And then by 2029, it is projected that there will be a need to hire 155,000 phlebotomists across the country. In Illinois and Missouri and Mississippi alone, the BLS predicts over 10,510 phlebotomists in that same period.
Lee Doubleday: Wow. Okay, well, with phlebotomy being in such high demand, it seemed like something worth getting an education in. Should someone go to school to learn how to become a phlebotomist? What type of program should the student be looking at and how long is a typical phlebotomy program? I know that’s kind of a loaded question.
Nichole: Okay. Yes, I’m always for education. I believe it is the key to success. Here at MTI, our phlebotomy program is five weeks long—and during these five weeks, the students begin learning about routine performed tasks in the medical facilities. And some of those topics they are introduced to are the proper technique of venipuncture and capillary sticks, basic anatomy and medical terminology, the collection of blood specimens and proper specimen handling. Students will also learn about HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] practices and blood-borne pathogens. They will practice how to properly identify the patient, which is one of the very most important steps that you can ever do in phlebotomy.
Upon graduating, the students will be ready to enter an entry-level position for their chosen field of work and have the basic knowledge of blood formation, components, blood specimen collection, laboratory values on the most routine laboratory test. And students will also be taught to take basic vital signs like blood pressure, temperature, pulse. All of these things are very important for an entry-level position.
Lee: Yeah, wow, that sounds really neat. So, in a little bit over a month, you could be trained in all of that that makes you employable right after your training, a five-week training course, working for a doctor’s office, or a blood drive—anywhere where they need phlebotomists.
Lee: That’s really cool. So, I know that you are an instructor at Midwest Technical Institute. Tell me what a typical day as a phlebotomist student looks like. I mean, I’m assuming you come into class, you’re wearing your uniform, correct?
Nichole: Yes. Yes.
Lee: You guys have a uniform. And, so, tell me a little bit about what a typical day looks like.
Nichole: All right. So, I require all of my students to treat this as a job position. So, they have to look professional and to have their scrubs pressed and their hair up, feeling good and optimistic.
Lee: If you’re getting into a program to draw blood and to be a phlebotomist, and I say that, but I know that phlebotomists are a lot more than the technician who draws your blood, right? I mean, I’m assuming a part of your class is really talking about the different types of blood and how to read more into an individual’s illnesses. Can you talk to that a little bit?
Nichole: So, in this class, we learn just the basic labs and what the results mean. I teach them about CBCs, which is a complete blood count. I teach them that that’s one of the main tests that they will be doing on everybody because it’s a basis of your health. So, they’re looking at the red cells, the white cells, the hemoglobin, the hematocrit to see if you’re anemic or to see if your white blood cell is higher than usual. They would look deeper into an infection that you may be having. If your hemoglobin levels are lower, then they might go in the area of anemia. So, it just kind of gives the doctors a baseline, essentially, where to begin with the next testing.
Lee: Yeah, that’s really interesting. It’s something that I don’t usually ever think about. It’s just that, I would assume a phlebotomist would be the technician who takes or draws my blood but I’m glad that you guys also teach all this other curriculum that comes along with being a phlebotomist. And it’s not really what people think it is.
And, so, I have a question, just out of curiosity. Do you typically find that students maybe start with a phlebotomy course and then they end up thinking, “Well, I really like working in health care; I’d like to become a medical assistant or a nurse”? And they sort of start off as a phlebotomist but maybe they move into other areas of the health care field?
Nichole: Oh, yeah. I’ve known several people who have used phlebotomy as a beginning step in their medical career. I’ve worked with several people who have gone on to become nurses and even physicians’ assistants. I mean, getting started in phlebotomy is just a beginning for a lot of people. They feel like they want to get that under their belt before they go anywhere else, so they know exactly where they want to go and what they’re doing. In a lot of phlebotomy positions, they are familiar with these kinds of employees, so they work a lot with them with their schedules with college classes and things like that. So, there are endless opportunities when you become a phlebotomist. You can take it as far as you want.
Lee: And with only a five-week program, I mean, it’s a really good way to kind of get your feet wet, for lack of a better way of putting it, and working in the health care field because at the end of five weeks, you’ll be working at a doctor’s office. I mean, essentially, you would get your certification, and you would be able to become employable at an entry-level position to find out whether or not this really is for you.
Okay. Now let’s say I’m a student and I’m interested in phlebotomy. When I tour a campus that’s offering this program, what are a few things I should be looking for? It seems like a program such as this is really going to require some updated equipment in order to stay relevant in current work environments. Would the equipment that the school uses be something I should consider? But what else should I consider? Accreditation, the length of the program, and relationships with employers? I know that’s a big deal. Especially if the goal of this, going to a career in a technical school, is to become employed, ensuring that my school has relationships with employers is a big deal. So can you kind of talk to that a little bit?
Nichole: So, what I would look for in a program like this is definitely the links. Some people have been phlebotomists for a while, and they just need to get certified. So, our program here, as you said, is only five weeks long. So, you just want to make sure that if you’re already doing it, you don’t want to take maybe a six-month course if you’re just looking to get your certification. Our institution and its educational programs meet established standards that will benefit the student.
So, in our program here, we have fake arms and hands with simulated blood, and the veins are feeling just like it would if you were working with real people. So, as I’m guiding them through a venipuncture procedure, they can actually practice on the hand and the arm. And when they stick the needle in and they actually get the vein, the blood will come into the tube. So, it is just like it is in real life. The students here, they have to get 25 successful venipunctures and 5 successful capillary sticks before they can graduate.
Lee: Very cool. Very cool. And I think you touched on a lot of really good positive things as well with accreditation, just making sure that the education that I’m getting is accredited by accrediting body, and that the school has a relationship with employers and knows what employers are looking for—and is able to tailor the curriculum around what employers are looking for—so that when I leave that program, I have a good head on my shoulders and I know what it takes to be a phlebotomist. And that would be, I think, the number one thing I would be looking for.
Now let’s say that I’m someone who’s interested in becoming a phlebotomist. What would you say are three or four personality traits that make a great phlebotomist that may help identify people who would make a great fit for this career choice?
Nichole: You definitely have to be compassionate. As you can imagine, you’re dealing with all kinds of people, whether they be sick or not sick or just trying to figure out what is going on with them. So, you definitely have to be passionate. You need to be detail oriented. And you especially need good hand-eye coordination.
Lee: Yeah. You kind of hit the nail on the head when you said that you’re dealing with all kinds of people. And nobody really enjoys getting their blood drawn. I mean, let’s be honest.
Nichole: I have never in my 21 years of experience have ever had somebody sit down and say, “I like this.” Never. [laughter]
Lee: Yeah. So, you have to be somebody who’s good with people and can make people feel comfortable with what’s going on. I agree. Now, let me ask you this. What would you say to someone who said a phlebotomist is really just someone who draws blood?
Nichole: I would say that is incorrect because we do a whole lot more than just drawing blood. We process the blood. We take urine samples. We take other bodily fluids. We have to tell the patient how to correctly get the sample if it’s not blood. There’s so much that goes in—so much detail that goes into the whole laboratory process.
Lee: Yeah. That’s what I think that I would want our listeners to know, is that a phlebotomist isn’t just somebody who comes into your room, draws your blood, and leaves and passes it along to someone else. It really is a much more well-rounded education in something that’s an essential part of your visit to the doctor or to the hospital or donating your blood. And so that’s mostly what I want to get across, is that I think the program is a lot more detailed than most people think.
Nichole: And a lot of students, when they come in, they’re like, “Wow, I didn’t realize that there was so many different avenues you can go down.” You’re talking about toxicology. You’re talking about trying to—working with the police station and stuff. They use phlebotomists for those kinds of reasons too.
Lee: Very cool. Yeah, that’s a great point. I didn’t even think about that. I could see where the police force would want phlebotomists that can come in and decipher whose blood is this.
Nichole: You have to take the DNA and process it and everything.
Lee: Wow. Very cool.
Nichole: It’s kind of the same thing when you’re working in a laboratory and you have a specimen processing area. So, you have to gather all of your specimens together and make sure they get to the right department. So, of course, the urines go to the urinalysis department. The hematology tests will go to the hematology department and so forth. They have coagulation departments. They have a micro department. If you were to get blood cultures, you would have to collect it specifically in a sterile collection bottle. So, you would have to handle that very carefully and make sure it gets to the micro department. There’s just so much that goes into it and people don’t realize.
Lee: Yeah, that’s the biggest thing I’m taking away from this. And here are a couple of things that I’m taking away.
Number one, thank you so much for joining us today, Nichole. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. From what I’m hearing, it sounds like phlebotomists, first and foremost, are more than just somebody who draws your blood. Okay. There’s a lot more to the program than people realize.
The phlebotomy career is in high demand. Like we mentioned earlier, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2029, it’s projected that there will need to hire over 155,000 phlebotomists across the country. This isn’t a career that’s going away—and it’s a growing career field.
The third thing I’m taking away from this is that if you’re looking to get into a phlebotomist career, you should consider a program like Midwest Technical Institute’s program that has relationships with employers, is a five-week length of program, which I think is just a great deal. So, you’re a little bit over a month and you could potentially be entering the career field and is an accredited institution.
The last thing I’d just like to say is thank you, Nichole, for joining us and talking to us a little bit about the phlebotomy career and what that looks like. And I just want to wish all of our listeners to have a great day.