Tips from a phlebotomist

September 9, 2018

I am frequently asked if I enjoy my job; not as in the place I work, the people I work with or the patients I see every day, but the actual act of sticking a needle into someone’s arm and drawing their blood. The honest answer is, yes, I do. Being a phlebotomist is not a lifelong dream I had, but rather a career I happened to fall into when I decided to face my phobia of needles. As a patient that used to do everything I could to avoid a blood draw, I am here to tell you a few things that might make your experience a bit easier when visiting your health provider.

Firstly, I am taking creative license when I say this, but I am mostly positive that most phlebotomists hate being called a vampire! We joke, you joke, but mixing it up helps if you’re going to break the ice with pet names. My personal favorites have been “tick,” “mosquito,” “leech” and someone even called me a “politician” once.

Second, the straight needle isn’t any smaller than the butterfly needle; it’s just a different way to collect your precious blood. I tend to use butterflies often because my patients prefer them, and it does make the process a bit sturdier when switching out tubes. Nevertheless, they are the same gauge of needle as the feared straight sticks. Don’t let the appearance fool you, it won’t hurt any less or more based on the size — only the skill of your phlebotomist. If they are good, they will check several places before jabbing away willy-nilly; and if they’re very good, they’ll listen when you tell them the best vein to use if you’re a patient that has your blood drawn frequently.

Honestly, we don’t like hurting you. If we tell you to look the other way, take a deep breath or chit chat your ear off without giving you warning that we are about to poke you, it’s because we are trying to distract you from any pain and anxiety you may have toward getting your blood drawn. Trust me, we hear multiple times a day about how nervous needles make people feel — we don’t expect you to be excited to have a sharp object penetrating your body. Anxiety can make your experience more painful both physically and mentally. It sounds trivial, but small things like remembering to breathe and drinking plenty of water before your draw really help your experience become less agonizing.

Lastly, yes, you must have a provider’s order to get tests done.

We cannot just draw your blood and have things like your hormone levels checked. You need to have a provider order the test if you want valid results. There are some places you can go and pay cash prices to get things like that done; one example would be a health fair. However, for clinical settings, you need to speak with your provider if you’re concerned about how your body is functioning. Only your health care provider can interpret your results — that is what they are trained to do. Phlebotomists can tell you which tests are for what ailments, but we cannot give you results or any recommendations based off those results. It’s always best practice to make an appointment with your provider.

While it’s not everyone’s favorite experience to be drawn, it can be tolerable and survivable if you follow a few simple tips. Don’t forget your water, remember to stay as calm as you can and breath the whole time, distract yourself with small talk, and look anywhere else except at the arm that is going to be drawn. Do these little things and you’ll never fear your phlebotomist again.

Katherine L. Wornek is an ISU graduate and has worked in healthcare for over 12 years. She is a full time phlebotomist at the Health West ISU facility.

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