Do Medical Assistants Draw Blood?
Medical assisting encompasses a variety of skills and duties. Medical assistants may choose to focus on either administrative or clinical medical assisting. Those who pursue clinical assisting may draw blood, known as phlebotomy, as part of their duties. In some clinics and outpatient centers, medical assistants may work as a phlebotomy technician, whose primary job is to collect blood specimens. If you are terrified about the prospect of having to draw blood, read our article about Overcoming a Fear of Drawing Blood
What is Phlebotomy?
Phlebotomy is the task of placing a needle inside a vein (venipuncture) or capillary in order to collect blood. Medical assistants learn this skill as part of clinical training in medical assistant school. Blood samples provide a snapshot of what’s going on inside the body. Disease, illness and nutrition issues may be detected through blood samples. Because of this, how blood is collected and stored is very important. Improper collection and storage can ruin blood samples and cause tests to be inaccurate. As such, phlebotomy is a skill that must be practiced often to be mastered.
Common tasks of a phlebotomist include:
- Properly and correctly drawing blood from patients
- Assembling and preparing equipment
- Providing patient education on the procedure, and helping with patient fears or anxiety
- Properly labeling and storing blood samples
- Using laboratory equipment to process blood specimens to obtain results
Standard blood collection technique includes:
- Locating the best vein for blood collection; the anticubital vein in the bend of the arm is often used due to its size and ease of access. Capillaries are often punctured via the fingertips.
- Applying a tourniquet above the collection site for vein punctures.
- Applying disinfectant to the site where blood is to be collected. This kills bacteria and helps prevent infection from venipuncture.
- Choosing the correct gauge needle for the patient. Needle size depends on the size and health of the patient’s veins.
- Inserting the needle correctly into the vein, or performing a capillary punch collection.
- Filling all required blood collection tubes, properly labeling them and storing them.
- Removing the needle from the patient, applying pressure to the puncture site and controlling bleeding.
Medical assistants who perform phlebotomy must pay close attention to safety practices as well. Handling patient blood puts the MA at risk for blood borne diseases. Wearing the proper safety gear, like gloves, gown and eye protection is a must. Carefully handling and disposing used needles is also imperative in order to prevent needle sticks and exposure to someone else’s blood.
Training and Certification
Medical assistants learn basic phlebotomy as part of medical assistant training. However, additional education and certification in phlebotomy is possible. MAs who desire to work in a medical lab, or who are required to draw blood as part of their job may wish to earn additional certification.
American Medical Technologists is one certifying agency that provides certification in phlebotomy. Some colleges that offer medical assistant training may also offer phlebotomy certification in tandem. Certifying agencies may require the medical assistant to have documented hours of clinical instruction in phlebotomy, and a certain number of documented venipunctures. This helps demonstrate competency and helps the MA become proficient in drawing blood. If the MA currently draws blood on the job, she can use work experience toward the requirement. Alternately, if the MA currently does not perform phlebotomy, she may want to take a full 120 hour phlebotomy course.
Having phlebotomy skills is a nice asset for a clinical MA to have. This simply adds to the versatility that employers are looking for. Some clinics hire MAs to rotate through the laboratory department; others hire MAs to work as phlebotomy and lab assistants full time. A medical assistant may also find a job as part of a phlebotomy team, whose main job is to rotate through the medical facility and draw blood. Hospitals may hire medical assistants with phlebotomy certification for this job.
Medical assistants who enjoy phlebotomy and working with specimens may choose to further their education and become medical laboratory technicians (MLT). The MLT has much more in-depth skills and responsibilities than just phlebotomy, such as processing and analyzing blood, urine, saliva and fecal samples. The MLT specialty often requires an additional 2-4 year college degree, beyond medical assisting.