Phlebotomists can learn their trade two ways, by taking a phlebotomy training course or by becoming a medical assistant. Both are good approaches under the right circumstances, and each has its pros and cons. But one offers significantly more benefits.
Let’s take a closer look at why becoming a medical assistant is a better educational investment.
What Does a Phlebotomist Do?
Phlebotomists draw blood, also called venipuncture, from patients’ veins using a needle and collection tube. Samples are used to diagnose, monitor, and treat diseases from anemia to diabetes, so it’s an essential clinical role requiring technical expertise. This is what the process includes.
Lab orders always come with requisitions that include this information.
- Patient’s name and date of birth
- Which tests the doctor ordered and why
- To whom the results should be given
- Special instructions
It’s a phlebotomist’s job to review documentation for accuracy, verify the patient’s identity, and ensure billing information is present before proceeding.
The special instruction section may include important information about the patient’s tolerance for venipuncture and allergies to skin cleansers and adhesive bandages. For certain tests, consent to draw is usually obtained before patients see the phlebotomist, but it should be confirmed.
Sample collection tubes must be labeled with this information.
- Patient’s name and date of birth
- Ordering physician’s name
- Date and time of collection
Labels must be legible and error-free to ensure results are added to the correct record. A large hospital could have hundreds of patients with similar names. Since many tests must be run within a specific timeframe after samples are drawn, noting the date and time of collection is critical.
Selecting Blood Collection Equipment
Sample collection tubes are color coded to reflect the type of additive they contain. Some tests require anticoagulants to keep blood from clotting. Venipuncture equipment also varies. Patients are unique, so it comes in a range of different sizes to accommodate unique veins. Phlebotomists use their clinical and technical expertise to make the most appropriate choices.
Having blood drawn is stressful for some patients, so gathering supplies in advance helps you give patients your full attention and speeds the venipuncture process.
Venipuncture is the process of penetrating a vein with a needle to draw blood samples. Phlebotomists learn a variety of standard techniques for the simplest to most complex draws.
Processing Samples for Testing
Select samples require processing before submitting them to the lab. You may have to spin tubes in a centrifuge, separate serum from cells, and freeze blood for transport. Labs maintain a full list of protocols for each test.
Providing Patient Education
Patients have the right to know what to expect when they have their blood drawn. Phlebotomists review the venipuncture process in advance, plus how to handle localized reactions, such as bruising, and whom to call with questions.
Entering Patient Data Into Billing Systems
When blood draws are complete, phlebotomists enter vital information into the billing system so an invoice can be created or an insurance claim submitted on the patient’s behalf.
Do Medical Assistants Approach Phlebotomy Differently?
Medical assistants and phlebotomists receive similar training but handle venipuncture a little differently. Phlebotomists’ only role is to draw blood and collect other specimens. They see dozens of patients each day and focus more on the technical aspects of the process.
A medical assistant has many more responsibilities and interacts with the same patients regularly, building a therapeutic relationship that brings more understanding to the task. It’s one of many reasons, in addition to convenience and cost savings, why private practices are increasingly offering on-site laboratory services for their patients.
Medical assistants also play a greater role in patient education. Under supervision, they can speak with greater certainty on the doctor’s behalf. With more in-depth knowledge of a patient’s clinical condition, they can explain more about the reasons for testing and how it fits into their treatment plan.
What Does a Medical Assistant Do in Addition to Phlebotomy?
Medical assistants are cross-trained to handle both clinical and administrative tasks in a doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic. It’s a fast-paced job, and there’s never a dull moment. These are some of the responsibilities.
Triaging Phone Calls
Medical assistants triage patient phone calls, assessing their symptoms and directing messages to the most appropriate licensed provider. Taking accurate information and streamlining inquiries improve patient care.
Medical assistants pave the way for efficient visits by updating records and performing clinical tasks as they make patients comfortable in exam rooms. Reviewing demographics, allergies, and medication lists in advance saves the physician time.
Taking Vital Signs
Changes in temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respirations can point to an illness. Medical assistants use their clinical and technical know-how to get the most accurate readings at each visit.
Obtaining Biological Specimens
Medical assistants collect and preserve biological samples from blood to urine for diagnostic testing and process and ship them to outside laboratories when analyses can’t be performed in the office.
Performing Diagnostic Tests
Diagnostics once required costly and time consuming trips to the hospital. Now, tests like electrocardiography and pacemaker checks can be performed in doctors’ offices by trained medical assistants.
Assisting With Procedures
Minor surgery can be performed in office settings, but surgeons can’t do it without help. An extra pair of hands is a must to pass instruments, collect tissue samples, and monitor the patient’s well-being. Medical assistants can also handle aftercare, including dry dressing changes and suture removal.
Private practices usually rely on billing specialists to handle insurance claims, but in a small office, medical assistants have enough training to manage most billing and insurance issues, from taking cash payments and processing credit cards to invoicing and filling out claims.
Medical assistants are familiar with the needs of both clinical and administrative staff, making them ideal team members to order medical and office supplies.
Strict infection control protocols are required to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses. Medical assistants keep patients safe by sanitizing exam rooms and equipment between visits, using the latest technology and chemical disinfectants to clean instruments.
Medical assistants are the first and last clinical team members a patient sees. They can’t dispense medical advice, but with approval, they can relay messages and serve as a clinical resource for timely health topics.
Why Become a Medical Assistant Instead of a Specialized Phlebotomist?
Medical assistants are trained also as phlebotomists. Becoming a medical assistant can be done in just seven and a half months, attending full-time. You’ll learn many relevant skills in a medical assisting program that include phlebotomy and that translate into job security. The benefits of learning phlebotomy in a vocational school medical assisting program include these.
Benefit 1—More Opportunities
Phlebotomists and medical assistants are in demand. The demand for both phlebotomists and medical assistants is expected to grow 17 to 19 percent in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But while growth by percentage is similar, it expects only 22,800 new jobs will be created for phlebotomists versus 139,200 or more for medical assistants. It’s a telling contrast.
Benefit 2—A Better Chance for Advancement
Roles for phlebotomists are limited, as is growth opportunity if your skills are limited. Years of experience could land you a low-level supervisory position, but there’s little opportunity for professional growth. A medical assistant has more skills with which to bargain for advancement.
Benefit 3—A Rewarding Role
Phlebotomy is interesting and vital work, but it’s a standardized technical task. If you want to make a difference in the lives of others, medical assisting offers more ways to do that.
You’ll connect with the same patients consistently, instead of just drawing their blood assembly line style. It’s a more meaningful and rewarding role.
Benefits of Attending a Medical Assistant Program
Before opting for phlebotomy training, consider the many long-term benefits of attending a vocational school medical assisting program.
Benefit 1—Launch a New Career Fast
Most careers in health care take years to train for, and for some students, that’s not an option. Adults with life responsibilities shouldn’t have to put their future on the back burner or settle for less education than they want. Vocational schools specialize in lifestyle-friendly programs that get you out of the classroom and into the field in months, not years.
Benefit 2—Enjoy Smaller Class Sizes
Students feel more engaged in smaller classes. A smaller class size allows professors to have a more hands-on role in learning. Students are less likely to fall behind and feel encouraged to ask questions and seek help when needed. No one is left behind.
Benefit 3—Get Hands-on Experience
Hands-on learning can improve memory and lesson retention by engaging both the left and right sides of the brain. Medical assistant programs are short but intense and focused on practical skills.
Students learn on the same equipment they’ll use in the field, and they enjoy opportunities for real-world practice through externships, short stints working in the community with seasoned peers. You’ll observe how they do their job and try your hand at things you learned in school, while making professional connections that could result in a positive reference or even a job offer.
Benefit 4—Qualify for Financial Aid
Students in accredited medical assisting programs can apply for federal financial aid if they qualify, which consists of grants and student loans. Private institutions may also offer financing options as well.
Benefit 5—Succeed with Career Services
Graduating from a medical assisting program is only the first step in finding your dream job. Vocational schools work hard to cultivate partnerships with area health care facilities, so when positions are available, their graduates can be among the first to apply.
A majority of job openings in the country are never posted publicly, so attending a vocational school dedicated to helping you find a job puts you a step closer to success in a competitive workplace.
With so many jobs being replaced by technology, students need to ask themselves if the skills they learn today will be relevant in the future. If you want to be a phlebotomist, you can take a short training course or attend a more comprehensive vocational school medical assisting program that offers more opportunities. Education is an investment in your future, so it’s important to make the right choice.
Did learning about the benefits of medical assistant training interest you? Ready for an exciting new career in the medical assisting field?
The Medical Assistant program at Hunter Business School prepares competent, entry-level medical assistants in the cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills), and affective (behavior) learning domains required for professional practice.
The Medical Assistant program provides hands-on experience in a real medical setting where you can foster professional relationships with actual patients. Medical Assistant students spend 160 hours in an externship in a professional medical environment where they are supervised and taught in order to gain valuable on-the-job training.
Contact us today to find out more about how to become a medical assistant on Long Island.