Blood work

An arm takes on greater significance when it’s attached to a human being. That’s one of the lessons Anderson Agudelo took away from the phlebotomy program at Rutgers School of Health Related Professions. The 13-week course, leading to a certificate in phlebotomy and specimen accessioning, teaches the delicate science of taking blood—a process that begins with practice on a dummy arm filled with red water. For Agudelo SHRP’14, the course represented “a step in the right direction to get my foot in the door of the field.”

Some graduates will go on to careers in phlebotomy, for which job prospects are excellent. “There is, and always will be, a need for phlebotomists,” says Sean Ahrens NCAS’07, SHRP’07, the program’s director. Other graduates, like Agudelo, who just received a bachelor of science in clinical laboratory sciences, see the certificate as an entrée into the expanding health care field.

Mastering the art of gently puncturing a slender, pulsing vein without injuring it—or unsettling the patient—is not simple. Before they proceed to hands-on practice with artificial arms, students study the basics, like tube colors, needle types, and drawing methods, as well as more advanced concepts, like blood glucose-testing in pregnant women.

When ready, they get to practice on one another, an exercise that can test the limits of student camaraderie. “I was nervous and excited at the same time,” says Agudelo, recalling his first draw. He knew there was a chance of going in too deep, by inserting the needle right through the vein, or too shallow, meaning he’d get no blood at all and have to try over. Agudelo got it on his first try.

A budding phlebotomist’s skill is really tested during the two-week clinical rotation that wraps up the program, a period that can try a phlebotomist’s soul, like encountering veins that are too small, or mysteriously appear and disappear, or collapse while blood is drawn. But after more than 100 draws at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center’s outpatient clinic, Agudelo is confident. “Drawing blood?” he says. “It’s pretty cool.”