Students practice phlebotomy techniques on their loved ones, who generously devote their time
Branford, Connecticut: A critical aspect of becoming comfortable with some of the techniques you learn as a Medical Assisting (MA) student at Branford Hall is: practice. Phlebotomy, the process of drawing blood, requires repetition. Learning this task can cause some students to feel apprehensive, since it involves needles and the possibility of causing the patient some discomfort. It is fortunate for the MA students at the Branford campus that many of their friends and family members are willing to let themselves be “guinea pigs” by having their blood drawn. This is highly supportive and helps the students to become more confident.
An essential part of the medical assistant curriculum
Mimi Debona, Chair of the Medical Assistant program in Branford, says that the hands-on aspect of learning with regards to phlebotomy is extremely important. Students begin by practicing on a so-called “phlebotomy arm,” which is rubber. Then they move on to practicing on one another—and some of the instructors and staff members.
“When you’re first learning to draw blood, you start looking for anyone who will let you practice on them,” says Debona. “Even the students that are nervous about the technique want to get as much practice as possible.” Branford’s Campus Director David Rapuano is kind enough to let students practice on him.
The students each have to do 30 live “sticks,” which is the term for practicing an injection on a real person. “And the more you do it, the more comfortable you are,” Debona says.
Debona also lets the students practice sticking her in the back of the hand, which is a technique that can be necessary with some patients. “The vessels in the hands can sometimes be easier to see, as well as to palpate or feel,” she says. “And a big part of phlebotomy is being able to feel what you’re doing, and not just to see it.”
Inviting friends and family
At a certain point in the term, Debona says, the class sets aside a day (or two) and asks students to invite their friends and family to come to campus and help by allowing the students to practice their blood-draw techniques. “The students need numbers, and often they’re more comfortable practicing on members of their family than on some of the staff members,” she says.
The most recent “Friends and Family Day” was held on Tuesday, January 30, when 17 people took time out of their days to let the students try their techniques. Another group of students invited friends and family to campus on February 21.
To keep the day running smoothly, the instructors schedule appointment times, generally between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The students set up a couple of stations, with all the supplies they need, in one of the clinical rooms on campus. Then, once the “patient” arrives, the entire procedure only takes about 5 minutes.
To begin, the school asks each of the generous volunteers to fill out a disclosure form, so they understand the risks they may be taking. “These contain standard medical questions,” Debona explains, “since we don’t want our students to be practicing on anyone who has a blood disorder or is immune-compromised.”
Once the paperwork is out of the way, the students can get down to practicing. There must be two instructors in the room at all times. Debona says students can also practice other related tasks, such as sticking the person’s finger to get a blood sugar reading or to check for clotting.
Step by step
The procedure for drawing blood follows a set routine of steps, which the instructors refer to as the “Phlebotomy bible.” First, Debona says, the student applies a tourniquet to the arm, to stop the blood flow. Next, they find the vein and use an alcohol swab to sterilize the area. Then it is time to insert the needle into the vein. Once the blood begins to flow, they attach a blood collection tube, or Vacutainer, to the end of the needle.
During a normal blood draw, a medical assistant would fill the tube with as much blood as is needed, but in these practice sessions, the students stop as soon as they get some blood into the tube. Then they release the tourniquet, take the needle out, and remove the tube. Even though these samples will not be sent to a lab for testing, the students practice the required step of turning the tube in their hand 8 to 10 times, to make sure the blood does not clot. Then the students check for any bleeding on the patient’s arm and apply a bandage—usually a 2×2 piece of gauze—and cover it with a piece of surgical tape.
Preparing for a medical assisting externship
Debona explains that, once their classroom work is complete, over 25 weeks, the MA students go out on an externship, where they gain 180 hours of work experience. “Those are positions in which they may very well have to do phlebotomy,” she says, “so this additional practice beforehand, with us, can help them to feel that much more at ease.” She adds that most of the sites where students extern are urgent care centers, internal medicine doctors’ offices, and family medical practices. “This is an ideal opportunity for our students to get experience in an outpatient setting,” she says.
Other opportunities to help
Apparently phlebotomy is not the only hands-on experience for which family members offer support at Branford Hall. During the EKG training, Debona says, which accompanies the unit on phlebotomy, the students first practice doing the procedure on one another. Recently the husband of one student was nice enough to come in and let the MA students in his wife’s class practice doing EKGs on him as well.
Debona would also like the Branford community to know that there is a regular blood drive on campus, held in partnership with the Red Cross. The Bloodmobile visited on Wednesday, February 21, and will return on Tuesday, May 29 (just after Memorial Day weekend). “These blood drives are open to the public,” she says, “and we welcome students’ friends and family members to join us.”
She is proud to say that the Branford Hall students are very receptive to donating blood, and that the campus has always met its goal for donations. Keep up the good work, Branford students! And many thanks to those friends and family members who go out of their way to support you in your career training!