Natasha Williams had dealt with her fair share of blood and illness caring for her kids in her Monett home. But when she walked into her first day of clinical training in the phlebotomy program at Ozarks Technical Community College, she didn’t expect one of her first patients to faint.
“To see someone pass out on my first day of clinicals was very shocking,” Williams said. “I didn’t think I would see it the first day because they were like, ‘Oh, it’s very rare.’”
Williams, 32, graduated from high school and had worked at Walmart before becoming a stay-at-home mom for the past 13 years. She has three kids — aged 13, 6 and 4 — and now that her youngest child is old enough to go to a full-time preschool, Williams joined the OTC phlebotomy technician program in January. She wanted to find a career she enjoyed that allowed her to interact with others, even though she said her family did not need the extra income.
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“Being a stay-at-home mom has benefited me to be a phlebotomist with children, especially, because I put myself in their parents’ shoes,” Williams said. “As in, if this was my child, what would I want the phlebotomist to do?”
Phlebotomists work at blood donation centers and hospitals to draw blood from patients and prepare it to be taken to a lab. Blood work can be a vital part of a diagnosis, and even amid COVID-19, demand for phlebotomists has continued to be high. As organizations like the American Red Cross encourage Americans to donate blood to prevent a blood shortage, phlebotomists are needed at blood drives and donation centers across the country.
Phlebotomy is a fast-growing field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs in the field are expected to grow 17% from 2019-2029, compared to 4% for the overall job market. Nationally, phlebotomy jobs pay an average of about $34,000 per year, or $16 an hour, according to hiring website ZipRecruiter.
Kelly Shrimpton, instructor for OTC’s phlebotomy program, said the job does not require a formal degree, which makes it a good entry-level opportunity for those looking to enter the health care field.
“Phlebotomy is a great get-your-foot-in-the-door job,” Shrimpton said. “With health care, it’s a great opportunity to get in there. As a phlebotomist, you’re exposed to lots of other disciplines in health care, but it doesn’t require a four-year degree.”
After enrolling in the OTC phlebotomy program, Williams spent about eight weeks in the classroom, learning about the different tubes used to sort blood and proper techniques for finding veins. After completing her classwork, she began her clinical training at Cox Monett Hospital, where she worked to draw blood from patients under the mentorship of other phlebotomists.
“With Natasha being a stay-at-home mom, that’s no easy job,” Shrimpton said. “She has learned to be able to multitask and juggle. And I think when she signed up to take the class, she knew it would be some work. With the experience of her being at home for a while and with the kids, I think she was able to gauge that and make time for that.”
Drawing blood from patients requires more than simply being able to find a vein. Williams said she tries to make each patient feel comfortable by discussing what they ate for breakfast and distracting them from the procedure. She said that while it is important to remember that most people are not excited to get their blood drawn, she still works to make each patient as relaxed as possible.
“You have to have a smile on your face,” Williams said. “Even though you have a mask on, you can tell if someone has a smile with a mask. You have to have a good, positive attitude towards everything in the lab, because if you don’t, then they’re going to feel like, ‘They don’t like their job, so they’re going to probably hurt me’ or something like that. The patients can feel it.”
After completing her phlebotomy program in May, Williams now works at Cox Monett Hospital.
“The best advice I would give to anyone transitioning would be to do what’s best for you,” Williams said. “Take your time and do what’s best for you. Do what makes you happy, because you don’t want to go into something that’s not going to make you happy in the long run.”