Senior Leilani Reid-Vera is thirsty for blood.
She has her work space all set up: tubes, needles, hubs, tourniquets, gauze and tape—everything she needs is in place.
Her hands are washed, her gloves are on, the tourniquet is tied, and the area is prepped. She has even located a very good vein. All she has to do now is stick.
Yet her hands still shake. She takes a deep breath and inserts the needle into a real person—her classmate—for the first time.
Nothing happens—no twitching from the person, no blood anywhere.
She next connects the tube to the needle, and finally blood starts flowing in.
“I’ve never been so happy to see blood in my entire life,” Reid-Vera said. “I actually got a vein.”
Learning how to properly draw blood is the goal of Reid-Vera’s phlebotomy technician class, which she took through the Elk Grove Regional Occupational Program (ROP).
ROP is a tuition-free career preparation program primarily for high-school students 15 or older. It offers classes in fields such as agriculture and natural resources, arts, media and entertainment, engineering and technology, and health science and technology.
A semester after her brother took the phlebotomy technician class through ROP, Reid-Vera also enrolled.
A phlebotomy technician, according to an article from Business Insider, makes an average annual salary of $29,730. The job entails drawing blood for tests, transfusion, donation, or research. The article named being a phlebotomy technician as one of 14 most stressful jobs (out of 747) in the U.S.
Reid-Vera, interested in entering the medical field, thought the class could provide her a glimpse into the hospital work and environment.
So from the beginning of January to late May, Reid-Vera had about four hours of extra learning every Monday through Thursday. She left school immediately and drove herself to either Valley High School or Rio Cazadero High School, where the class was held.
The class was split into two parts: basic and advanced. There were eight tests total and a final for each part. Reid-Vera describes the basic part as similar to an average lecture class.
“We had to purchase a phlebotomy book and read through the chapters,” she said. “We did a lot of anatomy and physiology. We learned about the procedures of how you take blood and do capillary and intravenous sticks.”
Though this part of class is called basic, Reid-Vera found it harder than the advanced section that followed. The class size of about 60 shrunk to around 20 when people started dropping out because they couldn’t meet the 70 percent passing grade. Those who failed had to retake the class if they wanted to go on to the advanced part.
Reid-Vera also pointed out there were only a few students who were there to learn.
“Some people only took the class because it gave 30 credits for school,” she said.
Passing the first part, however, was worth it.
“The best part was advanced because we actually started to do stuff—we learned how to tie a tourniquet, how to set the tubes up, and how to stick,” Reid-Vera said.
“For the last month of the class, we went to Valley High School and started with sticking capillaries in the fingers. Usually it’s done with babies’ feet, but you know, we didn’t have a baby.”
Next, Reid-Vera and her classmates moved on to fake arms from which they drew blood—which was really colored water—to practice locating veins. Finally, they practiced drawing blood from each other under the supervision of professional phlebotomists.
Reid-Vera said one of her biggest fears is accidentally sticking herself with a used needle after drawing blood.
“You have to remember—it’s like the most important thing—to click the safety device of the needle. The worst thing that could happen is for you to stick yourself after you stuck a patient, and you don’t know if the patient has any disease or anything.
“It’s always so scary.”
Reid-Vera also said applying continuous pressure after blood draw is important.
“If you don’t put pressure on the area, the vein might still be expelling blood from underneath the skin, and that could cause a hematoma,” she said.
A hematoma, which Reid-Vera describes as a bluish or reddish bruise on the skin, hurts and can make the phlebotomist subject to a lawsuit.
“You can get sued if someone has a hematoma bigger than the size of a quarter,” she said.
A challenge that Reid-Vera faced during the course was the order of draw. With different diagnoses, Reid-Vera has to know which tubes to draw blood into and in what order. Tubes come in different colors, and each is for a different purpose.
Although Reid-Vera has never drawn blood from an actual patient, she has had mock “draws.” She sets up her station, calls the patient from the lobby, verifies the patient’s personal information and asks them questions such as “Have you been fasting today?” and “Are you taking any medication?” and “Are you known to faint?”
The last question may seem odd, but it’s actually important, Reid-Vera said. If the patient faints and falls to the floor, not only could he get hurt but the needle could also flip out of his arm and stick the phlebotomist.
After Reid-Vera finished the advanced section of the class, she paid $100 to take a certification exam at the National Center for Competency Testing to receive her phlebotomy license.
The test was in June right after finals, which made it more stressful for Reid-Vera, who said she really wasn’t prepared.
Administered through computers, the test consisted of 100-130 multiple choice questions and gave Reid-Vera her grade right after she hit “submit.”
The computer screen took about four seconds before telling her that she passed.
Normally, the next step for Reid-Vera would be a month-long training program with Kaiser’s Quest Diagnostics, but she must be 18—which she won’t be until July of next year.
Meanwhile, aside from practicing her technique as a phlebotomist technician, Reid-Vera is also planning to take another class through ROP in January—this time, the certified nurse assistant class.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the health care and social assistance industry is projected to grow 33 percent—or by 5.7 million jobs—by 2020. Registered nurses, in particular, will be in high demand.
Reid-Vera, who is thinking about becoming a nurse, received inspiration after talking to senior Savannah Symister’s mother, who is an OB/Gyn nurse, for an essay in junior English.
“She told me about this lady she was responsible for,” Reid-Vera said. “The lady was really sick after she had her baby. Everyone knew that, but nobody knew why, so they were going to leave her there and just give her medication.
“But Savannah’s mother actually went the extra mile, ran tests on her, kept bugging people in higher power than her. (In the end) she was the one who figured out that the lady was bleeding on the inside, and she was going to die if no one had done anything.”
Reid-Vera said stories like that really encouraged her to become a nurse.
But right now, she stresses, nothing is set in stone, and she’s simply looking forward to the externship next summer.