“How long have you been doing this for?”
I was so conflicted about having to answer this question. I was taking the phlebotomy course, a one-week experience that demands you perform blood draws from real patients after two hours of training on dummies. Making matters worse, it happened to be my very first patient who asked me, “How long have you been doing this for?”
I hesitated as I thought through possible replies:
Actually, you are my first patient.
I practiced on dummies for two hours before this.
I plead the Fifth.
I would like to speak with a lawyer.
I ended up coming up with a weak “I just started.” I was nervous but the patient seemed to understand. My hands were shaking. I was trying hard to focus. My trainer watched me closely, and I successfully drove the needle into a vein and collected vial of blood.
This was my best blood-drawing experience on my first day. I had one more successful blood draw but had a tough time finding veins on all following patients that day. Too many patients left my room with multiple bandages on. The patients were very nice and understanding, but I felt like I had caused a disaster. The struggles of my day made it tough for me to fall asleep that night. I could not help but think, Can I really survive four more days of this?
Thankfully, the next few days were significantly better. My rate of successes increased with each day. By Wednesday, I was striking up conversations with my patients comfortably, maneuvering the needles and vials smoothly. I even remember a few “You did good” and “I didn’t even feel the poke!” comments.
My one-week experience as a phlebotomist involved a lightning-fast crash course and real-world immersion. I was forced to learn quickly and work under stress, all important skills for the future. I also learned to be receptive to what I was and was not capable of; I gained a grasp of which vein anatomies I could and could not draw blood from. Most rewardingly, this selective provided me the opportunity to treat my first patients. Although these visits were usually 10 minutes or less, I felt the impact I made when a blood draw was performed well and the patients felt comfortable. Perhaps I learned most from repeating the process, figuring out a number of ways to un-successfully target a vein and learning how to prevent those errors.
Weston H. Agor said it best: Making mistakes simply means you are learning faster.
James Hwang is a first-year medical student.