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Dec 23, 2019 · Floundering in phlebotomy

“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.

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