People can be divided into two separate but unequal groups: Those with varying degrees of squeamishness and a distaste for needles and those like Jenny Sommers.
Sommers, a phlebotomist at Mayo Clinic Health Systems in Waseca, spends her workdays finding useable veins and drawing blood. Her duties, she says, are just part of the job.
“I guess I’ve just always found it interesting, blood work in general,” she said.
Sommers, who’s been at MCHS in Waseca for three and a half years, didn’t start out in the field. But after working in a group home, overseeing clients' medical concerns and ensuring they were taking their meds as directed, Sommers decided to give phlebotomy a try.
She trained for the job at MCHS in Waseca and is now a certified phlebotomist.
Sommers, a 2002 Waseca High School graduate, says it took about three weeks to learn how to find veins and draw blood. Within a few months, she says, she achieved proficiency.
Finding useable veins for drawing blood is less about seeing and more about feeling, she said, noting that good veins have a particular springiness.
The job isn’t only about drawing blood though. Sure, she had to learn how to find patients’ veins and determine which would be deliver a steady flow of blood. But her job also includes following doctors' order, completing the required tests to determine whether a patient is pregnant or if they have strep, mononucleosis, flu or a virus which causes infection of the lungs/breathing passages, and getting necessary information to the requesting doctor.
Most of the tests are done in house. Those requiring more specialized testing go to MCHS in Rochester or Mankato.
But why does testing require so much blood and so many tubes?
The tubes have color-coded rubber stoppers which denote the type of tests to be performed. For example, blood in a tube with a purple stopper will undergo a hematology test; one with a light blue stopper will be tested for clotting levels.
Once the blood is drawn, the tubes are placed in a centrifuge which spins the vials round and round, separating the blood into its parts, a process called fractionation. The fractionation, which takes place on site at MCHS in Waseca, allows the sample to remain viable longer and ensures the most accurate result.
The job, because it involves bodily fluids, means there are certain protocols and precautions, said Sommers, including frequent hand washing. She's also required to wear gloves and eye protection and must ensure all needles and sharps are safely disposed of.
And while Sommers says phlebotomy is a job she enjoys, it's not without its challenges.
"I don't enjoy drawing children's (blood). I would prefer not to," she said, adding that having blood drawn is scary for children and that they don't often sit still for the draw.
"You have to reassure them … and let them know they're going to be OK," she said. "It's scary for them, it's the unknown, but at the same time you have to get what the doctor needs for testing."
While Sommers says she prefers not to work with children because of the inherent challenges, her boss, Lab Manager Brian Kottke, says that doesn't interfere with her ability to get the job done.
"She does a good job of calming (children), walking them through the steps and communicating with the parent and child," he said. "She does that very well."
He calls Sommers a "people person" who regular patients often ask about when she's out of the Waseca office working in MCHS's Janesville clinic.
"She's a good team player," he said. "She's always looking to do what's best for the team and the organization. That's nice."