Phlebotomists are in high demand and two Lehigh Valley schools are stepping up to fill the void

Cris Collingwood//December 13, 2021

Phlebotomists are in high demand and two Lehigh Valley schools are stepping up to fill the void

Cris Collingwood//December 13, 2021

Karen Sciole, HNL Lab Medicine Phlebotomy School program director instructs student Thais Fon in performing a “stick” on a simulation arm prior to working on a live patient. PHOTO/PROVIDED –

The healthcare system is facing another shortage and one school is paying students to study while another is opening a new program. 

The shortage – those that take your blood. 

It may not be a favorite test, but a necessary one.  

Kim Townsend, manager of training and development for HNL Phlebotomy School, said there are currently 55 openings at HNL Lab Medicine’s facilities for people who take and process blood.  

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says job opportunities in phlebotomy are expected to grow by 25% between 2016 and 2026, which outpaces growth in other healthcare support occupations.  

To combat the deficiency, the school, which opened in 2017 at 794 Roble Rd., Allentown, is not only waiving the $2,000 tuition for the eight-week course but is paying students $10 per hour to train. The first tuition-paid class started Nov. 29 with 12 students.  

St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is opening its School of Phlebotomy in the St. Luke’s Center at 1110 St. Luke’s Way in Allentown, in January. 

 “Our goal is to provide an outstanding patient experience every single time a patient visits one of our patient service centers,” said Elizabeth Taylor, director, Outpatient Lab Services, Network, System Services.
“Launching the SLUHN School of Phlebotomy allows us to address the industry’s need for skilled phlebotomists, particularly in pediatric phlebotomy. The phlebotomists who complete our program will have interpersonal, clinical and technical skills, confidence and sound judgement to effectively perform phlebotomy on patients of all ages. Ultimately, we hope to hire these graduates.”
HNL Lab Medicine also hopes to hire its graduates. “There is an increased demand for this and if we invest in them, we hope they choose to stay so we can fill our own pipeline,” Townsend said. 

The HNL school is waiving fees, including textbooks and paying students to attend. “The student are hired as employees, so they are required to go through our regular hiring channels, including health screenings,” she said. 

The coursework for both programs prepares students to take the American Society for Clinical Pathology Phlebotomy Technical Certification Exam. HNL will pay for the exam as well, Townsend said. 

“We had 100 applicants for the first class and 14 qualified,” she said. Then two didn’t meet the criteria for the employee physicals so 12 students are participating. 

“The demand is up due to COVID and the loss of people from the healthcare system,” Townsend said. 

Once they graduate, the new phlebotomists will make between $17-$18 per hour.  

The program is perfect for high school/GED graduates looking to begin a career or work in healthcare while continuing their education. It’s also designed for career changers, especially those with retail and other customer service experience. The only academic prerequisite is a high school diploma or GED. 

“We have a four-tier set up,” Townsend said. The graduates start at Tier 1 and can work up to supervisor, manager and mentor.  

Townsend said students in the clinical setting have an opportunity to apply to work with a mentor one-on-one, which gives the mentor a 6% increase in pay per hour. 

The SLUHN School of Phlebotomy’s curriculum features strong hands-on training as well, which, Taylor said, is crucial for phlebotomy students.
“A phlebotomy student absolutely needs hands-on practice to build their own confidence prior to supporting a patient,” she said.
“Our hands-on training provides additional routines and replication of the phlebotomy technique to help ensure that when students successfully complete the program, their skills are at a much higher level for successful performance.”
Townsend said the 62 centers HNL Lab Medicine covers include hospitals within the Lehigh Valley Health Network, ambulatory care centers, and outpatient labs. 

Due to the shortage of skilled phlebotomists, supervisors and employee volunteers are working longer hours to cover the appointments. “We have combined a few centers temporarily, most of which are not as busy and close together. This is not a patient care issue, it’s just more hours for our employees,” she said. 

The SLUHN School of Phlebotomy’s first class starts Jan. 10.
HNL Lab Medicine’s school will start its next session Feb. 21, with an application deadline of Jan. 21.  

“Since our students are employees, it takes a good month to get all the necessary paperwork and testing done to be able to start school,” Townsend said.