Photo courtesy of Myron Blosser
While the majority of HHS students have adjusted to learning in a fully virtual setting, four seniors have been able to learn in person in a phlebotomy course offered by Sentara RMH. The Governor’s STEM academy coordinated with program director Cyndee Lowe to begin offering the course in 2021.
“The phlebotomy course is a certificate level program. Students learn medical terminology, anatomy and physiology and all about collecting and processing patient specimens for laboratory testing,” Lowe said. “This [course is] very new. Our first class of high school students started Jan. 25, 2021.”
Students enrolled in the 18 week course spend the first 10 weeks in the classroom and then the last eight weeks in clinical rotations at Sentara lab sites. In addition, phlebotomists can also serve as lab assistants with clerical and specimen processing responsibilities in addition to blood sampling. As one of the four students enrolled, senior Makayla Runion decided to take the course to explore the healthcare field further before graduation.
“I decided to take the course because I have a very strong interest in the healthcare field. I currently work as a nurse aide at Bridgewater Retirement Community Homes [and I am waiting] to take my state certification depending on COVID-19. I realized I wanted to know more about all of the different strands of healthcare and the various pathways within, so this program sort of opened that opportunity up to me. It also [will allow] me to work in a healthcare related occupation while I’m in college working towards a higher title,” Runion said.
While most high school classes simply provide an opportunity to explore the field, the phlebotomist course allows students to earn their certification after completing the course.
“The program provides a certificate upon completion of the course as long as you pass, which allows students who are interested to take the ASCP Phlebotomy Technician certification exam,” Runion said.
Prior to taking the course, students must first meet all of the prerequisites in order to ensure their success with the rigorous course load.
“For the phlebotomy program, we require a high school diploma or [the student must be graduating] from high school at the completion of the phlebotomy program. We require a minimum 2.5 GPA. Biology and Chemistry classes are recommended, but not required,” Lowe said. “[The most challenging aspect though] is large amounts of material is covered in a short amount of time during the first ten weeks of classroom training. We also do a lot of testing to make sure students are not just memorizing the material but that they understand it and are able to apply it when working with real life patient situations.”
Not only does Runion participate in the phlebotomy course at Sentara RMH, but she also balances her HHS course load in addition to extracurricular activities.
“I feel like it is somewhat hard to balance my schoolwork, but it requires good time management honestly and [it] can be done. I am a part of the Blue Ridge Scholars as well, so my course load is a little heavier since I am taking college level classes. Not only am I very busy academically, but I am on the varsity competition cheer team which makes things a little harder. A typical day for me involves waking up to attend my first and second block classes through HHS from 8-10:10 a.m. I then head to phlebotomy school shortly after from 11:30 a.m. -3:30 p.m. From there, I head straight to cheer until about 6 p.m. By the time I get home, I try to spend the remainder of my day working on school work so I can try to stay caught up with everything,” Runion said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still a big threat in our world, Lowe is confident that if the class needs to be moved to fully virtual format, both students and instructors would be prepared to do so.
“[Due to COVID], we are taking fewer students so that we are able to follow social distancing guidelines. We are prepared to provide class material online if a student has to quarantine. We are [also] following all of Sentara’s guidelines, which require universal masking and daily symptom screens,” Lowe said.
Runion also believes that the pandemic has provided an opportunity to experience and overcome some of the adversity that healthcare workers face on a daily basis.
“I feel like [the pandemic prepared] us for life in the healthcare field. Healthcare workers are one of the most essential people. We have to be there to protect and help others. When this whole virus thing came about, we weren’t just able to stop working and switch over to doing things virtually. This class provides that same feel because despite the virus, we are still in class learning because one day we will be part of that front line,” Runion said.
Although it is sometimes hard for her to balance, Runion has found numerous benefits to learning in-person for the phlebotomy class.
“The benefits of having this class in person is that I take the information in and understand it better when I am there with the lectures in front of me both electronically and on paper. I can go to my instructor during our break if I have any questions, which is nice because I don’t have to worry with scheduling an appointment or anything. In person classes also allow us to work in the lab with the venipuncture kits, which would have been far too expensive for me to try to order on my own to practice at home if we were online,” Runion said.
Personally, Runion has enjoyed the amount of hands-on experience that she has been able to gain from the course.
“The best part about this course is that there are a lot of [hands on] learning experiences. We go into the lab a lot and do student-led labs as well as instructor-led labs. There are small venipuncture kits and even an arm kit which allow us to practice performing venipunctures. Both of the kits have “veins” so that we can practice palpating on them and putting many of the other techniques we learn in class to use, including the order of drawing for tubes, sticking the “veins” and drawing fake blood from the kits,” Runion said. “I enjoy this most because I am a very hands on learner, so the more I’m able to get my hands on the tubes, needles and tourniquets, the easier it is for me to understand.”
Like Runion, Lowe believes that taking the course while in high school provides students with an opportunity to further their education and get a head start on their careers.
“It gives them a very hands-on introduction to health care careers. It provides a good foundation of knowledge that they can build upon if they choose to pursue further in a variety of healthcare related fields.It provides an opportunity for a secure job with a decent income. [It] would be a great job for working their way through college and even higher education,” Lowe said.
Since this is the first year the course is being offered, Lowe is unsure of what students plan to pursue after high school. However, Lowe is certain that there is a growing need for phlebotomists in the medical field.
“Sentara Healthcare as a system has a great need for phlebotomists and lab assistants. There is also a need for a phlebotomist at doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, the American Red Cross, etc. Local needs at Sentara RMH vary. Sometimes they have many openings, sometimes they don’t. Graduates of the phlebotomy school have been hired to fill many of their recent openings for phlebotomists,” Lowe said.
In Runion’s case, she wants to continue to pursue a career as a travel nurse after earning her phlebotomist certification and even plans to challenge herself to take the exam to become a phlebotomy technician.
“I hope to go further in this class than just receiving the certificate. Although I can go straight into working as a phlebotomist upon completion of the class, I want to push myself to take the exam. That way, I’ll be able to become a phlebotomy technician which may potentially lead to a better advantage [later in my career],” Runion said.
In regards to the future of the phlebotomy course, Lowe has hopes that the program will continue to grow and be available to students across Virginia.
“We hope to be able to increase the number of students we admit to the program. We are also exploring the possibility of offering the classroom work online so that we could take students from other parts of the state. That way, they could complete the classroom work without coming to Harrisonburg and would then be able complete their clinical rotations at a Sentara facility near where they live,” Lowe said.
After graduation, Runion has high hopes to pursue a career in a field that she is passionate about.
“After graduation, I plan to attend a four year university as a transfer student from the Blue Ridge Scholars Program. I want to major in nursing and become a travel nurse. In order to work as a travel nurse, you must be certified in each state you wish to work in, so I plan on staying in Virginia at first. Once I know that I am happy with my career, I wish to move to other states and become certified in surrounding states so I have more options and opportunities,” Runion said. “[The phlebotomy] class will help me because when I need clinical hours for my major, I can use working as a phlebotomist as a part of those hours. It will also allow me to work a job in a setting and field that I am passionate about while aiming to reach my larger future goal which is a very important part of any job. Making sure you love and enjoy what you do ensures that you’ll put your all into the work which is definitely what I plan to do.”