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How phlebotomists help our cancer patients

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By Lindsay Lewis, MD Anderson staff writer

Just a year ago, AStar Thorns made a big change in her life. A housekeeper in Facilities at the time, she went back to school to become a phlebotomist -- a person trained to draw blood intravenously from our patients.

After a four-month training program, Thorns was hired here as an extern. She recently transitioned into a full-time job as one of our more than 90 phlebotomists.

"I love coming to work every morning," says Thorns, who works in the Main Building Diagnostic Center. "I know I'm doing my part to help someone stay alive."

Treating patients as people, not numbers
The art of venipuncture, or blood collection, is a sticky situation at MD Anderson - and that's no joke. Our phlebotomists draw more than 1 million blood specimens every year. That's nearly every patient, every visit.

"We're extremely busy," admits Jeanette Martinez, a phlebotomist in Mays Clinic. "But even though we only have a brief time with patients, we try to make it meaningful. We treat our patients as people, not as numbers."

Phlebotomy is an important component of the cancer diagnosis and treatment process. Laboratory specimens provide our physicians with important diagnostic information about our patients that impacts treatment decisions.

So the quality of the blood draw is extremely important, because the lab result is only as good as the specimen collected, Martinez says. Drawing blood is a task that takes concentration, patience and gentleness to lessen the impact on the patient.

"Nobody likes needles, so we have to be extra good at what we do," Thorns says.

And they are. In fact, many of our phlebotomists are asked for by name when patients come to the lab.

Setting the tone for the patient's visit

For Martinez and Thorns, though, there's purpose in the job beyond the clinical aspect. They see themselves as ambassadors, and they jump at the chance to share information with patients about the services we provide, such as the Beauty & Barber Shop, our dining facilities and our hospitality centers.

And since the Diagnostic Center is one of the first stops on campus for most returning patients, our phlebotomists know they're responsible for setting the tone for each patient's visit.

"We've been known to sing, dance and pray with our patients to make them smile," Martinez says. "Our job isn't just about drawing a blood specimen. It's making a connection with patients to let them know we're here for them each step of the way."

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