The fine art of needles
In broad terms, and combining inpatients and outpatients, on a typical day St. Paul’s is caring for about 1,000 patients.
As many as 850 of these patients will have a sample of blood taken.
Janice Bittante, Manager of Laboratory Operations at St. Paul’s, which oversees this side of patient care, describes her team of phlebotomists, health workers who specialize in drawing blood, as “the face of the lab.”
“Not all health professionals are patient-focused,” says Janice, “but with phlebotomists, that’s all they do. The majority of their time is spent with patients. The field tends to draw people who not only want to work in health care, but who want to be with and care for patients.”
Additional insights from Janice show this to be true—and provide a peek behind the curtain when it comes to just how good phlebotomists are with patients.
“Phlebotomists become very good at judging how people are feeling about the experience they’re about to have,” Janice says. “Part of their training is, how do you calm people, how do you give them a sense of control? From engaging in chitchat to interpreting facial expressions and body language, making eye contact, phlebotomists become highly adept at the art of social interaction.”
And then, in what conjures comparisons to slight-of-hand artists, Janice reveals that in the midst of this interaction that is meant to relax you and distract you, your phlebotomist is also scanning your arm for a vein, removing a needle from its wrapper, getting out their tubes, tools and other equipment.
“Most patients never notice all that’s going on in just those few minutes,” says Janice.
Building the province’s talent pool
St. Paul’s is known for its experienced and dedicated team of phlebotomists, many of whom have been with St. Paul’s for more than 15 years.
St. Paul’s is also a key training centre for phlebotomy, taking many students from local schools and, in Janice’s words, “feeding the province’s entire health care system. We have a reputation at St. Paul’s for how we train our students, so they usually get snapped up pretty quick, which is something we’re very proud of.”
Responding to a provincial crisis
The opioid crisis has had considerable impact on the phlebotomy team in many ways. Sheer volume is a major factor, as one would expect, and the Emergency Department is the main source of that volume.
As with any crisis, Janice says there can be trauma, too, so there is an emotional toll, as well. To help, counselling support is provided, as is skill support in terms of how to manage a potentially volatile situation.
“But even though our team may be exposed to more challenging situations as a result of the opioid crisis, or maybe even violence,” says Janice, “I would say they have been exposed to higher levels of human sadness more than anything. They are seeing a lot of suffering, and desperation; and as I say, the field attracts empathetic people who want to help patients directly. It’s hard not to take that suffering home with you.”
The team, however, soldiers on. Over the Holiday Season, for example, not only was the opioid crisis peaking, so was flu season. Emergency, says Janice, was “packed.” In the last couple of years, a fulltime phlebotomist has been stationed in Emergency to deal with the increase in need, but during this time even more needed to be added. Just one more example of a team at St. Paul’s doing its part to help respond to a crisis.
St. Paul’s Foundation is a long-time supporter of the hospital’s Pathology and Laboratory Medicine department, which includes phlebotomy. Many friends of St. Paul’s Foundation have helped to fund key equipment purchases that have helped staff and patients. To support this vital work, make your helping gift today.