When we ask for volunteers in the medical assistant program, it isn’t to have you lie down on a nice comfortable table while we massage your arms, shoulders, neck and back, as our massage program does. We don’t sit you down and let you cuddle and play with four legged furry creatures that warm your heart, as our veterinary technology program does.
No, what we do may send the squeamish screaming from the room, running through the halls in terror or turning a unique shade of white and slumping to the floor.
I am, of course, referring to volunteering to allow one of our medical assistant program students, particularly those in the Hematology and Immunology class, an opportunity to gently slide a needle into a vein and withdraw a vial or two of blood. It may seem like a terrifying, horrific ordeal for some, but for the students it is the best way to learn how to perform venipuncture on a real person.
Medical assistants are trained to work in a laboratory as part of the curriculum. They learn the proper technique and safety involved in drawing blood through the methods of capillary puncture (finger poke) as well as venipuncture. They learn how to spin blood down in a centrifuge, run tests to detect Mononucleosis, elevated cholesterol or iron deficiencies. They also learn how to prepare a blood smear slide for staining purposes.
Earning the Right
One of the biggest challenges of teaching this class is finding willing participants to offer up their fingers and arms. Not only do most people shy away from needles, but the thought of an often nervous student attempting to locate and pierce the vein makes some just down-right weak-in-the-knees. However, before the students begin practicing on volunteers, they have to earn that right.
The students first learn about the components in human blood, blood formation and laboratory safety. They learn the importance of using blood for detection of infections, diseases and disorders. They always begin their practice on our two artificial arms named “Chuck and Bob.” Once they prove proficiency in vein location, tourniquet tying and technique they draw the “fake” blood from the arms. After they have mastered the task it is on to a walking, talking human being.
Practice Makes Perfect
It is important that their initial draw is on someone with “good” veins. It helps build their confidence and make them proud of their achievement. It is rewarding to see the students’ eyes light up when they attach the tube and it fills with blood.
As with any skill, the first time is always the most intimidating. “At first I was really unsure but curious as to what it would feel like,” student Brooke Moore remarked. “I expected it to be tough but really that needle went in very smoothly. It does make it harder poking someone who is watching me,” stated Brooke. “It brings out a person’s insecurities. But really it is not as scary as you would think it would be. Once you do that first one, it’s nothing.”
For Brooke, her first attempt was very successful and in serving as her patient, I must admit, it was virtually painless. She has since gone on
to draw from a few willing students and is currently four-for-four on her attempts.
The Value of the Real Deal
As an instructor I would love to be able to have each of my students perform 10-15 successful blood draws in the course of the 11 week quarter, but the lack of willing participants usually prevents our students from being able to complete much more than four-five draws in a quarter. Some brave souls, however, have crossed through our door and graciously rolled up their sleeves.
It is also helpful to have a variety of blood samples to work with since a lot of the other skills include making stained slides and performing Differential Counts.
“I really love looking at the stained samples,” student Brooke said. “I look at blood so differently after seeing it under the microscope. If you had asked me a quarter ago if I would enjoy this part of the schooling I probably would have said ‘no’. But it is very interesting and I love to look at blood samples and think ‘What’s going on with this one?’”
Brooke says that the best advice she could give to future students is the importance of remaining calm. “If you are nervous and they see that, they will be nervous. Everyone is nervous the first time.” (Spoken like a seasoned professional!)
While we cannot guarantee that you will have a nice, relaxed feeling when you leave the lab or promise a cute puppy or kitten will be waiting to cuddle with you, there are things we can guarantee. If you are willing to offer up your veins, the students will make sure you are comfortable in our “special” chair, you will be well aware of what they are doing every step of the way and you will leave with a good feeling knowing you just helped a medical assistant student get one step closer to his or her career goal.
Thanks goes out to all those who have been willing participants in the past. For more information on offering up your arms or fingers please contact Kerry Miller-Mouzon at 715-301-1323 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive more information. *Waiver must be signed prior to participation.
By Kerry Miller-Mouzon, Medical Assistant Faculty, Globe University-Wausau