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The Other End of the Needle

Getting one’s blood drawn can be a stressful experience for children. Fatima Singletary, a phlebotomist at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, offers some perspective and advice.

FLORIDA TREND: How do phlebotomists tailor the blood-draw process for children, especially children who might be nervous and scared of needles?

Singletary: “Pediatric phlebotomists are trained to understand each child, read their body language and signals and consequently provide care that will fulfill individual needs. It all starts with a warm and friendly atmosphere at the check-in window or when entering the patient’s room. The phlebotomist will assist the patient to overcome fears by allowing the children to ask questions, answering them honestly, allowing parents and patients to participate in decisions as much as possible and using tools and distraction techniques — from talking about the child’s school day to singing, playing videos and looking at pets pictures to giving patients the opportunity to focus elsewhere other than their blood draw. It is all about building trust and connection.”

FT: What can parents do to help prepare their children for a blood draw? And what shouldn’t parents do that might raise anxiety even more?

Singletary: “Parents should reiterate that phlebotomists are specially trained professionals who will make every effort to make the blood draw process as painless as possible. Inform the child of the many options of sitting up or laying down, numbing cold spray, tiny needles and encourage the child to bring a favorite toy or personal object for comfort. Talk to the child about their feelings and reassure them that it is okay to be scared, but they can trust you to be by their side to help them feel secure though the entire procedure. Let the child ask questions and answer them honestly. Talk about your own fears and share your experiences and coping mechanisms. Familiar faces usually bring a sense of security, so having a loved one present is always a plus for children who fear blood draws. Parents should also work on their own confidence in advance as much as possible as children can easily pick up on nervousness and anxiety. Never use the word needles as means to scare or punish the child. Always be honest.”

FT: Many adults also are nervous about blood draws and are also scared of needles. Any advice to them?

Singletary: “That it is okay to be afraid. Most of us, including phlebotomists, don't like needles. But we know they are necessary and the more relaxed you can be, the less painful the draw will be. Breathing techniques, listening to music during the procedure, having a conversation with the phlebotomist — the same distractions that work for kids work just as good for adults. The more relaxed you can keep your muscles in advance, the better it is. Also, hydrate whenever possible at least one day in advance. This combination will make your experience a lot easier. Also, share in advance your fears with the phlebotomist. We are here to help you and give you the best experience.”