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Forensic Phlebotomy

A unique and challenging job for any phlebotomist.

by Shanise Keith • March 10, 2022

Professionalism


When I tell people I worked as a forensic phlebotomist, the first question that everyone asks is if I drew blood off of dead bodies. The answer is no. What the job actually entailed was collecting blood and urine from people for legal purposes, usually from people who were on their way to jail. They may have been arrested for a DUI, a drug bust, an illegal party in the canyon, domestic violence, etc... Whatever the reason was, an officer could request blood and urine to be collected to test for alcohol and drugs.

I worked the night shift a few times a week. At a moment's notice, I had to be ready to hop in my car and drive to wherever I was needed, bringing all my supplies with me. The meeting places varied according to the situation, it could be a police station, an emergency room, the side of the road, or someone's home, but most of the time, I met them in the jail's booking area.

It was fascinating and different from anything else I have ever done, and it was not without its exciting moments. Often, these suspects under arrest were fairly heavily under the influence, and they were not in a very good mood due to their circumstances. They usually did not want to have their blood drawn, as it could be proof of their guilt (or potentially as proof of their innocence). Whatever they had been arrested for, there was a strict legal process that had to be followed.

When someone is arrested and an officer wants to test their urine/blood, they (the suspect) are given the option to consent or deny to providing blood and urine samples. When a suspect consents to the process, it is similar to how a routine blood draw and urinalysis would be performed on anyone. The only real difference is the unusual setting and the chain of custody requirements for the samples. Any error during the collection or chain of custody that follows can cause the samples to be unusable in the case.

If they deny consent, the arresting officer must obtain a warrant to get samples from the suspect to be tested. If a judge grants the warrant, the samples can be collected even if the suspect is unwilling. Warrants usually take less than an hour to be reviewed by a judge after submitting them, so the samples will still be collected in a timely manner. Sometimes suspects think that if they refuse, they win themselves more time (potentially days) before having their blood/urine tested, but it is not so. Samples are collected near the time of whatever incident led to the arrest. The suspect is served the warrant and informed of what comes next, they can choose to comply, or they can choose to not - either way, the forensic phlebotomist is now required to obtain the samples.

This is where things could become really challenging. It was not uncommon for them to start fighting and thrashing. Whenever this happened, I would step back and let the cops get everything under control and restrain the suspect for everyone's safety. Once the suspect was holding still enough for me to try to do my job, I had to find a vein - while they had their hands cuffed behind their back and while they were often screaming and thrashing. It could be pretty intense. I didn't ever want to cause an injury to the suspect or anyone involved, including myself. To make things even more challenging, many of these suspects were IV drug users, and their veins had been destroyed by drug abuse, which significantly increased the difficulty of the draw and increased the risk for blood-borne pathogens as well.

This job opened my eyes to a side of things that I otherwise would not have gotten to see. I was far from a newbie at this point, and I had dealt with drug abusers and highly difficult sticks at the hospital that I worked at, but to see someone brought into the jail for a crime was different. I always tried to keep myself detached from whatever the situation was, but it could be tough. Sometimes it was heartbreaking, seeing an addict arrested for the 5th time, with no hope on their face, resigned to what was happening. It could be infuriating seeing a mother who had been arrested for drunk driving and crashing her car with a toddler in the backseat. It could be difficult to keep emotions from showing on my face as I drew blood from a man who had been arrested for murder.

While we can't always control how we feel during these situations, we can control how we behave. It is never the job of the healthcare worker to judge the patient's (or suspect's) life choices, and while we may not always be able to keep an emotional distance from the situation, we can maintain our professionalism. It is also essential to remember that in a job like that of a forensic phlebotomist, there is still the legal system involved, and they will be tried for their crimes. Innocent until proven guilty. It was never my place to treat these people better or worse because of their situation. All I could do was my best to get an accurate sample to be used in their legal case.

All in all, being a forensic phlebotomist was one of the most challenging, interesting, and strange jobs I have ever had. I grew a lot as a person and as a phlebotomist doing that job. It gave me a different perspective of people and their unique situations, and it is just another way that phlebotomists can have an unknown impact on people's lives.

If you are interested in hearing stories from my time as a forensic phlebotomist, let me know in the comments. I would be happy to share if people have an interest.


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chain of custody forensic legal collect combative conflict

11 Comments

Loved to hear more

I'm assuming it is very challenging

Tina Berrier, 03/10/2022 09:41:44

So interesting!!

I have been looking into forensic phlebotomy because when I went to my phlebotomy class one of my instructors had been one before. What requirements did you need to have in order to become a forensic phlebotomist? Also how did you find such a niche community.

Bella , 03/10/2022 09:51:38

Team Lead

I would love to hear your stories on Forensic Phlebotomist.My email is [email protected]

Yolanda White, 03/10/2022 10:31:11

Retired Phlebotomist

Wow! Such an interesting story. I worked for a blood donor company and drew many patients but never anything like this! Sometimes we had patients that were hard to deal with, but you always tried to maintain your professional attitude toward them. Thanks for sharing your stories. I enjoy them and they make me miss my work very much.

Stephen Tolbert, 03/10/2022 11:21:02

Phlebotomist at Forensic Hospital

Please share more! Working at a forensic/psychiatric hospital is one thing. But, to witness various situations and scenarios during the legal process is another. Highly interested in reading more stories of forensic phlebotomists.

Di, 03/10/2022 14:31:35

Phlemotomist

Yes please share more about forensic phlebotomy. When I start my career 35 years ago there was never a name for what you’ve done. It was just part of our daily duties. It’s nice to know Phlebotomy now has different categories.

Christina , 03/10/2022 14:38:02

Laboratory Education/Safety Coordinator

Please share more about forensic phlebotomy.

Emily, 03/11/2022 10:12:22

Forensic collections

Hi. I look forward with interest here commentaries. And I would be very interested in hearing more about this topic

Jo Ann , 03/13/2022 10:18:58


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