“Many patients have jokingly called us (phlebotomists) ‘Dracula’ or vampire because we draw blood,” said Mr Alfonso Fano. As a Senior Phlebotomist in Changi General Hospital (CGH), needles and test tubes are the tools of his trade to draw and store blood from patients to diagnose medical conditions.

When he joined CGH in 2013, Mr Fano was part of a team of just five phlebotomists. Today, the team has expanded to 18. He trained as a medical technologist in his hometown in the Philippines for five years, where phlebotomy was part of the curriculum. In Singapore, he further underwent a phlebotomy course for several months.

“Phlebotomy is not a term that many people are familiar with. Many elderly patients, in particular, have never heard of such a job,” he said.

While nurses can also draw blood from patients, they have to take on other tasks such as attending to patients in the wards, whereas phlebotomists are Allied Health Professionals who focus on the drawing of blood alone.

Apart from technical knowledge on the structure of blood veins, Mr Fano feels that there is an art to blood extraction. Passion, good communication skills, and a sense of humour are attributes that make one a good phlebotomist.

“When you do your work with passion, many challenges can be overcome,” he said, adding that he would always greet and attend to his patients with a smile.

“When you have a sense of humour, patients are more at ease during the blood-drawing process. No one likes being pricked with a needle, but we aim to ensure that patients experience as little discomfort as possible, especially for those who have a fear of needles,” said Mr Fano.

He finds it most gratifying whenever his patients give feedback that the process was almost painless, knowing he has done a good job.

He sees between 40 to 60 patients a day, and has attended to those as young as a newborn to a 98-year-old woman. For each patient, he searches for “a good vein”, ideally in the middle of the arm, to help ensure success in extracting the blood. This is achieved more effectively through feeling for the vein, rather than by sight.

Protocols including hand hygiene and asking a patient for two identifiers (such as their name and identity card number) are strictly adhered to.


Stepping up in crisis

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Fano’s training and experience as a medical technologist came in handy when he volunteered to handle the delicate task of processing samples for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. His laboratory stint lasted four months before he resumed his role as a phlebotomist.

Due to the travel restrictions, Mr Fano has been unable to return to the Philippines to visit his wife and young daughter. Nonetheless, he is thankful that modern technology has allowed him to stay in touch with them daily through voice and video calls.

To maintain a healthy lifestyle, he takes part in physical activities, such as running, badminton and table tennis. During the “circuit breaker” period, he also spent time honing his culinary skills, and particularly enjoys whipping up pasta and rice dishes.