healthcare professional drawing blood from patient

National Blood Donor Month: What Should Medical Technicians Know?

January is National Blood Donor Month

Since 1970, the event has been a time to highlight the need for donated blood, honor donors and send out a call for donations. For medical technicians, January can bring a multitude of questions from patients who are donating, may be thinking about donating or are concerned about the safety of donated blood. Here's what medical technicians should know about National Blood Donor Month and blood donations in general.


Why Blood Donations Are So Important

According to the Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the United States needs donated blood, and a single donation can save up to three lives. Recipients include accident and burn victims, patients undergoing surgeries or organ transplants, people with blood disorders and individuals undergoing cancer treatments. Because there is currently no substitute for human blood, donations are essential to the survival of many patients, but Community Blood Center notes that less than 10% of the U.S. population donates annually.

Not All Blood Donation Is The Same

There are several types of blood donations, and each serves a specific purpose. Blood donations can be divided into the following subsets:

  • Whole blood donation: In whole blood donation, phlebotomists collect a pint of blood from the donor. At a laboratory, this blood will be separated into its components, which include red blood cells, plasma and platelets.
  • Apheresis: For this type of donation, blood is separated into components at the time of collection so that only certain parts are collected. The rest of the blood is returned to the donor. Apheresis allows organizations to collect a higher volume of a much-needed component, such as plasma, platelets, red cells or double red cells.


What Happens To Blood Once It's Donated?

After the blood is drawn, it's kept on ice and taken to a laboratory for processing. Whole blood donations are placed in a centrifuge and spun, separating the blood into the components, which are then packaged into standardized units and used for transfusions.

Once it's been processed, the blood is labeled and stored. It's then distributed to hospitals as needed. The blood is used in transfusions for patients in need.

How Safe Is Donated Blood?

Many individuals receiving transfusions worry about the safety of donated blood. Medical technicians can allay these fears by understanding and articulating the safety procedures governing donations. These include:

  • Donor health screenings: Donors fill out questionnaires about their medical history and undergo mini physicals to ensure that they're in good health.
  • Infectious disease testing: Several test tubes of the blood collected are used to test for infectious diseases. The Red Cross' list of diseases that are screened for includes HIV, syphilis, West Nile and hepatitis B and C. Additional screening is in place for donors who live in or have visited certain geographic regions where disease agents, such as dengue viruses, are present.
  • Blood typing: All blood is typed into blood groups and Rh type. Labs also screen for atypical red cell antibodies.


The CDC notes that most patients who receive transfusions experience no side effects, and adverse reactions such as fevers or allergic responses are rare.

Who Is Eligible To Donate Blood?

Most states require blood donors to be age 17 or older, although some states may accept donations from 16-year-olds who have parental consent. Donors should weigh a minimum of 110 pounds and be in good health and feeling well at the time of the donation. Community Blood Center notes that donors should wait 56 days between donations of whole blood.

Donors should be sure to bring proper identification, such as a driver's license, and be prepared to answer questions about recent travel outside of the United States. Visits to certain regions, such as those that have a high risk of malaria, may necessitate a waiting time before you can donate blood.

Where Can People Donate?

There are two major blood donation organizations in the United States. Individuals can donate blood through donation drives sponsored by the American Red CrossAmerica's Blood Centers offers freestanding donation centers across the nation.

The Importance Of Advocacy

As a medical technician, it's important to be a knowledgeable advocate for blood donation during National Blood Donor Month and beyond, so let potential donors know that giving blood is easy, quick and relatively painless. It can also save a life.

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