Meet the BAMA Team: Ana Paula Nicolay, Phlebotomy Externship Manager 

Phlebotomy at BAMA Institute
Ana Paula is the Phlebotomy Externship Manager at BAMA Institute

In the first of our articles profiling staff working at BAMA Institute, we’re happy to meet up with Ana Paula, who is the school’s Phlebotomy Externship Manager, and ask her a few questions about the externship portion of the Phlebotomy Technician Course.

How do BAMA Institute phlebotomy students gain real-world experience?

As the Phlebotomy Externship Manager, I’m in charge of placing students who have completed the didactic portion of their program training into clinical rotations with employers, either at hospitals or in private clinics. BAMA Institute works closely with employers to provide these opportunities for students so they have real on-the-job work experience once they complete training. 

Many students may be new to healthcare. What should a student expect to do in a phlebotomy externship?

Students perform tasks in a real-world, healthcare setting, including checking in with patients, greeting them, running vitals, doing blood draws, making connections with patients, being on your feet, being ready for administrative work, and other staff tasks during downtime. 

What should a student expect to do in an MA externship? 

Students again would run vitals, checking in patients, cleaning up examination rooms, taking and recording a patient’s blood pressure, and they may do blood draws too, if the site allows for phlebotomy.

What can a student do to prepare for their externship?

A student should pass the course, pass the NCCT certification exam as soon as they complete the course, and provide the school with all of their immunizations. It really helps if the student is detail oriented and asks questions. Being ready and flexible with availability for the employer externship site is key and also understanding that it is going to be a full-time externship position that requires they work to gain experience. If a student wants to do an externship at a clinic and they know that preparation means being on top of their work, then the student should provide all the paperwork and documents we’re asking for on time so that we can get the student placed. After that, following-up with our team to let us know how they’re doing—that’s the ideal student.

What advice would you give to a student going on an externship?

Don’t be afraid. Just ask all the questions. Remember that you’re there to learn and the site understands that and they wouldn’t have accepted you as an extern if they didn’t want to work with you. Definitely ask your peers questions, talk to your supervisor, and talk to the staff there at the site and just make the networking as positive as possible. 

What are some common mistakes that students should avoid?

Don’t assume that it’s all for you. You need to share with others and network. Remember that you are out there working with other people and you have to work as a team. Network, as these could be future employment contacts. I think another mistake is not coming in prepared, coming in late, and not really communicating with staff ahead of time. 

What are some resources that students can use during their externship search?

Help us help you. I always tell students to network with their classmates or even find volunteer work. Maybe even your family members have friends that know someone in the medical field and just talk to them. Also, just Google sites in the area where you live. Students see how difficult it is to find a site and I kind of like it because then they see how much work we put in. When students do their own research, they can appreciate the opportunity. If a student provides us with a list of sites, that gives us a prompt like: “Oh great, you’re open to these locations, now we can call them.”

How do you support students?

My role is sometimes like that of a guidance counselor. I guide students in letting them know what they’ll need. If they’re struggling monetarily or if they’re really stressed out, I can listen, but I’m not an actual licensed therapist. Sometimes, though, I can suggest an idea or provide the student with different options.

How long does the overall process usually take for students to find an externship?

If they want to do a phlebotomy externship on the BAMA Institute campus, they can start as soon as they’re done with the NCT. If they want an outside site (hospital/clinic) it could take two-to-three months depending on the site and waitlist.

What is one thing you would like to tell students before they start their externship search?

Make sure it’s a site that you’re really comfortable with; have you researched it? Have you heard of reviews from other students? Have you asked our staff what they’ve heard from other students? This is because we want to make sure it’s an environment that the student wants to be a part of. We want to make sure the student knows what type of clinic or hospital they’re going to and that they will make a difference.

Do people usually stay in San Francisco when looking for externships or do they go out to different cities?

Mostly, San Francisco, but we do have East Bay sites. We also have externship sites in the South Bay (Gilroy, San Jose, Milpitas, etc). 

What is something that students often struggle with during their externship search? 

Having sites say, “Yes, we’ll take you as an extern”–that’s one of the biggest obstacles. Sometimes it’s because the site might want to connect with our team first and really learn about BAMA Institute, and other times the site is short staffed and they can’t take an extern. 

What institutions do BAMA Institute work with to connect students with employers in the externship program?

For medical assistant students, we work with Sand Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco City Clinic, Chang Hospital, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and private clinics throughout the Bay Area.

For phlebotomy students, we place them in many of the same institutions, plus we have opportunities on campus. I work with phlebotomy students and my colleague Michael Tegio works with medical assistant students to place them on externships.

What are the different externship site environments?

Sand Francisco General Hospital offers a range of services, including for HIV/AIDS. San Francisco City Clinic also offers a range of services for HIV/AIDS, LGBT community services, and young adult services. We have a site that offers services for fertility and another for podiatry. There is a range to choose from.

How has the pandemic affected externship placements? 

It helped BAMA Institute be more innovative in figuring out what we can do for students. Some of our sites are closed for externships because of COVID-19. We understand they cut a lot of the staffing because of COVID-19, so that’s the reason many sites were closed. When COVID-19 first hit, it was all online classes, and then we introduced the hybrid mode, which I think has been really great for our students because they still have that chance to complete and not miss out on that training.

What is a typical workday like for you?

A typical day starts with my checking emails and responding to students’ inquiries, confirming rotations are all aligned, and confirming to the students that are about to go out on externship about the onboarding process. There are also team check-ins, morning staff meetings, and department goals. I check in on the different cohorts and try to do it daily when needed, such as checking in on their status or immunizations and checking on students’ portals for any new documents uploaded. Basically, a lot of paperwork, but digital. 

What is the best part of your job?

The best part is being able to work with colleagues. Being with the externship team is the best because we keep each other going. It’s nice to have that solid foundation. Currently, I’m also working to create a better, more efficient platform called “Humanity” for smoother lab placement sign-ups.