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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course The Story of Phlebotomy: A Historical Perspective. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Physician letting blood from a patient - France late 13th Century

Introduction

Etymologists have established the origin and basic elements of the term phlebotomy to be from the Greek words phleps (vein) and tome (a cutting). The earliest known use of the word referred exclusively to “therapeutic” bloodletting. It wasn’t until around the 20th century that the definition was expanded to include the taking of blood for diagnostic purposes. While its etymology has generally been accepted, the history of the procedure as a medical modality is best epitomized by a phrase coined by Sir Winston Churchill: “ . . . A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Phlebotomy, or blood letting, more than likely originated from religious ceremonies. Diseases were thought to be caused by evil spirits and demons. The physician-priest (known by many different titles, for example, witch doctor) was called upon to drive out these supernatural causes. Bloodletting was one of the methods used to cleanse a sick person’s body of these nebulous impurities.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons