Giving Blood: What’s New and What’s Not

Giving Blood: What’s New and What’s Not

Giving blood in high school was the BEST! Remember getting out of class for two periods, hanging out with all your friends waiting in line, answering all those pre-screening health questions, watching your friends wince when the needle went in, talking to the cute nurse as she treated you like royalty, then being “forced” to sit at the exit table for 15 minutes with all the snacks you could ever want, and the best part — walking around school all day with your battle wound and the “I gave blood today” sticker emblazoned on your chest.

To most of us, giving blood has since lost its illustrious appeal. It’s just “not fun” anymore to go through an hour-long process culminating in getting pricked in the inner elbow just for a sticker and bragging rights. In this post we’ll explore the ins and outs of giving blood.

Fast Facts

There are some 14.6 million blood transfusions per year in the US (2007).

An estimated 43,000 pints of blood are donated each day in Canada and the US.

Red blood cells live approximately 120 days in your circulatory system.


Before you’re even considered to give blood, you must pass certain prerequisites which depend on your state and the blood company. Typically if you’re 17 years or older you can give blood, and you can be 16 if you have your parent’s consent in some states.

You’ll have to meet the height and weight requirements, which typically require you to be 110 pounds. Women need to be heavier, especially if on the shorter side, RedCross’ website has a table: 4’10” women must be 146 pounds, 5’5” women must be at least 115 pounds. 1 pint of blood is about 1 pound, so if you’re 110 pounds, drawing 1 pint from you takes a whopping 1% of your body mass! That’s why it’s dangerous to draw blood from “smaller” individuals.

Furthermore, if you’re on certain medications like finasteride, dutasteride, isotretinoin, certain blood thinners, and others, you’ll also be ineligible. Here’s a full list. If you’ve been traveling abroad, especially in areas with Malaria, Ebola, Malaria, or West Nile virus risk, you may have to wait 28 days or up to a few years to donate. Finally, if you’re pregnant or have given blood within 6 weeks of when you want to donate, you’ll probably get deferred.

You’ll typically need to wait 12 months after getting a tattoo to give blood.

If you’re still unsure if you’re eligible, here’s a long list provided by the American Red Cross. It covers everything from acupuncture to Zika!


You survived round 1! Next comes screening questions! Keeping the national blood supply safe is important to keep recipients healthy; the FDA, blood centers, and hospitals are all held accountable for safe blood. Think of the screening questions as a first line of defense for recipients.

Typical diseases screened for include: Hepatitis BHepatitis CHIVHTLVsyphilisWest Nile virusChagas diseaseCMVMad Cow Disease, and bacterial infections. Your blood will not be used if you have any of these or other dangerous diseases, it will be anonymously tested, and the results will be sent back to you. So screening really saves everyone time.


If you can get through the physical requirements and the 30-minute-long screener questions, then actually giving blood might feel like the easy part.

The person who draws your blood is called a Phlebotomist — now that’s a fun word to say. Phlebo is Greek for “vein,” and tomy is Greek for “to make an incision.” Phlebotomists are trained to stick a needle into a vein, also known as venipunctureBecoming a phlebotomist can take less than a year, and most states do not require certification! So if you’re a vampire or just love blood, go for it!

After you’ve been successfully punctured, a small pump will draw your blood. Drawing 1 pint typically takes about 30 minutes, whereas drawing plasma can take up to two hours.

Drawing plasma takes much longer because your blood is constantly being fed back into you after the plasma has been filtered out, a process called plasmapheresis. Plasma is a clear liquid that makes up 55% of your blood; it’s composed of water, salts, enzymes, antibodies, and other proteins. These chemicals are essential to patients with certain chronic diseases such as immunodeficiency diseases and hemophilia, as well as those with trauma, burns, and shock.

Where does my blood go?

If you’re like the high school me, you probably envisioned your blood being poured into a large vat. Well, luckily that’s not the case.

Blood is generally kept in pint-sized, sterile bags until it is needed. In fact, after your blood is drawn, it’s spun through a centrifuge to separate out the red cells, platelets, and plasma. Furthermore, your plasma may be processed to extract cryoprecipitate, and your white blood cells may be removed to help prevent a bad reaction from the recipient, more on that in a minute.

More and more blood companies are allowing blood tracking features, so you can actually find out exactly who/how your blood is helping the world! You can even give blood to yourself (what?). Yup, giving blood to yourself minimizes the risk of rejection and is not uncommon for those who have an expected surgery where a lot of blood might be lost. It’s called an autologous donation, and it’s not uncommon. There are of course a few extra requirements involved.

Even after all of the screening and filtering mentioned above, anyone cannot give blood to anyone. To summarize a complicated process, there are 8 primary blood types: A+, A-, B+, B-, AB+, AB-, O+, and O-.

Blood type is passed down to you through your parent’s genes. Types A and B are dominant, type O is recessive, so you’re more likely to be type A or B even if one of your parents is type O!

EGA Associates actually had a #FactFriday back in September 2018 with distributions of blood types across Americans:

Who can Give Blood to Who?

First of all, if you have negative (-) blood, you can only receive negative blood. If you have positive blood (+), you can receive positive and negative blood.

Second of all, if you have type A blood you can take type A blood, but not type B blood. Vice versa. And, if you have type AB blood, you can take type A, B, and AB blood.

Types A, B, and AB can also take type O blood. Type O blood cannot take anything but type O blood. In summary, type O- blood can be given to anyone (universal donor), and type AB+ can accept any blood (universal recipient).

If that was confusing, watch this video or check out the table below.

If the incorrect blood type is given to you, your white blood cells might identify the new blood cells as enemies, and they will reject and attack the new red blood cells — called an ABO Incompatibility. This condition can be fatal if not detected quickly.


Blood is in constant demand throughout the US. According to the National Red Cross, some 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets, and 10,000 units of plasma are needed every day nationally. Blood only lasts a maximum of 42 days on the shelf, driving the need further.

If you are able, you should give blood! It’s a great way to anonymously help out humanity! Type O is in the strongest demand due to its versatility with patients; in emergencies when there’s no time to check a patient’s blood type, doctors will use O negative blood because anyone can take it, so if you’re O negative go donate!


Believe it or not, you can actually get paid to give blood! If you give plasma twice a week, you might be able to allegedly make up to $300 a month, not including signing bonuses! This is partly because frozen plasma can last up to a year! That’s almost as long as dino-nuggets.

Sketchy Trends and Amazing Heroes

Another growing trend in the blood world: older people buying the blood of younger people for health benefits. These health-tech startups run off of a study from Stanford which showed that blood from younger mice helped cognition and memory of older mice. Companies such as AmbrosiaAlkahest, and the Young Blood Institute are charging up to $285,000 per person to participate, and even some $8,000 per pint (sign me up as a donor!). The FDA and the scientific community have called for the end of these transfusions, shutting down many of these startups. Read the full story here.

One company, Theranos, catapulted from obscurity to having a $9 billion dollar worth, just to crash and burn to a whopping $0 over the course of a few months. Great read. Theranos isn’t the only sketchy blood-related startup, one company claims to be able to run 128 tests on one drop of blood in 15 minutes, another has a 60-second at-home blood test that can check for viruses, infections, and even cancer by using machine learning! Sound too good to be true? Yeah, because it is.

The hero we need. James Harrison, an Australian (not the NFL player), gave blood every week for some 60 years! After going through a serious operation that required donated blood, Harrison pledged to become a lifelong donor, and he did just that until the ripe age of 81! His blood actually contains a rare antibody called anit-D, which helped prevent certain diseases in newborns; his donations contributed to saving some 2.4 million lives!

Have an interesting fact about blood you want to share? Do you have a rare blood type not mentioned? Let us know in the comments!

Privatizing VA Healthcare: What to Know

Privatizing VA Healthcare: What to Know

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the debate: should the Veterans Health Administration, the largest integrated health network in the country, embrace or push way partial privatization of its health services?

It’s a fiery debate that has forced many to take a side, but what’re the underlying problems that have sparked such a debate, and why is it happening now? In this blog we’ll explore some of the untold details behind this issue so that you can be well-informed for your next argument with your co-workers at lunch.

Getting Context: Story Time!

The news story that sparked it all. We all remember that fateful week in May, 2014 when reports of a 115-day wait time for patients was discovered at the Phoenix VAMC. Not only that, but waitlists were being falsely reported to improve performance reviews for the hospital. There were even reports that some 33 veterans died while on the waiting list, which in the end were found to be unrelated. Still shocking news nonetheless.

It’s hard to forget the ensuing media frenzy of 2014, and how the US Department of Veterans Affairs was never to be the same. Whistleblowers from VA medical centers all across the country exposed internal problems in the system, by June 2014 the VA had more negative press than it could’ve imagined; there’s even an extensive Wikipedia page now documenting the entire tumultuous year (great for a midnight Wikipedia dive).

This of course led to politician’s from all sides offering their own solutions, by which point the presidential campaigns for the 2016 elections were underway — and we all remember how intense it that got.

But before we get to that, we need to define some vocabulary, namely the VA Accountability Act and Whistleblower Protection Act — both direct legislative outcomes of the 2014 scandal.

The VA Accountability Act allows for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to demote, fire, and suspend almost any VA employees for misconduct or performance reasons.

Timeline: Introduced February 11, 2014; passed May 21, 2014.

The  Whistleblower Protection Act protects VA employees from reprisal or retaliation from superiors given that they report misconduct or “whistleblow” to hire-ups.

Timeline: Signed into law April 10, 1989, All Circuit Review Extension Act (extending rights to whistleblowers) passed September 26, 2014.

The 2016 Election and the VA

Yeah, we have to talk about it. Take yourself back three years to Spring of 2016, when the Republican and Democratic Primaries were in their full swing. What a time to be alive (not).

The Clinton and Trump campaigns were diametrically opposed on most issues, including VA Healthcare. Quick refresher:

Clinton’s response to the internal problems in the VA was to revitalize and restructure the VA health system while maintaining its size and its status as the primary healthcare option for veterans.

Trump supported modernizing the VA Health system by allowing veterans to seek out-of-network care (Community Care), leading some to believe that he wanted to completely privatize the system. His ambiguity on the matter left many on edge, however it was clear his plans would include privatization to some extent.

Intermission: Other Rising Concerns for US Healthcare

Before we get into VA Healthcare post-2016, we need to talk about another problem the entire US Healthcare System is facing: a shortage of medical professionals. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, after collecting data in 2015, 2016, and 2017, there will be a shortage of between 40,000 and 120,000 medical professionals by 2030. The shortages are largely due to an aging baby-boomer population.

This shortage hasn’t left the VA health system untouched, in fact the VA already has a 12% vacancy rate among medical professionals,  49,000 vacancies of 420,000 jobs in February this year, up from 8% of 2017. This has left a tremendous strain on caregivers in VA centers around the nation, and has led to widespread third-party recruitment efforts (such as EGA Associates, the sponsor of this blog!).

Check out our Locum Tenens blog to find out one of the most interesting effects of this shortage!

Interested in a career change? Get into medicine!

BackTrack: The Trump-Era

We all know who won the 2016 election, and with that win came an ambiguous VA Health agenda that left many nervous. There was no clear direction or plan that the Trump Administration had laid out.

Democratic lawmakers have since accused their Republican counterparts of purposefully not filling vacant positions, while making it easier and easier for patients to get out of network care.

It’s no secret that privatization is on the Republican agenda. Let’s explore two ways they’re pushing in this direction:

  1. Relaxing barriers for the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) eligibility
  2. The Mission Act

The VCP is a program in which veterans can receive care from non-VA community providers at the cost of the VA. Previously, veterans had to be at least 40 miles away from their VA provider, or have a wait time over 30 days to be eligible for the VCP. The new rules proposed by the Trump administration would make it easier for veterans to participate in the program by allowing them to use it given they are more than a 30-minute drive away from their VA provider, or have a wait time over 20 days.

The MISSION Act, passed in June 2018, among many changes, allocates federal spending on the VA’s Community Care programs from mandatory to discretionary. This means that funding for Community Care programs will be on the hot seat every year, and at a cost of some 8 billions dollars a year. Remember how the government shutdown this year was stalled by funding a 5 billion dollar border wall? The act promotes privatization in many other ways, read here.

The overall trend right now for VA Healthcare is privatization, and while some love it, others hate it.

“Picking Up where the VA has Failed”

Many opponents of these privatization changes feel powerless in the face of a quickly changing VA health system. As thousands of positions stay vacant, the underlying lack of manpower behind the operations of the VA Health System appears to be taking a toll on everyday operations.

For some veterans, seeking out-of-network care is more than just about transportation time and costs, it’s a personal choice stemmed from years of cultural trauma surrounding the VA health system.

For Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain,  (check out her NYTimes response), the culture surrounding the VA often comes off as hyper-masculine. Anuradha was being treated for military sexual trauma; however, she felt that the VA environment was oftentimes counterproductive in its efforts; she was regularly mistaken for being a medical professional or the spouse of a veteran and felt uncomfortable with several interactions with doctors there.

For Anuradha, receiving Community Care outside of the VA became a possibility when her appointments were backed up 6 weeks, and she loved the care she received. To her, the option of getting care outside the VA wasn’t just more convenient, it was essential to her well-being.

It’s no secret that US military veterans have some of the highest rates of suicide among any demographic, with an approximate 20 suicides per day. It was found that between October 2017 and November 2018, 19 suicides occurred on VA campuses. Militarytimes has a great article focusing on two specific cases: both were men who were seeking PTSD treatment.

If Anuradha’s story tells us anything, it’s that getting care for PTSD and other military-related trauma can sometimes be more effective and efficient in community care centers than in VA medical centers simply because of their change-of-pace. It can be relieving for some to get a non-military health evaluation and be treated as a non-military civilian, and there’s no reason not to try it, especially given the current circumstances.

“Don’t Fix it if it ain’t Broken”

For many, the partial privatization of VA Health Care is seen as unnecessary and inefficient.

A 2014 Rand Report found that VA care is better than non-VA care in 83 different measures of quality, out-scoring non-VA care in 45 categories. VA care excelled in outpatient procedures but lacked in inpatient procedures.

Many have also praised the modern Electronic Health Records system of the VA, citing its reliability and versatility across the entire VA system. That being said, the system is currently going through a long and expensive overhaul that’s receiving a lot of criticism. There was also an incident in 2018 where a 50-year old computer system failed to administer benefits to G.I. bill recipients (facepalm).

To state the obvious, the VA is also an inexpensive alternative to aging Americans who may not yet be old enough to receive Medicare and who are do not have their own health insurance plans. Take that away, and veterans could be left with little or no options, exacerbating the homeless veterans situation. The VA is very much an economy-of-scale solution, take the scale away, and the economy part will disappear too.

There’s also been a push in recent years to increase the quality of care for women veterans. Women veterans are currently the fastest-growing demographic of veterans in the country, with the current 2 million women veteran population expected to double by 2040. Every VA center now has at least one women’s health primary care provider, and the VA has set up a women’s veteran call center, as well as possible compensation for military sexual trauma. An astonishing 1 in 4 women veterans has experienced military sexual trauma.

To state the obvious: sometimes fixing something is much simpler than completely destroying and rebuilding it and that’s the narrative of many who still believe that the VA independently can fix its problems.

It’s also a myth that veterans are flocking out of VA health systems with the new community care programs. In fact, in 2018 34% of VA appointments were outside the VA health system, a drop from 36% in 2017.

We hoped you learned a thing or two surrounding this debate, there’s a lot more to talk about and explore, so look out for a possible sequel post. Should the VA open its arms to privatization? Should the VA fall back on its previous model without privatization? Drop a comment below!

This blog was written drawing from a lot of sources! Check a few of them out directly below! NYTimes Donald Trump Is Getting It Right on Veterans CareNYTimes Saving Veterans’ Health CareMilitaryTimes ‘Setting us up to fail’ — VA blasted over unfilled health care positionsClearanceJobs Opinion: Veterans Want Autonomy in Healthcare Choices.