It is natural for first-time blood donors to be a little fearful of the process, especially if they haven’t been around a blood donation drive or center. Those that make the leap and donate blood get to leave feeling good in the knowledge that their donation will help save lives. 

To ease those first-timer fears, it is helpful to know exactly what to expect when you show up to donate. 

What to Expect at Your Donation

  1. Registration. This is usually a station staffed by a trained professional who will walk you through the process of signing in, showing ID, and reading some required information before you begin. 
  1. Health History and Mini-Physical. These days, questions can be filled out online, via a paper form, or with assistance via private interview. A nurse will also give you a general health check, including checking your heart rate, blood pressure, and doing a finger-stick test which tests to make sure you are not anemic. 
  1. The Donation. Although the entire process takes about an hour, the actual donation portion usually only takes about 8 to 10 minutes! You will be seated in a comfortable reclining chair while a nurse accesses a vein in your arm with a sterile, disposable needle. Your blood will then flow from the needle through tubing into a sterile collection bag. It is easier for the nurse to find your vein if you are very well hydrated prior to the donation. 
  1. Refreshment and Recovery. It’s now time for the best part – cookies! (Or some type of snack). The center will provide you with a little refreshment while you rest, and they observe you to make sure you are ok. They will want to make sure you are not light-headed and that your arm doesn’t bleed at the insertion site. 
  1. Testing. Your blood is then tested for a list of transmissible conditions. This is standard for all donations and is done to protect the recipient from contracting any blood-borne diseases. Your blood is then sent to one or more patients in need!

After your blood donation, be proud of your accomplishment! The center will normally send you some communication about your test results, a thank you card, sometimes a T-shirt or other token of appreciation. They will also help you remember when it is safe for you to donate again. Many people become lifetime blood donors and have helped hundreds of people!

Karen Stockdale, RN, has more than 20 years experience in healthcare. She is also a medical and technical writer and editor.