What is allied healthAllied health is proving to be one of the best industries for job seekers in the 21st century. While the nation stumbles out of a recession and unemployment remains high, professions within allied health continue to add jobs.

Both recent college graduates and those seeking to move into a more promising profession are finding that careers in allied health can be a safe haven in the current global financial storm. And geography is no longer a barrier to getting the education needed for an allied health profession – more and more people are earning allied health degrees and certifications by taking online classes offered by accredited colleges and universities.

But what, exactly, is allied health? The answer might surprise you.

The Majority of Healthcare Workers Are In Allied Health

Healthcare provides more than 14 million jobs in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of those jobs, about 60% — or some 8.4 million jobs – are in allied health professions, according to a University of California, San Francisco study.

Simply put, allied health includes all professions in healthcare outside of doctors, dentists and nurses. It includes about 85 different professions, ranging from audiologists and medical assistants to public health workers, athletic trainers and those who handle medical billing and coding.

Allied health workers can be found in all types of medical facilities. A diagnostic medical sonographer or radiation therapist might work in a doctor’s clinic, while EMTs and paramedics work out of hospitals. A medical assistant or phlebotomist are most often found in a physician’s office, while an occupational therapist might work in their own office or at nursing home.

And they are in demand. Of the 57 jobs that the BLS projects will grow fastest by 2020, 42% of them will be in allied health.

Some of the Fastest Growing Allied Health Careers

Here are a few allied health jobs, with growth projections and salary date from the BLS:

Audiologists. Working with the elderly or younger patients with hearing disabilities, audiologists use specialized, advanced equipment to diagnose a patient’s hearing problems. You’ll find audiologists in hospitals, doctor’s offices and clinics, as well as in some school systems. The number of audiologists is expected to increase 37% by 2020. The median pay is $66,660, with top earners making more than $102,210.

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Medical assistants. Working most often in physician’s offices, medical assistants handle a number of different duties, including taking a patient’s history and vital signs, scheduling appointments, aiding the doctor during a patient examination and giving patient’s injections under the close supervision of the doctor. The number of medical assistants is expected to increase 31% by 2020. The median pay is $28,860, with the top earners making more than $40,190.

Physical therapists. This demanding yet rewarding profession involves working with patients to recover physical abilities in the wake of accidents, a medical crisis (such as stroke or heart attack) or simply aging. Physical therapists work in hospitals and nursing homes, but often also have their own practices. The number of physical therapists is expected to jump 39% by 2020. The median pay was $76,310 in 2020, with top earners making more than $107,000.

Health informatics. Also known as medical billing and coding – or medical records and health information technicians – health informatics deals with managing patient medical records. As medical providers move more to electronic records, health informatics involves software systems that, if properly used, will help ensure accuracy and quality of records. Those working in health informatics will increase 21% by 2020. The median pay for those who work in health informatics is $32,350, with the top earners making more than $53,430.

Healthcare managers. Also known as healthcare administrators or executives, healthcare managers oversee medical facilities or departments within those facilities, planning and directing services. This professions is expected to expand by 22% this decade. The median pay for healthcare managers is $84,270, with the top earners making more than $144,000.

Why Allied Health Continues to Grow

There are many factors contributing to the strong growth of jobs in allied health.

One of the reasons is an aging Baby Boomer population. Due the sheer size of the Baby Boomer population, the fact that they are getting older is leading to the need for more healthcare. Also, Baby Boomers – thanks to the quality of healthcare today – are expected to live longer than previous generations, leading to the need for more healthcare workers.

Advances in technology have also led to job growth. Many of the jobs within allied health – respiratory therapy, for example, or a number of technician and technologist positions – require advanced technology. These jobs are continuing to grow as new technology is discovered. The same is also true of pharmaceuticals, which has led to growth in the allied health field of pharmacy.

Another area that has experienced advances is physical and occupational therapy, as patients and healthcare workers have learned the benefits of consistent therapy to help recover from medical conditions or extend physical abilities farther into older age.

None of these reasons will disappear anytime soon, making allied health an inviting industry for those seeking steady job growth and security.