Why Allied Health Is A Growing Career Field
Allied health is an umbrella classification for a range of health professions, all of which fall outside the core occupations of doctor, dentist and nurse. It includes dozens of professions and offers jobs for people who have attained a variety of education levels, from certificates to associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
An estimated 6 million allied health care providers in the U.S. work in more than 80 different professions, representing about 60% of the total healthcare workforce. And many of these professions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are going to expand even more in the coming years.
The causes of this continued growth are the same as for other health care fields. The aging but still active Baby Boomer population requires more health care. Less expensive outpatient care, under which most allied health fields fall, is attractive to both patients and insurers. In addition, advances in medical technology fuel the need – and opportunities – for more allied health professionals.
Allied Health Occupations Fall Into Two Major Categories
Generally speaking, there are two broad categories of allied health professionals – technicians (assistants) and therapists/technologists.
Typically, technicians – jobs such as physical therapy assistant, medical laboratory technician, radiological technician and respiratory therapy technicians – require two years of education, less for some positions. They work under the supervision of technologists or therapists.
Therapists and technologists must pursue a more intensive educational process, learning to evaluate patients, diagnose conditions, develop treatment plans and understand the various treatments in order to judge their appropriateness and potential side effects.
There are also jobs for people who attain master’s degrees — such as physical and occupational therapists or healthcare administrators — and for those who achieve doctorates, such as pharmacists.
Students and job seekers who never would have considered a traditional medical career path, such as becoming a doctor or nurse, very well might find an allied health field suited to their individual interests.
A Variety of Allied Health Careers
Active types may find their niche as a physical therapist or athletic trainer. Those drawn to the arts could consider art, music or dance therapy, or look into becoming a medical illustrator or photographer. Are you a whiz with computers or new technology? A career as a health information technician or administrator may be for you.
Among the careers falling under the allied health classification are athletic training, cardiovascular perfusion technology, cytotechnology, dental hygiene, diagnostic medical sonography, dietetics, emergency medical sciences, health administration, health information management, medical technology, nuclear medicine technology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant, radiation therapy technology, radiography, rehabilitation counseling, respiratory therapy, respiratory therapy technology and speech-language pathology and audiology.
Allied Health Careers Salary and Growth Outlook
Growth is anticipated in nearly every allied health care field, as in health care careers overall. The BLS projects that all of the following allied health careers will have growth of more than 25% by 2020: medical assistants, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, physician assistants, respiratory therapists and respiratory therapy technicians, athletic trainers, surgical technologists, clinical laboratory technologists, medical and health services managers and dietitians and nutritionists.
Salaries, of course, vary widely, depending on the position and its duties.
Medical assistants are at the lower end of the range, averaging $28,860 in 2010, according to the BLS. Diagnostic medical sonographers represent the upper tier, with a median average salary of $64,380. Athletic trainers are in the middle, with median annual pay of $41,600.
Likewise, education requirements are vary greatly depending on the specific field.
Many medical assistants are high school graduates who learn on the job. Bachelor’s and even master’s degrees are common in the field of athletic training. Diagnostic medical sonographers often need only a two-year degree, although certification usually is required.
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