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What Does “Allied Healthcare” Mean?

What Does “Allied Healthcare” Mean?

Monash University / Flickr / CC BY-NC

If you’re on the lookout for a fulfilling, well-paid career that’s in demand, you can’t escape the term “allied health.” But what does allied healthcare mean? What’s the difference between regular healthcare and allied healthcare, and what do these jobs include?

Allied health includes a diverse range of professions, from physical therapists to dental hygienists to emergency medical technicians (EMTs). To top it off, educational requirements can range from on-the-job training to graduate degrees – so if you’re confused, you’re definitely not alone.

Let’s take a look at where the term comes from, what it means in healthcare today, and most importantly, what it can mean for your future career.

What Is Allied Health?

What Is Allied Health?

Katrin Gilger / Flickr / CC BY-SA

You’re not the first person to ask that question. In fact, healthcare professionals have been trying to answer it as far back as the 1970s. Does your mind jump to doctors and nurses when you think of healthcare jobs? Your assumptions might be wrong: it’s estimated that 60% of the healthcare jobs in the US are actually allied health positions.

Broadly speaking, allied health encompasses the jobs that fall outside the traditional healthcare professions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists. But as the above article says, “Even in the health care community there is considerable confusion about which fields fall under the rubric of allied health.”

In the 1970s, the National Commission on Allied Health Education tried to establish an allied health definition. Nearly a decade later, the term still wasn’t in common usage and few professional groups agreed on definitions.

But one result of these debates was sorting allied health professions into three groups: primary care workers; health promotion, administrative and rehabilitative workers; and diagnostic professionals (such as laboratory technicians and MRI technicians).

Some allied health jobs are regulated state governments, requiring licensing or certification, while others depend more on what employers require.

The History of Allied Healthcare

Where did the field of allied healthcare come from?

The years following the Second World War brought major advancements in healthcare, including new and complex methods for diagnosis and treatment, and new ways of delivering these services, offering treatment at doctors’ offices and various local health care facilities for procedures that had previously been limited to hospitals.

New professions to aid the delivery of these services sprung up – roles for workers assisting doctors, nurses and dentists. While many of these jobs were initially theoretically based, today allied health jobs are largely practice-oriented.

Patients Are (Often) Key

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists all work directly with patients. With allied health professionals, this can vary. For primary care workers, obviously, working with patients is the major function of their job. But for other workers, the level of patient contact can vary by job, by your workplace setup, or even by day.

Some administrative workers may have minimal contact with patients, while others, like medical assistants, do double-duty in technical roles. For rehabilitative workers, working with patients is just as important as for a nurse or primary care worker. Professionals who work with testing may work in a lab environment, or may have contact with the patients who are undergoing the testing.

Whether you’re a people-person or thrive behind the scenes, there’s likely an allied healthcare role suitable for you.

What Do People Do in Allied Healthcare Jobs?

How does an allied healthcare worker spend the day?

Allied health workers take on a wide variety of roles. Some workers work at desk jobs, like medical assistants and billing and coding specialists.

Some workers do life-saving work at the front lines of the most fast-paced areas of healthcare, like emergency medical services personnel and surgical technicians.

Surgical tehcnician

Many work in various jobs alongside doctors and nurses in hospitals or clinics, such as MRI technologists, diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiographic technicians and phlebotomy technicians. All of these workers are trained for specialized roles in testing and diagnosis. Dental hygienists fulfill a related support role in a dentistry clinic.

Other allied healthcare professionals work in rehabilitative or preventative healthcare, where they might be found at a hospital, specialized clinic or private practice, including speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and dietitians.

Which Jobs Are on an Allied Health Professions List?

Let’s take a look at some of the jobs that fall under the allied health umbrella.

Cardiovascular technologists

Advances in cardiovascular technology have led to the development of new methods to diagnose heart conditions. Cardiovascular technologists, also known as sonographers, work with non-invasive diagnostic imaging equipment, examining patients for medical conditions involving the heart and preparing summaries for doctors. They may also assist with surgical procedures. Training for this job can be completed in a two-year certification program or bachelor’s degree.

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

pennstatenews / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Working with radiologic technology, radiologists and MRI technologists conduct diagnostic tests on patients, including x-rays and MRIs. Some MRI technologists begin as radiologists, specializing later. In this rapidly-growing field, most technologists work in hospitals, and require an associate degree or accredited certification program.

Medical Billing and Coding Specialists

Working in medical record services, billing and coding specialists support the work of hands-on medical personnel by working with patient health records and insurance. A great medical job for those with weak stomachs, their tasks may include converting physicians’ notes to medical codes and processing insurance files; they may work in doctors’ offices, hospitals, insurance companies or even facilities like nursing homes.

Medical Assistants

Medical Assistants

Anoto AB / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

For those who can’t decide between a desk job and working with patients directly, medical assistants combine the best of both worlds, moving between administrative work and hands-on duties that might include preparing patients for a doctor or specialist, treating wounds or analyzing samples. They’ll also work with patient records and administrative tasks. Medical assistants can complete certification in as little as nine months.

Medical Laboratory Technologist

Working with clinical laboratory technology, these technologists are also known as medical laboratory scientists. They analyze samples, including blood, urine and tissues, operating laboratory equipment and discuss test results with doctors. Typically, laboratory technologists require at least a bachelor’s degree, while technicians may require an associate degree or a one-year certificate.

Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics

Emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, are on the scene as first responders in an ambulance or hospital, dealing with life-or-death situations daily. EMTs can complete training from a certification program in one or two years. Emergencies and natural disasters mean that this profession is expected to grow.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists work alongside dentists, cleaning teeth, taking x-rays and discussing dental health with patients. Nearly all work in dentists’ offices, and usually require a three-year associate degree; every state requires hygienists to be licensed.


Dietitians work in the field of dietetic services, using their knowledge of the science of food and nutrition to improve patients’ health, prevent and manage chronic diseases and obesity. They work in a range of places from hospitals to clinics to schools, with some being self-employed.

Speech-language pathologists and audiologists

The field of speech-language pathology and audiology services is a rewarding field for those interested in disability or rehabilitative medicine, identifying and treating communication disorders or problems with hearing or balance. These professions normally require a master’s or doctoral degree.

Physical Therapists

Helping people recover from illness and injury, physical therapy is an important part of rehabilitation and prevention of further injury. Physical therapists treat people managing a wide range of conditions, including but not limited to back and neck injuries, sports injuries, arthritis and neurological conditions.

Students generally complete a three-year graduate degree following a bachelor’s degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.

Occupational Therapists

One of the most highly-trained, and highly-paid jobs in allied health, occupational therapy is a field with lots of potential for those who love working with patients. Occupational therapists lead patients through strategies for performing everyday activities, including people with permanent disabilities, children, seniors, and adults recovering from injury or illness. A master’s degree is needed.

How Do You Get an Allied Health Education?

As you can tell from the overview of some allied health jobs, the educational requirements in this area of healthcare are as varied as the range of jobs out there. Still, most of these positions require either a certificate, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, meaning you’re likely a maximum of a few years away from your dream career – or even as little as a month!

Choose a program that suits your needs – many basic allied health education programs let you complete training in a year or less, making them an ideal choice for people considering a career change. For adult learners, many certification programs offer part-time or evening course options to accommodate working students or students with family obligations.

Ensure your school is accredited by a regional or national accrediting body that is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Some professions may also require licensing or certification through a professional board.

Why Choose Allied Healthcare?

For those who want to spend their career helping others, the field of allied healthcare offers something to suit every personality or specialized interest. Whether you’re fascinated by the heart, the nervous system, laboratory work, disabilities or managing healthcare records, there’s a job in allied health targeting your interests.

If you’re ready to check out some of the programs that can start you out on your allied health career path, take a look at the range of programs offered by AIMS Education.

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