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What Is Allied Healthcare and What Does It Entail?

What Does “Allied Healthcare” Mean?

Monash University / Flickr / CC BY-NC

If you’re on the lookout for a fulfilling, in-demand career, you’ve probably encountered the term “allied health.” But what’s the difference between the medical and allied health sectors, and what do these jobs involve?

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

When you think of patient-facing jobs, does your mind jump to doctors and nurses? It might surprise you that an estimated 60% of US healthcare jobs 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. And unlike the required medical school to become a surgeon or physician, educational requirements for allied health can range from on-the-job training to graduate degrees. Some of these jobs are state-regulated and require special licensing or certifications while others depend more on what employers require.

Allied health includes a diverse range of professions, from surgical technologists to dental hygienists to medical billers. Though it’s difficult to provide a concrete allied health definition, most experts agree that the sector can be divided into three groups:

  • primary care workers
  • health promotion, administrative and rehabilitative workers
  • diagnostic professionals (e.g. laboratory technicians and MRI technicians).

Patients Are (Often) Key

Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists all work directly with patients, but allied health professionals, can find non-patient facing positions. For primary care workers, working with patients is a major function of their job, but the level of patient contact changes by job, workplace setup, and a wide variety of other factors.

Certain administrative workers (like medical billers) may have minimal contact with patients, while medical assistants, do double-duty in technical roles. For rehabilitative workers, working with patients is just as important as it is for a nurse. Professionals who work with testing might find work in a lab environment or could be a point of contact with the patients who are undergoing the testing.

Whether you’re a people-person or thrive behind the scenes, there’s probably a great allied healthcare role that suits you.

Where Do Allied Health Professionals Work? 

Surgical tehcnician

Many of these professionals (like phlebotomy techs, MRI techs, or ultrasound techs) work alongside doctors and nurses in hospitals or clinics. All of these workers are trained for specialized roles in testing and diagnosis.

Other allied healthcare professionals might find work in rehabilitative or preventative healthcare. You might find speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and dietitians at hospitals, specialized clinics, or private practices.

What Are Some Popular Allied Health Professions?

We’ve compiled a list of the most popular allied health careers to give you a better understanding of their range and requirements.

Cardiovascular Technologists

Advances in cardiovascular technology have led to the development of non-invasive methods to diagnose heart conditions like blockages, arrhythmias, and birth defects.

Cardiovascular technologists (also known as cardiac sonographers or vascular technologists) work with diagnostic imaging equipment to examine patients for heart-related medical conditions involving the heart. Their results provide the information that doctors need to make diagnoses. Cardiovascular tech certificate programs and associate degrees take anywhere from 2-3 years, or a bachelor’s degree is a longer option.

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

pennstatenews / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Working with state-of-the-art technology, radiologists and MRI technologists conduct diagnostic tests on patients, including x-rays, nuclear medicine, and magnetic resonance imaging.

Due to the expensive equipment, most technologists find work in hospitals. To carry out their duties, however, they require an associate degree or accredited certification program (which takes just over two years to complete). Some MRI techs even start their careers as radiologists and specialize later.

Medical Billers and Coders

Working in medical health records and information technology, billing and coding specialists are the liaison between patients, medical offices, and insurance companies. A great medical job for those who want to help people (but want to avoid the sight of blood), their tasks may include converting physicians’ notes to medical codes, processing insurance files, and contacting patients and insurance companies to ensure proper billing.

They may find a plethora of positions in doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, insurance companies, and many medical billers and coders are able to work from home.

Medical Assistants

If you can’t decide between a desk job and working directly with patients, medical assistants have the best of both worlds. This is a great position for people who want to discover medical roles they’re most passionate about. Moving between administrative work and hands-on duties, MAs can prep a patient for medical procedures, organize patient records, and draw samples – all within the same hour.

Medical Assistants

Anoto AB / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Getting your medical assistant certification in under one year is a major bonus for people who are seeking a great entry-level allied health career.

Medical Laboratory Technologist

These technologists (also known as medical laboratory scientists) analyze blood, urine, and tissue samples by operating laboratory equipment and discussing test results with physicians.

Typically, laboratory technologists require a bachelor’s degree, but technicians can find work once they complete an associate degree or one-year certificate.

Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are first responders via ambulances or at hospitals, and deal with life-or-death situations every day. EMTs are able to complete certification program training within one or two years.

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants are similar to medical assistants in that their duties span administration and patient care. One minute, they might be holding tools during dental procedures, taking x-rays, or answering phones. Dental assistants may receive on-the-job training while some states require the completion of accredited training programs.

Many dental assistants go back to school to receive their dental hygienist license, which requires a minimum of an associate degree.

Occupational Therapists

As 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 want a patient-facing career. Occupational therapists provide strategies for performing everyday activities, including those with permanent disabilities, children, seniors, and adults recovering from injury or illness.

A master’s degree in occupational therapy is necessary.

Pharmacy Technicians

If you’ve ever picked up a prescription from your local drugstore, chances are that you’ve encountered a pharmacy tech. As a pharmacist’s right hand, these allied healthcare professionals might fill scripts, take inventory, and provide customer service.

Many major drugstore chains (like Wal-Mart and Walgreens) provide on-the-job training to their pharmacy techs, but for people looking to work in more lucrative roles, a pharmacy tech training course – that takes less than one year – is a great option.

Sterile Processing Technicians

The first line of defense against infection starts with sterile processing techs (SPTs), otherwise known as a medical instrument preparer. These allied health professionals are responsible for checking and sterilizing instruments for all types of procedures. Within a year of studying, SPTs can find work at hospitals, clinics, or outpatient center.

How Do You Get an Allied Health Education?

As you can tell from our overview, educational requirements in this area of healthcare are as wide-ranging as the jobs themselves. Most of these positions, however, require either a certificate, associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree. This means that you’re probably a few years away from your dream career!

Many basic allied health education programs, however, can be completed 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.

Always be sure to check whether your school is accredited by a regional or national accrediting body that’s 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 a career that focuses on helping others, the allied healthcare sector is a great place to start. Whether you’re fascinated by the heart, the nervous system, laboratory work, disabilities, or managing healthcare records, there’s something for every personality and specialized interest.

If you’re in the New Jersey area and ready to start on your allied health career path, be sure to check out more allied health certification courses that take less than two years!

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