Midlife Career Change? Try Allied Healthcare
The American job market is more dynamic than ever, with opportunities to find new careers even for people with decades of experience in other fields. This is particularly true in allied healthcare, with healthcare training programs offering flexible and affordable course schedules to get you into a new career within months.
Just what is it that makes allied health careers so appealing for a midlife career change or mid-career switch? We’ll break down all the details and explain what opportunities are out there for you.
What Do Allied Healthcare Professionals Do?
You may not be familiar with the term allied healthcare, but you’ve no doubt encountered these hardworking healthcare professionals in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other care facilities. They work largely in supporting and technical roles, like phlebotomists or cardiographic technicians.
While your doctor isn’t considered an allied healthcare professional, the people taking your blood, getting your medication, giving you an ultrasound, and billing your insurer usually are. Allied healthcare professionals do all kinds of things, sometimes working directly with patients, other times behind the scenes.
This translates into a wide variety of opportunities suitable for all kinds of people interested in a midlife career change. Even if you don’t think working with patients or handling needles is right for you, don’t rule out an allied healthcare career quite yet. Before we delve into individual positions, let’s look at salary, training, and other information for allied healthcare as a whole.
Allied Healthcare Salaries
While salaries obviously range between the various allied healthcare careers out there, we can look at some examples to get an idea of the range. Phlebotomists, for example, come in at the lower end, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimating their 2015 median pay at around $31,630. Occupational therapists, on the other hand, earn around $80,150 per year.
Most positions lie somewhere in between. Surgical technologists earn around $42,020 per year, while diagnostic medical sonographers earn around $69,982 on average. You can find a more detailed breakdown of the 16 highest-paid allied health careers here.
Clearly, there’s a wide range of salaries within allied healthcare. Which ones might be right for you will depend on your aptitude, how long a program you can commit to, and program requirements (more on that later). But the overall conclusion here is that there are certainly allied healthcare careers out there with competitive salaries worthy of consideration for anyone considering a career change. Now, let’s take a look at job growth and opportunities.
Hiring and Growth
Looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the overall allied healthcare field is predicted to grow much faster than the economy as a whole from 2014-2024. Even some of the slower-growing fields like medical technologists are set to grow at 16% over this period. That’s a growth rate the BLS refers to as much faster than average.
Compare that to other careers like physical therapists. Growth rates over that same period for this career are estimated at an incredible 34%. That means an extra 71,800 physical therapist jobs are expected to be added to the workforce over this decade. Looking at a wider variety of allied healthcare careers, the high growth points to why these jobs make excellent choices for a career change.
But first, you have to get to the hiring process, and that means obtaining the necessary education and qualifications. Just what do these hurdles look like for your typical allied healthcare career?
Allied Healthcare Training Programs
As you’ve no doubt come to expect, there’s a lot of variation when it comes to how much training is required to be career-ready in allied healthcare. On the low end, phlebotomy training can take as little as one month for full-time classes. Though 4-8 months is not uncommon for part-time programs. On the higher end, becoming a qualified MRI technologist can take as long as 2 years.
Compared to medical school for becoming a doctor or even a registered nurse, though, these are fast and affordable options. That’s because an undergraduate degree plus medical school along with a medical residency can easily add up to more than nine years of work before you become fully licensed. This is a major reason why allied healthcare programs are seen as an accessible way to enter a medical profession, even later in life.
As mentioned above, some of these programs are flexible, offering both day and night classes. The night classes generally take longer to complete because of the reduced daily classroom time. Your program will generally consist of a mixture of classroom instruction, lab and clinical work. Once a program has been completed, most healthcare training programs prepare you to take one or more certification exams, which can improve your chances of securing employment.
Typical Program Requirements
Now you’re probably wondering whether you have what it takes to enroll in one of these programs. This depends on your educational background and the exact program requirements, but any experience in a healthcare field or an educational background in the sciences will help. Let’s look at some examples to get a general idea of what’s required.
For many simpler programs, like phlebotomy training, the minimum requirement is a high school diploma. Other programs, like diagnostic cardiac sonography, may require an associate degree or higher. But for all of these programs, your chances of entering and ultimately completing a program successfully are bolstered with more relevant coursework like anatomy and physiology.
Now that we’ve run through the broad outlines of how allied healthcare programs operate, let’s take a closer look at some of the more popular programs to get an idea of what a midlife career change might look like.
This is one of the most popular allied healthcare careers for good reason. It’s undoubtedly the most flexible. Medical assistants learn multiple skills including phlebotomy, EKG, and medical billing.
In this sense, it’s an ideal area for anyone who’s broadly interested in a new career in medicine, but unsure whether they’re better suited to work directly with patients or in more of a support role.
That’s because medical assistants are some of the most versatile workers in not just allied healthcare, but all of modern medicine. They can take blood, perform routine check-ups, act as office administrators, handle billing and coding, and more depending on the exact nature of their workplace.
Anyone completing a medical assistant training program can expect a field that’s growing at an estimated 23% over the next decade, with a median annual salary of $30,590. But there are also some lesser-known fields within allied healthcare to consider.
These programs can take anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to complete depending on whether you’re enrolling in a certificate or degree program.
This is another fast-growing field within allied healthcare. Demand for audiologists is expected to increase 29% by 2024. This is a different kind of position. Audiologists require much more training (usually a doctorate or professional degree), but their pay scale reflects that, with expected earnings of around $74,890 per year. What does an audiologist do?
Audiologists help patients with a variety of hearing issues. For example, they can help diagnose hearing loss and help patients find the best hearing aid or surgery to correct it. Or they may work with deaf patients to consult on colloquial implants or assisting them to learn to read lips or find other ways to adapt to hearing loss.
For those looking for a new career that doesn’t require a doctoral degree, there are other positions somewhere in between the requirements for a medical assistant and an audiologist.
Becoming a neurodiagnostic technologist is a realistic goal for anyone looking to change careers in midlife. The core mission of these allied healthcare workers is to study the electrical activity of the brain and nervous system. To accomplish this, you will receive training in both working directly with patients and operating a variety of technical equipment.
This combination of technical and personal skills makes this a rigorous field. Neurodiagnostic technologists often find themselves working with patients on sleeping problems, nerve damage, and scientific studies of the brain. This variety means neurodiagnostic technologists can find themselves working anywhere from research laboratories to nursing homes.
Training programs here may be specialized and last around a year and a half or may be part of a 4-year Bachelor degree.
Diagnostic Cardiac Sonography
Another more intensive allied healthcare training program is diagnostic cardiac sonography. The sonography field broadly covers medical workers who use sonography machines to produce images of internal body organs in order to diagnose ailments. This covers everything from an ultrasound of a baby to the diagnosis of kidney problems.
Diagnostic cardiac sonographers operate sonography machines, work with patients, and help diagnose conditions. This is another allied healthcare career that requires both excellent personal skills to handle patients, as well as the technical know-how to operate the complex machinery involved.
Diagnostic cardiac sonography training programs can vary in length from as little as 14 months to as long as 2 years. Most programs will include lab time, a clinical internship, and classroom instruction. Once you’ve graduated and passed one or several of the certification and registry exams available, there are a wide variety of job opportunities available in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities.
That’s because this field is projected by BLS to grow 24% this decade. Combine that growth with a 2015 median pay rate of $63,630 per year, and it’s clear why this is one of the most popular choices for a career change in allied healthcare.
Other Allied Healthcare Career Options
The careers listed above are only a few of the wide range of options available. There are career options for pharmacy technicians, medical coders, cardiographic technicians, surgical technologists, and more.
Whether you dream of being in the operating room, helping your local hospital run more efficiently, or combating worldwide epidemics like heart disease, there are allied healthcare options for you.
You can find a full list of programs with salary, hiring, and program requirement information here. Remember, a new career in healthcare can be closer than you think.