What’s the Difference Between Medicine and Allied Healthcare?
Are you looking to join the healthcare field and are exploring your options? Should you choose medicine or allied healthcare? We know the feeling. Choosing a healthcare profession that suits you can be frightening when you don’t have all the information.
Allied healthcare and medicine are very different in terms of work roles and learning pathways, but they also complement each other. While medicine plays a key role in providing patients with medical care that improves their lives, allied healthcare is in the core of many of the treatments provided.
So if you’re looking for healthcare career ideas or are wondering what the difference between medicine and allied health is, keep reading.
What Is Medicine?
Generally speaking, medicine both studies and treats human diseases and injuries and typically involves doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists. These professionals play key roles in diagnosing illnesses with the aim of treating symptoms and preventing the worsening of patient conditions.
Human health is at the core of medicine, and is viewed from both the physical and mental point of view. Medical professionals draw their knowledge from biology, pharmacology, and medical research, and some specializations may take up to 15 years to complete!
When choosing a focus, it is imperative that you think carefully. For example, becoming a general practitioner will require different time dedication, schooling, and finances than a plastic surgeon.
Who Are Medical Professionals?
Medical professionals often fall into one of the following categories: general medicine, dental medicine, or pharmacy.
Simply put, general medicine provides general and preventive care. This branch of medicine provides primary treatment for patients with chronic or acute conditions affecting any of the body’s systems. Examples of such conditions are asthma, pneumonia (respiratory system), and diabetes (endocrinological system). In addition, they provide preventive care such as cholesterol or colonoscopy screening, immunization vaccines, and sexually transmitted diseases.
When we seek medical care, general practitioners are the medical professionals we contact first. GPs are physicians without specialization in a particular medicine field. These professionals provide routine medical care for the diagnosing and treatment of illnesses and injuries which don’t require surgery or sub-specialist intervention.
What you don’t see on TV, however, is the paperwork. General practitioners have to document nearly everything, from prescribed medications and procedures completed to each patient interaction.
Every future doctor must obtain a pre-medical (undergraduate) degree, which typically takes around 4 years. The actual medical degree, or MD, will demand another 4 years. What’s more, to operate as a general practitioner, you will need to complete a residency program.
Nurses have a dynamic and diverse job path. They are typically responsible for recording and interpreting patient information, performing physical examinations, administering medications, and diagnosing and treating minor afflictions.
Nurses may work in a variety of locations, including delivery wards, intensive care and surgery units in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and more. Working hours vary depending on the type of health care environment in which nurses work. These healthcare professionals working in clinics and physician’s offices often have traditional 9 to 5 shifts, but might need to be on call or answer patients’ questions long after their shift is over.
Nurses who work in busy departments such as ICUs, emergency rooms, or labor and delivery wards could have shifts that last from 8 to 24 hours. They may also be called in to work at night, especially in case of an emergency.
Dentists are the heroes we don’t know we need until tooth pain comes on suddenly. Dentistry, however, deals with much more than just teeth. In fact, many issues related to the human skill require a dentist’s expertise. There are plenty of dental specializations to choose from such as implant surgery, oral diseases, oral radiology, and pathology.
Becoming a dentist can be a challenging journey, involving a bachelor’s and dental degree. Generally, there are two degrees that dental schools offer: Doctor of Dental Medicine and Doctor of Dental Surgery. Both degrees take at least four years to complete.
Pharmacy is a sub-discipline of medicine focused on the use, distribution, and manufacturing of drugs. Pharmacists need to have deep knowledge of various medicines, their effects, and how they react with each other. Their main job responsibility is to provide pharmaceutical care and promote wellness. In addition, some pharmacy professionals are involved with the research and development of new drugs.
Future pharmacists can expect to spend at least seven years of studying to receive their Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
How Is the Allied Healthcare Educational Path Unique?
Allied health offers a wide range of healthcare career options that don’t require a medical degree, most of which are suitable for high school graduates or people possibly seeking a healthcare career change. Though learning pathways may differ, allied healthcare provides affordable and efficient study options which typically take less than four years to complete.
Most occupations call for short education courses or training in the form of certification programs, associate degree programs, or on-the-job training.
Who Are Allied Healthcare Professionals?
Allied healthcare, in brief, involves health professions that are distinct from traditional medical health providers (i.e. doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists). Allied health careers cover an extensive range of medical work and positions. For example, MRI techs and surgical techs work in collaboration with doctors and nurses, while physical and occupational therapists work independently from them.
Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
The field of clinical laboratory technology covers the process of performing, collecting, and processing laboratory tests. Professionals fall into two main categories: clinical laboratory technicians and clinical laboratory technologists.
Technicians typically conduct routine lab tests on blood, body fluids specimens, and tissues. These professionals usually work under the supervision of physicians, scientists, or expert technologists. Some of the responsibilities of clinical lab technologists may include interpreting data, matching blood samples, and performing complex analyses.
To become a lab technician, you need either an associate degree or a certificate in laboratory technology. Most programs involve courses in hematology, biology, and chemistry.
Based on the growth outlook, lab technicians are among the most sought after healthcare professionals. If you’ve always imagined yourself wearing a white coat and working in a laboratory, this is a career worth considering.
To work as a clinical laboratory technologist, you must have a bachelor’s degree in life sciences. The program involves math, chemistry, and microbiology. Many states also require lab technologists to obtain a certification and/or license to practice.
Dental Hygienists and Assistants
Dental hygienists provide oral care under the supervision of a dentist. Their job often includes cleaning teeth by removing stains and plaque, taking x-rays, examining a patient’s oral health, and educating patients on oral health and hygiene.
To become a dental hygienist, you need an associate degree in dental hygiene. These programs typically take 2 years to complete, and combine classroom education and an internship.
A dental assistant is responsible for many tasks in a dentist’s office. Their duties and work scope vary by state and dental office. Some of the responsibilities of a dental assistant may include preparing patients for procedures, assisting during treatments, performing office tasks and completing lab tasks (under supervision).
To become a dental assistant in some states you are required to complete an accredited dental assistant program and obtain a state license. Most dental assisting programs take 9 to 12 months to complete.
Radiologic technology professionals perform medical diagnostics with diagnostic images and administers radiation therapy treatments. Depending on acquired training and education, the field is divided into radiology technicians and technologists.
Radiology technologists perform advanced imaging and may specialize in a particular diagnostic field like mammography, sonography, radiation therapy, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They are also involved in preparing patients for image examinations, employing protection devices, and keeping patient records.
To work as a radiologic technologist you need a certificate or an associate degree from an accredited institution. Some of the courses may include physiology, anatomy, and radiation protection. These programs typically take 1 to 3 years to complete.
Some allied healthcare programs offer MRI training in approximately 2 years and involve a blend of classroom and internship-based education.
Pharmacy technicians are key members of any pharmacy, and work side by side with pharmacists to prepare and dispense medications to patients. Pharmacy techs most often work in local pharmacies, but mayalso find work in hospitals and nursing homes. While these professionals can learn via on-the-job training, pharmacy tech certification is often preferable to employers, and can be obtained after a 3 to 6 month certificate program.
Some pharmacists start out as a pharmacy technician. Pharmacists and pharmacy techs share the same workplace, but differ in terms of responsibility and education. The skills that you’ll acquire as a pharmacy technician can help you make the first steps into a more clinically-focused role if that’s where your focus lies.
Emergency Medical Service Professionals
Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are ‘heroes’ who provide medical health outside of the hospitals. They have a very intense job and you can often see them operating from ambulances, fire trucks or even helicopters. EMTs and paramedics provide care and transportation for patients who have medical emergency.
To work as an emergency medical professional, you need to complete an EMT or EMT-Paramedic training program. EMTs learn skills such as oxygen administration, CPR, and treating external wounds. EMT paramedics undergo more advanced education and are further trained on giving medication, airway management, and electrocardiographic monitoring.
Your Path to a Healthcare Career
The long and short of it is that allied health and medicine absolutely have their differences. Practicing medicine requires high levels of education, and obtaining a medical degree takes much longer than most other studies.
If you dream of a career in healthcare but don’t love the idea of rigorous education and training for the next 6 to 13 years, consider a fast and affordable allied healthcare certificate program.
Many allied healthcare professionals, driven by personal goals for professional growth, choose to continue their education later on. Many will pursue further education after discovering where their real passion lies.
Looking to kickstart your allied healthcare career? Check out 8 healthcare certificates that you can obtain in 1 year or less!