Healthcare is a vital and rapidly changing industry, and you can find careers that go beyond the typical nurse or physician roles. Many of these careers are in the category known as “allied health,” and are essential to the diagnosis and delivery of healthcare.
What is allied health?
Allied health encompasses a wide range of healthcare careers that support healthcare systems in a variety of settings. These professionals work in healthcare but are distinct from doctors, nursing, medicine and pharmacy. Some of their duties could relate to nutrition, diet, health promotion, and analyzing patient diseases and disorders. They could also contribute to patient rehabilitation and health system management.
What are some allied health careers?
About 60% of all healthcare professions are in allied health, according to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). The Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions (ASAHP) lists 55 careers in allied health, some of which include:
- Dental assistants and dental hygienists
- Healthcare administrators
- Medical assistants
- Medical billers and coders
- Occupational and physical therapy assistants
- Radiologic, surgical and cardiovascular technologists
Where can you work?
An allied health professional could work almost anywhere that healthcare or wellness services are provided, but the exact location and availability are often based on the position, education level and experience. For example, surgical technologists work in hospitals, ambulatory care centers or small medical practices. Others, like medical assistants, can work in clinics, nursing care facilities, government institutions and schools, or even travel to different facilities where they’re needed. If you are interested in working in a specific setting, you should research which allied health careers work in that environment.
What is the difference between medical and allied health professionals?
While medical and allied health professionals often work in tandem, they have different roles and responsibilities.
Medical professionals – such as doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists – are generally focused on diagnosing and treating illnesses. They often work one-on-one with patients to identify solutions and provide care.
Allied health professionals will often collaborate with medical professionals to provide quality patient care and their work can be complementary to a physician’s care plan. Some of their duties can also include tasks that allow other healthcare professionals to more efficiently carry out their work. For example, radiologic technicians provide X-rays and images that help doctors and other providers diagnose conditions. Other allied health positions – such as a medical biller – don’t require direct patient care, but their work managing administrative and operational duties allows doctors, nurses and others to focus on patients.
Another important difference is that many careers in the medical profession can take several years of education, with some requiring advanced degrees. You don’t need as much educational background to start working in an allied health position. For example, Herzing offers many allied health degree programs that can be completed two years or less, as well as degree pathway options that allow you to continue your education and potentially advance your career.
What qualities are needed to work in allied health?
Here are a few of the attributes that employers look for in an allied health professional:
- Personable. Depending on your field, you might spend a lot of time interacting one-on-one with patients. Patients might be nervous coming into your healthcare organization, so by being personable you can help them feel more at ease. By learning a patient’s name, figuring out what questions they have or by simply listening to them, you can create a positive environment.
- Effective Communicator. Many times, an allied health professional has to work with complex medical information. They must be able to understand this information and communicate it to others, both verbally and in writing. They should be able to simplify concepts and terms for patients to understand while also using proper industry terminology with medical personnel and other coworkers.
- Team Player. Being a team player is vital to a successful career in allied health because all healthcare professionals share a common goal of serving patients and making sure they get the best quality of care possible. Being a good collaborator and maintaining a positive attitude helps ensure that everyone can work together toward these common goals.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.