The term “allied health” (or health-related professions, at some institutions) is used to identify a cluster of health professions, encompassing a multitude of careers. There are 5 million allied health care providers in the United States, who work in more than 80 different professions and represent approximately 60% of all health care providers, but this is just a drop in the bucket in terms of how many allied health care workers are needed to meet current and future healthcare needs in America.
When you work in allied health, you are involved (directly or indirectly) with patient health, and you are regarded as an expert in your field. Some allied health professionals practice independently; others work as part of a health care team, providing evaluation and assessment of patient needs. They also play a major role in informing the attending clinician of the patient’s progress and response to treatment.
The allied health professions fall into two broad categories: technicians (assistants) and therapists/technologists. Technicians are trained to perform procedures, and their education lasts less than two years. They are required to work under the supervision of technologists or therapists. This part of the allied health field includes physical therapy assistants, medical laboratory technicians, radiological technicians, occupational therapy assistants, recreation therapy assistants and respiratory therapy technicians.
The educational process for therapists or technologists is more intensive and includes acquiring procedural skills. In addition, students learn to evaluate patients, diagnose conditions, develop treatment plans and understand the rationale behind various treatments in order to judge their appropriateness and potential side effects. Educational curricula teach students to evaluate patients’ responses to therapy and make appropriate decisions about continued treatment or modification of treatment plans.
Information from Explore Health Careers, online at www.explorehealthcareers.org