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Exploring career paths for allied health professionals

At a glance

  • Allied health is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of health services often provided outside of a doctor’s office or a hospital.
  • Allied health professionals may include dental hygienists, audiologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and more.
  • The responsibilities of an allied health professional vary depending on the role but can include operating medical technology, communicating with patients and providing corrective or rehabilitative services.
  • If you want to further your education as an allied health professional, explore online healthcare degrees at University of Phoenix!

Allied health is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of assistive and therapeutic services. Allied health professionals use evidence-based practices and other scientific principles to provide quality care for patients.

Unlike specialists in medicine and nursing, allied health professionals help deliver health-related services you might find outside of a doctor’s office or hospital. Careers in allied health include dental hygienists, dietitians and physical therapists — anyone who promotes health and wellness in support of patient well-being.

Sometimes allied health goals are preventive. Other times, they are to restore or maintain a high level of health among a particular subset of patients.

Technicians vs. therapists

Technical and therapeutic services are two major allied health categories. To fulfill technical and therapeutic services, professionals work to connect patients with high-quality care. Technician and therapist roles differ in several ways.

As a therapist, you’ll typically spend most of your time directly interacting with patients. As a mental health therapist, for example, you might guide patients with mental health challenges through acceptance and commitment therapy. As a physical therapist, you might help a patient rehabilitate a limb after an injury.

By contrast, technicians generally spend most of their time operating medical technology. Though many technicians also spend time conversing with patients, their primary role is ensuring medical devices and technology operate correctly.

Types of allied health professions

Allied health professionals help patients address a wide range of health concerns. Whether patients experience tooth pain, blurry vision or speech challenges, allied health professionals help patients improve their quality of life, one treatment at a time.

Some of the most common allied health roles are:

  • Dietitian — Specializing in food and nutrition, dietitians provide advice for healthy eating as well as insight into the ways specific foods can affect disposition, skin health and hormonal balance.
  • Speech pathologist — A professional in speech-language pathology works with patients of all ages to overcome cognitive communication disorders and treat challenges in swallowing, language and pronunciation.
  • Dental hygienist — These professionals are licensed with a dental association and help patients prevent and treat cavities and oral disease.
  • Athletic trainer — As professionals in sports-related athletic treatment, athletic trainers specialize in the prevention of, and recovery from, sports-related injuries and conditions.
  • Audiologist — Specializing in hearing disorders and neural system balance, audiologists help patients manage hearing loss and balance disorders.
  • Emergency medical technician — These professionals in basic emergency health procedures administer lifesaving treatment as a patient is being transported to a hospital or other healthcare provider.
  • Occupational therapist — These professionals use scientific and holistic practices to help patients perform daily activities at work, school or home.

Each allied health profession is unique in the service it provides. It’s also worth noting that some careers in allied health don’t deal with patients, while others focus heavily on patient assessment, communication and treatment.

Disclaimer: University of Phoenix does not prepare students for all careers listed.

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Which professions aren’t considered allied health?

Some medical careers are not categorized as allied health positions because they operate directly in the fields of medicine or nursing. Medical doctors (including surgeons, dermatologists and others), registered nurses and pharmacists all are in this category.

Because of the overlap in responsibilities between some allied health jobs and other healthcare providers it can be confusing to determine which category a profession falls into.

Daily duties of an allied health professional

Allied health professionals handle a variety of responsibilities daily. Each of these responsibilities contributes to the overall health of patients. Allied health professionals might:

  • Take patient vitals — Measure basic bodily functions, including body temperature, pulse and respiratory rate.
  • Accommodate patient disabilities — Practice empathy and sensitivity when speaking with or providing care for patients who have a disability.
  • Diagnose health challenges — Perform assessments and reach conclusions to identify the condition or conditions that best explain a patient’s symptoms.
  • Operate medical technology — Use a medical device when providing patient care.
  • Communicate with patients and family members — Speak with both patients and their family members about a patient’s condition, treatment plan and outlook.
  • Stock medical supplies — Maintain sufficient medical supplies for use during an assessment, test, diagnostic procedure or treatment, or any other phase of patient care, preparation or cleanup.
  • Provide corrective or rehabilitative services — Use applied health best practices in offering treatment for patients who have an injury, illness or disability.
  • Educate patients — Provide supplementary education for patients to inform them of their responsibilities in the treatment or recovery process.

The exact tasks you might handle as an allied health professional will depend on your position. For example, an optometrist performs vision exams, while a physical therapist spends time guiding patients through therapeutic exercise techniques.

Requirements to become an allied health professional

You’ll need to meet some requirements before you can become an allied health professional. The exact requirements depend on the position itself. Different allied health careers call for various levels of education, experience and licensure.

Education

You may need certain education credentials before you can be considered for a career in allied health. Depending on your preferred career, a bachelor’s degree may be required. To seek out your preferred career’s education requirements, check the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website and search for your desired role. Aspiring health professionals may also obtain one or more degrees to give themselves a wide range of knowledge and skill sets to include on their resumé when applying for an allied health role.

Experience

Experience in allied health can do more than help you begin your career; it can also help you expand your long-term knowledge in the field. Experience demonstrates to employers that you’re familiar with your preferred role and that you’re capable of performing required tasks.

Hands-on experience in the following areas may help improve your skill set and eligibility for allied health roles:

  • Assessing patients
  • Providing treatment
  • Communicating with patients
  • Analyzing data collected from patients
  • Working in a clinical laboratory
  • Completing intake forms
  • Accommodating disabilities
  • Calming distressed patients
  • Complying with legal parameters in healthcare
  • Discussing the value of particular treatments

Hands-on experience allows you to work in an allied health environment with current health professionals, often as they monitor your performance and provide feedback. You’ll have a front-row seat as you watch professionals work, and you’ll learn best practices to improve your skill set and help transform you into a candidate many allied health employers value.

Hands-on experience also helps validate your desire to work in allied health. Perhaps you discover you enjoy allied health, but your skills are better applied in a therapeutic capacity instead of in a technical role. Learning about your strengths and interests, in other words, is as important as learning about a given role in allied health.

If you’re looking to gain more skill and knowledge in the field of healthcare, consider exploring the various online courses through University of Phoenix (UOPX) to see if any might be right for you and the skill set you’re looking to acquire. UOPX offers various degrees pertaining to growing your knowledge and skills in a healthcare setting. 

 

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