Careers in allied health
Allied health professionals account for approximately 60% of the healthcare and social assistance industry, which employs 20.4m Americans. Not only does this make it the nation’s largest employer, the sector is also among the fastest growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 16% growth in healthcare occupations between 2020 and 2030.
Educational requirements for allied health careers vary, with more advanced positions demanding graduate degrees. There are also numerous entry-level medical jobs that require an associate degree as a minimum requirement, and hospital jobs that require no degree or experience at all.
What is allied health?
Allied health refers to workers in the health care industry who are not nurses or physicians. Allied health professionals provide clinical services, promote wellness, and offer evidence-based diagnosis and treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Allied health careers include occupational therapists, audiologists, speech and language pathologists, physician assistants, and physical therapists.
Can I get an allied health degree?
There is a niche degree called the allied health sciences degree, usually offered as an undergraduate major. The program provides broad healthcare and healthcare administration coursework. Note though that this is not a common choice for candidates looking to enter the healthcare sector.
Allied health professions
Given the variety of careers within allied health, there are several education and training paths a candidate might take. The specific educational requirements depend on the position a student hopes to secure at the end of their studies. There are many entry-level positions that require little or no schooling, while some specialized careers require graduate degrees, even a doctorate in a few cases.
Entry-level allied health careers
When people imagine taking up a medical position, they often anticipate years of study to get there. While this may be the case with specialist roles, some entry-level allied health jobs only require a high school diploma.
Those who entered healthcare positions directly after high school may earn a college degree to progress within their chosen field. Alternatively, they might to choose to stay in this role for the duration of their career.
High-school graduates can also improve their career prospects by completing a certificate program to demonstrate competency in a particular area.
High paying medical jobs with little schooling
Approximately 30% of the careers defined by BLS as requiring a postsecondary nondegree award are healthcare related. Postsecondary nondegree awards generally lead to the awarding of a certificate demonstrating aptitude in the vocation, and can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year (or even more in some cases) to achieve.
- EMT – earn an average of $36,650 and are expected to grow by 7.1%. EMT’s are required to have a postsecondary certificate.
- Medical assistant – earn an average of $35,580, are projected to grow by 22.6% and are required to have a postsecondary certificate.
- Certified Nursing assistant – can make an average of $30,850, and are expected to grow 8.9%. Certified nursing assistants are required to have a postsecondary certificate.
- Phlebotomist – salaries average $36,320 per year, are projected to increase by 23%, and need postsecondary certificates for employment.
- Surgical technologists – take home an average of $49,710 annually, are projected to grow 8.7%, and are required to possess a postsecondary certificate.
- Dental assistant – earn an average of $41,180 annually, have a projected employment growth of 11.2%, and are required to have a postsecondary certificate.
- Licensed practical nurse – salaries average $48,820 per year, are expected to grow 10.7%, and are required to have a postsecondary certificate.
- Health information technologists – earn an average of $51,480 annually and are expected to grow 10.7% in the next decade. Those interested in this career need to possess a postsecondary certificate.
- Dental lab tech – salaries average $42,110 annually, are expected to grow 11%, and are required to hold a high school diploma.
Allied health careers that require an associate degree
Just under 27% of the careers the BLS defines as “typically requiring an associate degree” are defined as allied health. The specific associate program required depends on the job role. For example, to become a sonographer you need an associate in sonography.
The table below shows the pay and demand for some key allied healthcare roles that require an associate degree. It gives an indication of the 2-year medical degrees that pay well.
- Radiation therapists – earn and average of $82,790 annually and are expected to grow 8.6% in the next 10 years.
- Respiratory therapists – salaries average $61,830 annually and are projected to grow 20.9% over the next decade.
- Dental hygienists – take home a average of $77,810 annually and are expected to increase by 10.8% in the next 10 years.
- Cardiovascular technologists and technicians – earn an average of $60,570 annually and are expected to grow 6.7% over the next decade.
- Diagnostic medical sonographers – earn an average of $77,740 annually and are projected to grow 19.5% over the next 10 years.
- Nuclear medicine technologists – salaries average $78,760 annually and are expected to grow 6.7% over the next decade.
- Radiologic technologists and technicians – earn an average of $61,370 annually and are projected to increase by 9.0% over the next decade.
- Magnetic resonance imaging technologists – earn an average annual salary of $77,360 and are expected to increase 10.9% over the next 10 years.
- Dietetic technicians – take home an average of $29,520 annually and are projected to increase by 6.0% over the next decade.
- Veterinary technologists and technicians – salaries average $36,850 annually and are expected to increase by 19.3% in the next decade.
- Occupational therapy assistants – take home an average annual salary of $61,730 and are projected to grow 33.1% over the next 10 years.
- Physical therapist assistants – earn an average salary of $61,180 annually and are projected to grow 27.0% in the next decade.
Allied health careers that require an advanced degree
Many allied health careers require an advanced degree, usually a master’s or doctorate. These positions often command higher salaries and necessitate specialized knowledge in a particular area. Examples of allied health careers that require an advanced degree include:
Occupational therapists help patients increase their independence in everyday activities. This might include rehabilitation after a stroke or chronic illness, working with patients with developmental disabilities, or helping older adults with cognitive impairment. The job requires at least a Master’s of Occupational Therapy (MOT), though a Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (DOT) is increasingly required.
Physical therapy is among the fastest growing allied health professions, with predicted growth of 21% over the next decade. This is partly due to the aging population and need for skilled rehabilitation. Physical therapists help people with injury or illness to improve their movement and reduce pain. While a master’s degree used to be enough to practice, licensure for new physical therapists requires a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT).
Speech language pathologist
Speech-language pathologists work with patients to improve their communication and swallowing abilities. They focus on helping patients with word sounds, vocabulary, and sentence structure. As well as speech, they may evaluate related problems, such as cognitive or social difficulties. A Master’s in Speech Language Pathology (MSLP) is required for this role.
Physician assistants review patient histories, perform physical examinations, diagnose conditions, and provide treatments. They are able to prescribe medications, order diagnostic tests, and recommend other treatments. In rural or underserved communities, a physician assistant may be the primary health care provider. Over the next 10 years, demand for physician assistants is expected to grow by an estimated 31%. The career requires a Master’s of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS).
Dietician or nutritionist
Dieticians tend to work in medical settings to help with specific conditions, whereas nutritionists usually work in wellness settings. Both roles involve working with patients to help them make better food choices. To qualify for either job currently requires a Bachelor’s in Nutrition or Dietetics (BSND), although it is predicted that a master’s may soon become the minimum requirement.
Audiologists assess patients’ hearing abilities and help them obtain hearing aids or other assistive devices. Because the ears also help with balance, audiologists may also manage balance disorders and other neurologic problems. To practice, an audiologist needs a Doctorate in Audiology (AuD).
Prosthetist or orthotist
Orthotists and prosthetists design and create medical supportive devices. Orthotists specialize in supportive devices like braces, whereas prosthetists specialize in artificial body parts. Some people perform both roles, whereas others focus on a particular area. The role includes teaching the patient to use the device. This career requires at least a Master’s in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO).
» Read: Alternative careers for healthcare professionals
Working in allied health can be personally rewarding and a shrewd career move. Many allied health professions are expected to grow rapidly over the next 10 years, ensuring a plentiful job market. Those who work in the allied health professions tend to rate their work satisfaction highly, making this an excellent career choice.