What Is Allied Healthcare and What Does It Entail?
If you’re on the lookout for a fulfilling, in-demand career, you’ve probably encountered the term “allied health.” But what’s the difference between the medical and allied health sectors, and what do these jobs involve?
Let’s take a look at where the term comes from, what it means in healthcare today, and most importantly, what it can mean for your future career.
What Is Allied Health?
When you think of patient-facing jobs, does your mind jump to doctors and nurses? It might surprise you that an estimated 60% of US healthcare jobs are actually allied health positions.
Broadly speaking, allied health encompasses the jobs that fall outside the traditional healthcare professions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists. And unlike the required medical school to become a surgeon or physician, educational requirements for allied health can range from on-the-job training to graduate degrees. Some of these jobs are state-regulated and require special licensing or certifications while others depend more on what employers require.
Allied health includes a diverse range of professions, from surgical technologists to dental hygienists to medical billers. Though it’s difficult to provide a concrete allied health definition, most experts agree that the sector can be divided into three groups:
- primary care workers
- health promotion, administrative and rehabilitative workers
- diagnostic professionals (e.g. laboratory technicians and MRI technicians).
Patients Are (Often) Key
Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists all work directly with patients, but allied health professionals, can find non-patient facing positions. For primary care workers, working with patients is a major function of their job, but the level of patient contact changes by job, workplace setup, and a wide variety of other factors.
Certain administrative workers (like medical billers) may have minimal contact with patients, while medical assistants, do double-duty in technical roles. For rehabilitative workers, working with patients is just as important as it is for a nurse. Professionals who work with testing might find work in a lab environment or could be a point of contact with the patients who are undergoing the testing.
Whether you’re a people-person or thrive behind the scenes, there’s probably a great allied healthcare role that suits you.
Where Do Allied Health Professionals Work?
Many of these professionals (like phlebotomy techs, MRI techs, or ultrasound techs) work alongside doctors and nurses in hospitals or clinics. All of these workers are trained for specialized roles in testing and diagnosis.
Other allied healthcare professionals might find work in rehabilitative or preventative healthcare. You might find speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and dietitians at hospitals, specialized clinics, or private practices.
What Are Some Popular Allied Health Professions?
We’ve compiled a list of the most popular allied health careers to give you a better understanding of their range and requirements.
Advances in cardiovascular technology have led to the development of non-invasive methods to diagnose heart conditions like blockages, arrhythmias, and birth defects.
Cardiovascular technologists (also known as EKG technicians) work with diagnostic imaging equipment to examine patients for heart-related medical conditions involving the heart. Their results provide the information that doctors need to make diagnoses. Cardiovascular tech certification programs take anywhere from 2-3 years, or a bachelor’s degree is another option.
Radiologic and MRI Technologists
Working with state-of-the-art technology, radiologists and MRI technologists conduct diagnostic tests on patients, including x-rays, nuclear medicine, and magnetic resonance imaging.
Due to the expensive equipment, most technologists find work in hospitals. To carry out their duties, however, they require an associate degree or accredited certification program (which takes just over two years to complete). Some MRI techs even start their careers as radiologists and specialize later.
Medical Billers and Coders
Working in medical health records and information technology, billing and coding specialists are the liaison between patients, medical offices, and insurance companies. A great medical job for those who want to help people (but want to avoid the sight of blood), their tasks may include converting physicians’ notes to medical codes, processing insurance files, and contacting patients and insurance companies to ensure proper billing.
They may find a plethora of positions in doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, insurance companies, and many medical billers and coders are able to work from home.
If you can’t decide between a desk job and working directly with patients, medical assistants have the best of both worlds. This is a great position for people who want to discover medical roles they’re most passionate about. Moving between administrative work and hands-on duties, MAs can prep a patient for medical procedures, organize patient records, and draw samples – all within the same hour.