The persons who work in the healthcare system are very numerous, especially in countries like the United States of America, which allocate important sums of money to this essential system.
Within this huge system, the most important employees – namely the ones which are best known and most respected – are:
- DOCTORS – medical doctors, also known as PHYSICIANS
All the other individuals who work in the health care field are called ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONALS (whose name will be abbreviated as AHP or AHPs in this article).
This special category of workers has several different definitions, but probably the most accepted and cited definition is the one presented above, which is usually formulated in this way:
The allied health professionals are the persons who work in the health care system and who are not physicians, dentists, nurses or pharmacists.
Examples of AHPs (Allied Care Jobs)
The best known examples of AHPs are the:
who work in the health care system.
Here are some examples of such professions, along with their main duties:
- electrocardiogram technician – operates and maintains the EKG machines (which monitor the patient’s heart), prepares the patients for this procedure, etc;
- physician assistant – helps the physicians, surgeons and other health workers: takes the medical history of the patients, examines, diagnoses and treats them, orders and interprets diagnostic tests, prescribes medications, etc;
- surgical technologist – helps the physicians and surgeons during the surgical operations (gives instruments to surgeons during operations), prepares the operating rooms, arranges the tools, prepares the patients for the surgical procedures (washes them), etc;
- physical therapist – helps the people who are injured to get rid of the pains and to move better, by teaching them to exercise.
Here’s a great video that gets into more details about Allied Health careers:
Other well-known examples of such allied health providers are:
- medical assistant, pharmacy technician, pharmacy assistant, emergency medical technician, respiratory therapist, podiatric medical assistant, dental assistant, dietetic technician, anesthesiologist assistant (this is, in fact, a physician assistant, because the anesthesiologists are physicians), microbiology technologist, respiratory therapist, recreational therapist, radiation therapy technologist, music therapist, etc.
But the healthcare technicians, technologists, assistants and therapists aren’t the only AHPs. The following list of allied health professionals contains other examples of health workers who are not physicians, dentists, nurses or pharmacists:
- nutritionist, dietitian, audiologist, paramedic, radiographer, speech language pathologist, athletic trainer, mental health counselor, home health aide, diabetes educator, etc;
- healthcare administration jobs: medical transcriptionist, health information technician, cancer registrar, medical coder, etc.
Duties of the Allied Health Professionals
As can be easily deduced from the previous sections of this article, the main responsibilities of the AHPs are to:
- help the physicians, nurses, dentists or pharmacists to diagnose, treat and prevent disorders and other health problems;
- help the patients to maintain or improve their health status.
To be more precise, here are some examples of tasks that must be accomplished by various allied healthcare professionals:
- prepare, manipulate and maintain the medical tools, equipment and appliances (electrocardiogram technicians, radiation therapy technologists, physician assistants, surgical technologists, etc.);
- rehabilitate the injured or ill people (physical therapists, occupational therapists, music therapists, speech language pathologists, etc.);
- promote the health principles and the manners of improving the health status (nutritionists, diabetes educators, dietitians, etc.);
- diagnose, treat and prevent various illnesses, disorders and health problems (physician assistants, radiation therapists, etc.);
- operate and manage health databases and information (health information technicians, medical transcriptionists, information clerks, etc.).
Requirements for the AHPs
Not any person can work in the health care system, as dealing with people’s health is of critical importance in any country. The health employee has to be very well educated and trained for his or her precise job. Moreover, depending on the occupation and the country of practice, the healthcare worker might need to be licensed and registered for his or her domain of activity, and certain certifications may be required.
This means that all the health workers – not only the physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, but also the AHPs – must be specially:
- certified (only for some jobs and in some states)
- registered (only for some jobs and in some states)
for their precise occupation.
The education, training and other requirements, as well as the duties of each of the allied health careers are usually established by some national organizations. This means that, in order to earn the right to practice an AHP job, the candidates must meet all the requirements that are mandatory in the state, country or region where they would like to work. Anyway, the more education, training, degrees and certifications they have, the easier will be for them to be employed and to earn a high salary.
The education requirements of the AHPs are, in general, inferior to the ones of the physicians. Sometimes, a high school diploma and some experience in a healthcare setting are enough for occupying certain positions. However, most AHPs must graduate from an accredited university, college or program, which can be offered by high schools, colleges and hospitals.
The training that is required for AHPs differs from one profession to another. While some of these occupations offer on-the-job training (especially when it comes to the allied home care), the necessary training is, in general, obtained during the supervised clinical practice of the programs that they must complete.
Degrees, Licenses, Certifications, Registrations
Most of these occupations require at least a postsecondary nondegree award. A few need just a high school diploma or an equivalent. However, the most common degree requirement is either a Bachelor’s, Associate’s or Master’s degree. The audiologists need a doctoral degree (Au.D.).
Almost all AHPs have to be licensed in the state or country where they intend to work. Earning the required license usually implies completing the required education, traing and degree(s), and also passing one or more exams. In some cases, in order to keep the license, the AHP has to continue his or her education.
The majority of the AHPs must be certified in their field of practice. The certifications are offered by special boards, associations or commissions, and they can be earned by passing special exams. Some of these professionals need to recertify every one, two or more years, by completing some courses of continuing education.
For earning the right to legally practice, some of these professionals need to be registered in the state where they work. The conditions for being placed on the special registry vary by country, state and profession, but, in general, they must pass some competency exams.
Salaries of the AHPs
As indicated on bls.gov, in the USA, in 2015, the average annual salaries of the allied health providers range between $22,000 and $120,000, depending on the number of years of study and training required, level of experience, sector, industry, state and area of employment. These incomes are considerably inferior to the ones of the physicians and surgeons, which always exceed $190,000/year in the United States of America.
In the USA, after only a few years of practice, these professionals earn six-figure wages. After a continuous increase in the period 2012~2016, the average nurse anesthetist salary decreased a little last year, from $164,030/year in 2016 to $143,000/year in 2017.
Other Definitions of the AHPs
It’s important to know that, in some countries, the pharmacists or the nurses are considered AHPs, while other definitions of this term exclude not only the physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, but also the chiropractors, optometrists and veterinarians.
The definition of this important segment of the healthcare workforce varies between countries, but the allied health professionals should be regarded as the auxiliary or support personnel of the health care system, because they help the principal workers of this system – the physicians, nurses, dentists and pharmacists. The AHPs are, somehow, the secondary employees of this huge and essential field, although most of their duties are essential in the delivery of the health care.
More details about each of the jobs mentioned in this article are displayed by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, on their official website: www.bls.gov. The Wikipedia articles dedicated to these occupations are also useful, as well as the page focused on AHPs: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_health_professions .
The best and most reliable information about the AHPs (definitions, lists, resources, etc.) is published on the websites of organizations like the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions (ASAHP) – www.asahp.org ( www.asahp.org/about-us/what-is-allied-health/definition-of-allied-health/ , www.asahp.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Health-Professions-Facts.pdf , www.asahp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Health-Professions-FactsNEW.pdf ) whose definition for AHP is used in this article.