Working beside and supporting the doctors and nurses comprising 40 percent of the country's health professionals, some 5 million allied health professionals serve in fields that encompass more than thirty specialty areas. About half of these allied health jobs are "diagnosing and treatment" occupations (such as audiologists, dentists, physician assistants, and registered nurses) and the other half are the "technologists and technicians" (such as athletic trainers, dental hygienists, pharmacy technicians, and veterinary technologists). These allied health careers are found not only in hospitals and doctor's offices but also in such settings as nursing and residential care facilities, outpatient care centers, ambulatory care centers, medical and diagnostic laboratories, government agencies, schools, correctional facilities, and industry.
A growing demand for allied health professionals
Careers in allied health have varying levels of skill, knowledge, and training required, and salaries are usually commensurate with those increasing requirements. Students with graduate degrees in the allied health professions can look forward to well-paying and in-demand healthcare careers in a diverse field where jobs are increasing at a much faster rate than other professions, and there are no signs of the growth slowing down. There is a national demand for allied health professionals who are prepared at the doctoral level in the areas of teaching, research, and administration. Currently, there is a national shortage of certified registered nurse anesthetists, and the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts an exceptional need for physician assistants, physical therapists, pharmacists, and registered nurses.
A closer look at some high-demand allied health careers
Registered nurse jobs account for more than half of all allied health jobs. The Department of Labor reports that RNs with graduate degrees in any of the four advanced-practice specialties—clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse mid-wives—will be in high demand, especially in medically underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas. These advanced-degree nurses increasingly serve as lower-cost primary care providers. Employment opportunities for RNs are projected to increase.
Physician assistant (PA) jobs involve practicing medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons, and graduate degrees are mandatory. PAs should not be confused with medical assistants that perform clinical and clerical tasks. More than 50 percent of PA jobs are in doctors' offices, and another 25 percent are in hospitals. The job market is expected to grow at a brisk pace—much faster than the average—as the health care industry continues to expand and PAs are used more often to contain healthcare costs.
Physical therapists are currently required to have at least master's-level degrees from an accredited graduate program and state licenses. According to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, a doctoral degree from an allied health professions graduate school might become the required entry-level degree in the future. The job market for physical therapists is projected to grow.
Recently-graduated pharmacists with graduate degrees in pharmacology can look forward to excellent job opportunities. In addition to working in pharmacies, they are increasingly pursuing nontraditional pharmacy work that includes drug research and development and pharmaceutical sales. Positions with health insurance companies, government and public health care, the armed services, and pharmacy associations are also increasing.
Information about allied health careers and programs
Professional organizations offer a wealth of information about the specialties and their related allied health jobs. The American Medical Association (AMA) provides a directory of these professional associations, organizations, and societies.
For information about health-care salary ranges and allied health careers and programs, visit the American Medical Association website. Additional information is offered in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Further resources for exploring allied health jobs are available at ExploreHealthCareers.org.