What Is Allied Health? Exploring This Sometimes-Overlooked Group of Health Professions

illustration of a variety of allied health professionals

Ask practically any seven-year-old to explain who works at a hospital or clinic, and you’re likely to get one of two answers: doctors or nurses!

While that’s demonstrating a pretty solid grasp of the healthcare field for a child, in reality there’s a huge number of important healthcare professionals who aren’t doctors and nurses. Many of these not-so-obvious healthcare roles are classified as “allied health” professionals—and they can be appealing options for anyone plotting their potential next steps toward a career in the field.

In this article, we’ll dive into what allied health is, the types of occupations that fall under the umbrella of allied health and some of the top reasons for considering an allied health career. Let’s get right to it.

What is allied health?

Roughly defined, allied health refers to a broad group of healthcare professionals who are responsible for the administration of healthcare as well as the support systems surrounding healthcare providers. The exact definition of what’s included as an allied health profession will depend on the country you live in. In the United States, there is a legal definition of what constitutes an allied health professional. To summarize, this includes any health professional (other than a registered nurse or physician assistant) who:1

  • Has received postsecondary education or training ranging from a certificate program to a doctoral degree in a science relating to healthcare
  • Shares in the responsibility for the delivery of healthcare or related services (including health promotion, rehabilitation services, dietary and nutrition services, public health preventative services, and management of health systems)

This excludes a variety of healthcare practitioners who’ve earned a doctoral degree—like medical doctors, dentists, optometrists and more.1 This definition covers a wide array of important roles that make up a sizable portion of our healthcare system, and in turn, our economy.

What are some examples of allied health careers?

Now that you know the guidelines for what’s considered an allied health professional, you might be wondering what roles specifically fit the bill. The following is a (non-comprehensive) list of allied health careers:

Most of these require specialized healthcare training and knowledge that focuses on a specific subdomain—like physical therapy, diagnostic imaging, health information management and so on. All of these potential allied health career paths have their own pros and cons, so it’s worth taking the time to consider your options.

Why pursue an allied health career?

So what makes pursuing an allied healthcare position an appealing option? While obviously your individual priorities and preferences may vary, there are a few very solid reasons to keep an allied health career on your radar.

1. The healthcare field is growing

If you’re going to invest the time, effort and money into pursuing a healthcare-related education, it’s only natural to want to seek out a career field with some long-term stability. Healthcare is an excellent position overall. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of healthcare occupations will grow 15 percent from 2019 to 2029.2 This projection amounts to roughly 2.4 million healthcare jobs over that timeframe, which is more than any other occupation group.2

There are several factors at the heart of this strong growth projection, and one of the primary drivers among them is the United States’ large baby boomer generation aging out of the workforce and into the age bracket that uses the most healthcare services. This means employers need to find ways to replace members of their existing workforces while preparing for the additional demand that comes with such a large cohort of people reaching an advanced age.

2. Your work makes a difference

There are plenty of jobs out there that offer very little fulfillment beyond a steady paycheck. That’s fine for some, but many prefer a job that is tied to supporting some sort of higher purpose or noble cause. Allied healthcare careers are either directly or indirectly tied to maintaining and improving the health of others.

Knowing that, on any given day, you can be helping a sick patient get clarity on what’s ailing them, guiding their rehabilitation or ensuring their billing paperwork is properly processed can help make your daily work routine more engaging. In fact, a Gallup Workplace report on employees who demonstrate high levels of engagement and well-being are 42% more likely to evaluate their overall lives highly.3 Simply put, an engaging job that provides a sense of purpose can have some serious upsides.

3. You can find a niche with less “ick”

There’s no sugarcoating it—some healthcare jobs can be downright gross. Between bedpans, bandages and blood alone there’s plenty of not-so-pleasant things some healthcare professionals have to deal with as a part of their day-to-day work.

Fortunately, for the squeamish—or those who are otherwise uninterested in working directly with patients—there are career options within allied health that can keep the unpleasantness to a minimum. This includes medical administrative assistants, pharmacy technicians and health information professionals, to name a few.

4. Many allied health careers have lower barriers to entry

Given how long it takes to become a physician, you might assume most healthcare jobs will take a similarly long time to become qualified for. While some allied health roles can require a similar level of education and training as physicians, there are quite a few allied health professions that can have a much shorter education and training pathway than you might think.

Several allied health career paths typically require candidates to earn an Associate’s degree or less. This includes medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, physical therapist assistants, health information technicians, radiologic technologists, surgical technologists and more. That’s welcome news for anyone looking to get started quickly in a solid healthcare career.

Is an allied health career in your future?

Now that you have a better picture of what allied health is and the wide variety of potential career pathways tied to it, could this be the right fit for you? There’s a lot of opportunity in these somewhat under-the-radar healthcare roles, but you’ll likely need to do a little research to further narrow down your options. Our article “Exploring 12 Healthcare Jobs You Can Launch in 2 Years or Less” can provide an excellent starting point, particularly if you’re looking to get started in a new healthcare career as soon as possible.

142 U.S. Code § 295p – Definitions (2014) [accessed April, 2021] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/295p
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed April, 2021] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm . Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
3Dan Winters and Sangeeta Agrawal,“Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement” Gallup Workplace, October 27, 2015 [accessed April, 2021] https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236483/enhances-benefits-employee-engagement.aspx

Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen University. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

writer

Related Content

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen University to support its educational programs. Rasmussen University may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen University does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

logo-accreditation-acen logo-accreditation-ccne chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors-masters 0 Credits 90 Credits 180 Credits 48 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE’S DEGREE Start Here MASTER’S DEGREE PURSUERS End Here BACHELOR’S DEGREE End Here MASTER’S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 90 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 180 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-healthcare-management 0 Credits 90 Credits 180 Credits 48 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE’S DEGREE Start Here MASTER’S DEGREE PURSUERS End Here BACHELOR’S DEGREE End Here MASTER’S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsb 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 90 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 180 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsd 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 91 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 181 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsjs 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 91 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 180 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-rsn 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 91 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 181 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE icon-colored-outline-bank icon-colored-outline-certificate icon-colored-outline-circle-dollar-sign icon-colored-outline-folder-search icon-colored-outline-hand-heart icon-colored-outline-head-blocks icon-colored-outline-head-cog icon-colored-outline-head-heart icon-colored-outline-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-outline-hospital icon-colored-outline-lifelong-learning icon-colored-outline-light-bulb-analytics icon-colored-outline-maginify-glass icon-colored-outline-magnifying-glass icon-colored-outline-monitor-healthcare icon-colored-outline-monitor-paper-search icon-colored-outline-nurse-rays icon-colored-outline-padlock-shield icon-colored-outline-scales icon-bank icon-general-charticon-general-connect icon-general-degree icon-general-discuss icon-general-emailicon-general-find icon-general-haticon-general-heart icon-general-laptop-building icon-general-laptop icon-general-leader icon-general-map icon-general-money icon-general-paperwork icon-general-peopleicon-general-phone icon-general-speak-out icon-head-heart icon-mglass icon-scales rebrand-arrows icon-colored-advance icon-colored-arrows-cross-curve icon-colored-briefcase-star icon-colored-build icon-colored-bulb-analytics icon-colored-certificate icon-colored-continual-development icon-colored-duo-chatbox icon-colored-folder-mortarboard icon-colored-forward-ribbon icon-colored-gears-clock icon-colored-globe-pen icon-colored-growth icon-colored-hand-bubble icon-colored-hand-stars icon-colored-hands-gear icon-colored-head-blocks icon-colored-head-cog icon-colored-laptop-cbe-skyscraper icon-colored-laptop-checkmark icon-colored-laptop-webpage icon-colored-location-map icon-colored-location-pin icon-colored-monitor-paper-scan icon-colored-mortarboard-dollar icon-colored-national icon-colored-people-chat-bubbles icon-colored-person-laptop-checkboxes icon-colored-person-screen-instructor icon-colored-person-whiteboard icon-colored-phone-chatbox icon-colored-police-light icon-colored-prep icon-colored-presenter icon-colored-regional icon-colored-save-time icon-colored-shirt-hat icon-colored-skyscraper icon-colored-state icon-colored-student-centered icon-colored-support icon-colored-world-experience icon-arrow icon-camera icon-filtericon-info-circleicon-mail-forwardicon-play-solidicon-quote-mark-lefticon-quote-mark-righticon-share-square-oicon-spinnericon-tagicon-simple-chaticon-simple-desktop icon-simple-find icon-simple-hamburger icon-simple-phone icon-testimonial-quotes icon-social-facebook-square-coloredicon-social-facebook-squareicon-social-facebookicon-social-google-plus-squareicon-social-google-plusicon-social-instagramicon-social-linkedin-square-coloredicon-social-linkedin-squareicon-social-linkedinicon-social-pinterest-picon-social-twitter-squareicon-social-twittericon-social-youtube-play-coloredicon-social-youtube-playlogo-rasu-horizontal ras-logo-flame ras-logo-horizontal ras-logo-stacked icon-util-checkbox-white icon-util-checkbox icon-util-checked-white icon-util-checked icon-util-chevron-downicon-util-chevron-lefticon-util-chevron-righticon-util-chevron-upicon-util-language-switch icon-util-loading icon-util-open-window-button icon-util-open-window-link icon-util-pdf-buttonicon-util-pdf-linkicon-util-refresh icon-util-x