2020 has presented the world with a novel assortment of pandemic-related health care pain points. Many patients avoided or were unable to receive treatment for non-COVID health issues due to fear of infection. Front-line health care providers, including allied health professionals, worked harder than ever amidst life-threatening medical supply shortages, while family members struggled to visit their ill or hospitalized loved ones as COVID-related rule changes changed on a near-daily basis.
Physicians and nurses aren’t the only health care professionals supporting patients. Critically ill patients require a lot of extra help to get back on their feet after the immediate crisis has passed. Often, allied health professionals are the ones who rise to the challenge.
Who are allied health professionals?
Allied health professionals are all around us, representing approximately 60% of the total health care workforce in the United States.1 But who exactly are these people? In the 1980s, the National Commission on Allied Health Education attempted to describe allied health professionals as “all health personnel working toward the common goal of providing the best possible service in patient care and health promotion,“2 whereas a more recent definition is “a broad field of health-care professions made up of specially trained individuals … who are typically licensed or certified but are not physicians, dentists, or nurses.”3
Here are a few examples of allied health professionals, and how they support patients:
- Emergency medical technicians who revive and get a patient to the hospital in time.
- Anesthesiologist assistants and surgical technicians who work alongside the neurosurgeon at spinal cord injury surgeries.
- Certified nursing assistants, nutritionists, phlebotomists, and respiratory therapists who make certain that a patient survives a long stint on the mechanical ventilator.
- Occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists who help a patient move and eat again after serious injury or illness.
Allied health professionals work in direct patient care roles as audiologists, dental hygienists, and mental health counselors, as well as behind the scenes as clinical laboratory technologists, pharmacy technicians, and medical coders. They’re everywhere, working in hospitals, ambulatory care settings, clinical laboratories, and residential care facilities. They’re our neighbors and our friends. And we need more of them.
The future is now
According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projection last year, health care occupations are estimated to increase by 15% within 10 years, resulting in the creation of approximately 2.4 million more jobs.4 Some of this is due to an aging workforce superimposed onto an aging population, but no matter what the reason, allied health professionals will be in short supply. Now, more than ever, we need to inspire our students to consider choosing a career that matters.
It’s time to acknowledge the importance of allied health professionals, who are sometimes taken for granted as background players on the medical stage. They’re specialists and allies who work collaboratively with medical professionals, patients, and families alike with the common goal of restoring health and optimizing outcomes. Their entire focus is on helping others, and they deserve our recognition, appreciation, and gratitude. The very future of health depends on them.
- “What is Allied Health?” The Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions. 2 Nov. 2020. https://www.asahp.org/what-is
- Allied Health Services: Avoiding Crises. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Study the Role of Allied Health Personnel. Washington (DC), National Academies Press (US): 1989.
- “Medical Definition of Allied Health.” Medical Dictionary, Merriam-Webster. 2 Nov. 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/allied%20health
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Healthcare Occupations.” S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2 Nov. 2020. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide medical advice. ReedGroup does not provide medical services. Consult a physician for medical advice on this or any other topic.