From a business perspective, it’s always important to have a pulse on various industries, particularly the country’s largest and most profitable sectors. The ebbs and flows of growth provide a pretty clear indication of what’s happening.
In 2016, one industry is growing much faster than others: healthcare. And, one segment of the industry is undergoing incredible growth: allied health.
What is Allied Health?
The Association of Schools of Allied Health Professionals (ASAHP) defines allied health professionals as “the segment of the workforce that delivers services involving the identification, evaluation and prevention of diseases and disorders; dietary and nutrition services; and rehabilitation and health systems management.”
Allied health professionals account for nearly 60 percent of the entire healthcare workforce and include everyone from dental hygienists and dietitians to medical techs and physical therapists.
The ASAHP believes allied health professionals positively contribute to the health of the nation in three primary ways: (1) They work collaboratively with doctors, physicians, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists. (2) They provide comprehensive, patient-centered care. (3) They are specialists in every aspect of daily function, exercise, nutrition, speech, and health education.
As ExploreHealthCareers.org points out, there are two broad categories of allied health professionals. First off, you have your technicians. These are assistants who are trained to perform very specific procedures. Their education lasts just two years. The second category is therapists/technologists. These individuals can evaluate patients, diagnose conditions, and develop specific treatment plans. Because there’s a lot more responsibility involved, therapists and technologists must undergo more intensive education and preparation.
The Driving Factors Behind Allied Health Growth
As mentioned, allied health fields are experiencing tremendous growth. The ASAHP notes that healthcare makes up 18 percent of the U.S. economy and that demand for healthcare workers between now and 2020 will grow twice as fast as the national economy.
By 2020, the total number of jobs in all healthcare fields is projected to be more than 21.8 million. The percentage of allied health professionals in these fields is also set to grow rather substantially. According to Rush University, more than half of the U.S. healthcare workforce will be in an allied health field.
The rapid growth of allied health fields is directly related to an increased emphasis on healthy living, as well as an aging population that isn’t quite as healthy as previous generations. Obesity, heart conditions, and longer lifespans are resulting in the need for more care – especially for the elderly.
There is also a shift to home-based care and outpatient care, which creates a need for more medical practices and workers. Finally, a growing number of healthcare jobs are now requiring bachelor's and graduate degrees – which theoretically results in higher pay and higher demand.
Seven Positions That are in High Demand
Not all allied health positions are created equal. Certain niches have higher demand and greater earning potential. Here are a few of the top positions that are expected to be in high demand for the next few years. (All data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
- Physical Therapists
Perhaps the fastest growing allied health profession is physical therapy. Physical therapists work with patients who have debilitating medical conditions or who are recovering from a procedure or injury. One of the best parts about physical therapy is that there are opportunities for both part-time and full-time work in a number of unique settings. Job growth is expected to increase by 36 percent by 2022 with the median salary of $84,020.
Audiologists are responsible for assessing patients for hearing loss, balance issues, ear ailments, as well as, the fitting and distribution of hearing aids. Job growth between now and 2022 is right around 34 percent, with the median salary coming in at $74,890 (a figure that has increased nearly 7.5 percent in the last year alone).
- Medical Laboratory Technicians
Laboratory technicians are responsible for completing a variety of tests and procedures that are ordered by doctors and other healthcare professionals. This includes monitoring high-tech medical equipment, evaluating body fluids, and more. Expected job growth between now and 2022 is 30 percent. The median salary is $50,550 and seems to increase each year.
- Medical Assistants
For those who love being in a medical setting and want a stable job without having to spend years in school, the medical assisting field is ideal. There’s always a high demand and the median salary hovers around $30,590.
As more and more emphasis is placed on healthy eating and the profound health benefits that come from better diets, the demand for dieticians is growing. Job growth is expected to be 21 percent between now and 2022, with a current median salary of $57,910. Best of all, you only need a bachelor’s degree to pursue a career in this field.
- Athletic Trainers
Athletic training is another fast growing field. Trainers work with a variety of people, including professional athletes, amateur athletes, and even industrial employees. They must be able to quickly recognize, assess, and treat everything from minor injuries to more serious problems. The median salary is $44,670 and there are opportunities to work in a variety of settings.
- Dental Hygienists
Dental hygienists are in high demand, with an expected growth rate of 33 percent by 2022. The current median salary is $72,330 and education requirements vary from state to state. Like physical therapists, dental hygienists also have ample opportunities for both part-time and full-time work.
The Future is Bright
For those considering launching a career in an allied health field, the future is bright. There will be a lot of growth and you’ll nr getting in at the right time. There’s a lot to consider in terms of finding “the right fit,” though. You shouldn’t be targeting an allied health career simply because growth is expected.
Lisa Boesen, a career coach with an expertise in healthcare, advises others that, “It’s really the people who enjoy developing relationships and connecting with others who would be more successful in bedside roles.” Others agree, emphasizing the importance of organization, reliability, trustworthiness, competence, and good communication skills.
Before starting a career in an allied health field, it’s a good idea to speak with people in the field and possibly even spend some time shadowing various positions. This will give you a much better idea of what happens behind the scenes. Passion is a major part of enjoying a successful career and you want to make sure you’re excited about waking up and going to work every day.
The good news for those interested in launching a career in an allied health field is that education and training have become much more convenient. With online learning options, you can literally begin your education while maintaining another job. That’s a major advantage that people in previous generations never had. Do your research and find out how many years of education different specialties require. You’ll also need to weigh the cost of education against the earning potential and calculate the break-even point, that is, is the number of years you need to work before you’ll earn back your expenses.
It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on allied health fields in the coming years. Experts are projecting huge growth numbers and that’s good both for the greater economy and the quality of healthcare that the American people will receive.