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What is Allied Health?

A professor at a podium addresses a classroom

Allied health includes numerous and varied professions that serve a very different purpose compared to that of doctors and nurses. Allied health professionals apply scientific principles while they participate in identifying, evaluating and preventing disorders and diseases. Allied health professionals typically work closely with doctors and nurses as they strive to provide patients with the best possible care and outcomes.

Allied health tends to involve hands-on work. To understand what allied health is and what allied health professionals do, it is helpful to discuss actual specialty areas within allied health. So with that in mind, here are some examples of allied health professions:

  • Speech therapy: helping people who have challenges with speech and language to speak more clearly.
  • Dietetics: empowering patients with their nutritional choices by educating them about healthy food.
  • Respiratory therapy: diagnosing, treating and managing lung and breathing disorders.
  • Occupational therapy: through the use of everyday activities, helping patients work toward participating in the things they want and need to do.
  • Audiology: helping with hearing and balance issues.

There are numerous other allied health professions in addition to those. Allied health is definitely a vast and innovative field that fulfills wide-ranging needs for all age groups and walks of life.

History of Allied Health

Many people might be surprised at how long allied health professions have existed and how they developed into their current state.

For example, dietetics stems all the way back to around the mid-1800s but, like many other allied health specialties, made great steps forward around the time of World War I.

The roots of the field of occupational therapy stem all the way back to at least 200 years ago and even the early days of the United States. The field especially took off in the early 1900s.

It is amazing how long allied health has been around but also how much it has advanced and changed since those previous eras. And what is even more exciting is that the specialties within allied health continue to grow, change and move forward as time goes on and more discoveries are made.

Careers in Allied Health

Allied health careers are interesting, fulfilling and influential. Highly qualified people who work in those specialties can expect to be in demand now and in the coming years.

To give a sense of the demand and salaries for allied health careers, here are a few common jobs, followed by the level of demand and salary (based on Bureau of Labor Statistics information):

  • Speech-language pathologist: Median salary was more than $76,000 in 2017, and demand is expected to be high in the next several years. Visit our Speech-Language Pathology page.
  • Occupational therapist: Median salary was more than $83,000 in 2017, and demand is expected to be high in the next several years. Visit our Occupational Therapy page.
  • Dietitian: Median salary was more than $59,000 in 2017, and demand is expected to be high in the next several years. Visit our Clinical Nutrition page.
  • Respiratory therapist: Median salary was more than $59,000 in 2017, and demand is expected to be high in the next several years. Visit our Respiratory Therapy page.

Allied health professionals are in demand in numerous other specialties within that field too, so choosing a career in allied health is a wise decision.

Reasons to Consider Allied Health Careers

Allied health careers are appealing to many people for a variety of reasons, such as these:

  • Aging population: As the average age of the population climbs, there are increasing needs for just about all health care specialties, including allied health. So there is a continuing demand for allied health and thus ongoing job growth in that field.
  • Economic factors: According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, health care spending in 2016 made up close to 18 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And that percentage is likely growing, partly as a result of the aging population.
  • Personal satisfaction: A certain special level of fulfillment results from the ability to help other people and interact with them every day, which is exactly what happens in allied health.
  • Interest in advances: In allied health, as is true for all of health care these days, incredible advances and inventions continue to develop, and people who work in the field are directly involved.

For these reasons as well as other reasons that vary from person to person, a growing number of people are deciding to pursue careers in the allied health field.

Preparation for Allied Health Careers

The preparation, including training and education, that is required varies from one allied health job to the next. It can even vary from one state to the next. But in general, each allied health specialty requires a certain level of training. For some jobs, that is an associate's level allied health degree, and for others that is a bachelor's level allied health degree. And for some jobs an advanced degree like a master's or doctorate is required.

Numerous allied health programs exist for the purpose of training students to become qualified professionals who work in the allied health field. After their training and career preparation, those professionals work in a variety of settings within the healthcare field.

Allied Health Career Preparation Through Rush University

Rush University provides outstanding health sciences education and prepares students to work in a variety of allied health specialties. Some of the allied health programs at Rush University are at the bachelor's level, whereas others are at the master's or doctorate level.

Here is a sampling of the allied health programs offered by Rush University, followed by the available degree programs in parentheses:

  • Audiology (AuD)
  • Cardiovascular Perfusion (MS)
  • Clinical Nutrition (MS, MSDI)
  • Imaging Sciences (BS)
  • Medical Laboratory Science (MS)
  • Occupational Therapy (OTD)
  • Respiratory Care (MS)
  • Speech-Language Pathology (MS)

The allied health programs at Rush University incorporate the University's core values of innovation, collaboration, accountability, respect and excellence. These five values, which spell out I CARE, permeate everything we do. Just as important is our dedication to high-quality and compassionate patient care.