What Makes Allied Health a Good Career Choice?

Allied health professions represent a huge branch of the health care industry. They are our midwives, nutritionists, lab techs, personal trainers, paramedics and more, providing specialized support and technical skills for our doctors and physicians.

Allied Health

The field of allied health is a fairly new one, and may continue to grow in scope. As medical technology advances, more and more specialized roles begin to form, creating some very unique health care jobs. For example, phlebotomists specialize in drawing blood, cytotechs interpret pap smear slides, and echocardiographers take ultrasounds of the heart.

We wanted to know more about the future of allied health careers, so we sat down with Lee Schmidt, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs, at Loyola University Chicago's Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, to ask him what makes allied health careers so attractive to prospective health care students.

About the Expert

Lee Schmidt, Ph.D., RN, is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs, at Loyola University Chicago's Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing.

What makes allied health a good career choice?

There are several factors that make allied health a good career choice. Depending on the specific career chosen, there is likely projected growth in the needs for allied health workers over the coming years. A number of factors contribute to this need, such as:

  • The aging population
  • The increased access to care that comes through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • Increased initiatives to provide access to health care services to the underserved and those in rural or health professional shortage areas

Another factor that makes allied health a good career choice is the satisfaction that comes with working in these fields. Each field will bring with it different degrees of patient contact and interaction, but it is very satisfying to take care of patients, both in health-promotion activities and also in those restoration activities where patients and clients are working toward a higher level of health and wellness. It is also very satisfying and gratifying to work with individuals during this very vulnerable time in their lives and see how some of the smallest efforts can be so influential in a person's health, their outlook, and their relationships with others.

What kind of students would benefit most from a career in allied health?

Some factors will depend on the specific career [a student chooses to pursue]. Generally, allied health is a career that is going to involve working with others, whether those others are patients, or other health care professionals or both. Allied health is a career for those who enjoy working with others. These are also high-activity careers -- a lot of activity is involved with the work, so these careers are for those who enjoy activity in their work. A background as well as an interest in the sciences is important as well, although some careers would emphasize this more than others. Programs will have different academic standards, based on the type of career the person is preparing for, so it would always be good to examine admission requirements and do a self-assessment [about] meeting the qualifications for admission to the program.

When considering an allied health program, how can a student ensure that his/her program offers quality and value?

There are several factors to consider with quality [of] programs:

  • In some professions, the program will need to be accredited by a professional accrediting body. It's important to examine the accreditation status of those programs. Some programs may not have accreditation, but may be authorized by state agencies to offer the program, so that is important to consider in examining programs.
  • It's also important to get information about the placement of graduates from the program - how many are able to obtain employment in their chosen field.
  • If the selected career requires a certification or licensing exam, it's important to get information from the program about the performance of the graduates on any licensing or certification exams.
  • From a value perspective, it's important to get the costs associated with the program, and see if the program offers any form of financial aid specific to the program.

But the key factor is to examine the accreditation or licensing of the programs, if this is applicable. Accreditation and licensing is a foundational consideration for looking at program quality.

In your opinion, what will allied health careers look like in 10 years?

Opportunities will likely continue to grow. Some careers will grow faster than others, but the confluence of the aging population, the increased access from the ACA and increasing initiatives to get services to the underserved and in health professional shortage areas will fuel growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides projections of occupation growth, and someone who is thinking of a career in allied health can look at specific job classifications and the projections for growth on that site.