Supporting Students Exploring Allied Health Careers

Aug 14, 2020 by

Helping Students Pursue Allied Health Careers

It takes a lot of people doing a lot of different jobs to keep our healthcare system running, and doctors and nurses represent a minority of those workers. Rather, the majority of these professionals – about 60% of healthcare providers – work in the allied health professions, the rapidly growing field made up of healthcare technicians and therapists. Workers in the allied health professions provide a wide range of services, from performing scans to offering nutritional services and providing physical and occupational therapy. There’s just one problem: many students are unfamiliar with these jobs.

If we are going to successfully meet both workforce demands and patient healthcare needs in the coming years, educators and mentors need to introduce students to these roles and assist them in finding the right healthcare career for their skills. While students will have to chart their own paths as they continue with their education, they can’t pursue careers they don’t know exist. They need someone to open those doors.

Front Line Examples

There are always allied health professionals on the front lines of medicine, including emergency medical technicians, but because of the unique conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, today’s healthcare students are preparing to be dispatched to the front lines of the crisis. This is the perfect opportunity for younger students to see the importance of allied health roles in real time. In addition to EMTs, respiratory technicians, perfusionists, and laboratory scientists are among those playing critical roles in treating COVID-19 patients, while many more will participate in patients’ rehabilitation.

Exploring Educational Trajectories

The first step to getting students interested in allied health professions is just letting them know that these jobs exist, but the next step is helping them make sense of how they prepare for such careers. For the majority of allied health jobs, students will need to earn an associate’s degree, along with taking licensing exams for their particular field.

Once they’ve been certified, they’ll need to maintain their credentials by taking continuing education courses, which is standard in any healthcare role. Relative to growth potential and earning power, allied health professions have fairly low barriers to entry.

Consider Changing Conditions

While allied health professions are a generally stable career set – in fact, they’re growing much more quickly than other jobs – that doesn’t mean they’re utterly unchanging. As the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, changing conditions can significantly change which specific roles are most in demand, where job availability is greatest, and other factors.

Currently, one of the major challenges impacting students training for jobs in the allied health professions is the necessary change to the externship structure. Students generally need to complete on the job training in the form of externship before they can take their certification exams and apply for jobs. However, COVID-19 has significantly limited student access to externship opportunities. While some programs, like pharmacy, have been able to redirect externships to digital simulations, other students have had a much harder time finding appropriate, safe opportunities. Though the problem should be short-lived, problems with completing externships could make it harder to fill critical roles in the next few years.

Our educational system tends to focus on a limited range of job options, so that young people can arrive in their teens with a list of potential jobs straight out of an elementary school career day – police, teachers, doctors, and chefs. In reality, though, it takes a much wider range of professionals to keep our world working the way it does. Allied health professionals make up a large number of these key workers. There’s so much to be discovered in this sector, if educators can guide students in the direction of these roles.

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