Alternatives to Medical School - Careers in Allied Health

Allied Health professional wheeling a patient in a wheelchair

If you have started the journey toward medical school, you may have a good understanding why it is not for everyone. The journey to becoming a doctor is a very long and arduous, though rewarding, one that requires a hefty investment of your time and money. 

Even though you may be at the beginning stages of your path toward a lifelong dream, it is still worthwhile to consider other opportunities in the vast world of healthcare. At the very least, you may discover a new-to-you field that piques your interest and can serve as a viable back up plan! 

Why not consider exploring a career in Allied Health? This essentially refers to all the non-medicine, non-nursing professions that account for a huge number of the jobs found in healthcare organizations (60% to be exact), most of which are projected to experience much higher than average growth! Allied Health also consists of many different types of jobs that would still give you the direct patient care and diagnostics that you may be looking for.

What Do Allied Health Professionals Do? 

The Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions defines Allied Health as “a broad group of health professionals who use scientific principles and evidence-based practice for the diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of acute and chronic diseases; promote disease prevention and wellness for optimum health, and apply administration and management skills to support health care systems in a variety of settings.”

Some of the job titles that fit into this category include: Anesthesiologist Technician, Medical Lab Technician, Diagnostic Sonographer, Radiographer (X-Ray Technician), Respiratory Therapist, Paramedic, Athletic Trainer, Speech Pathologist, Audiologist, Dietician, Nutritionist, Physical or Occupational Therapist, Counselor, Therapist, Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Surgical Technician, and Pharmacist.

This does not even cover all of the 80 or so job titles that are considered Allied Health fields, which also includes non-clinical (not patient facing) positions such as Health Information Technology and Healthcare Administrative roles.

Allied Health Education

As you can see, there are many different types of professions within Allied Health, and furthermore, there are many different levels within each field. There are tech jobs that mostly require a two-year degree, or even a certificate, all the way up to jobs that require a graduate degree. For example, you can start out as a Physical Therapy Assistant with an Associate’s degree and work up to becoming a Physical Therapist, which requires a Doctorate degree. You could get a certificate in Medical Assisting or Pharmacy Technician to get into the workforce while working toward your degree in any of these fields. In many cases, this would even allow you to have some or all of your degree paid for by your employer! Some of these jobs require you to become certified or licensed (Radiographer), others require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (Nutritionist), while many require a Master’s degree or higher (Speech Pathologist).

Most of these programs will require a similar set of pre-requisite courses in order to apply—similar to nursing or medical school—however, the barrier to entry is much lower, with generally less competition within the school’s application processes. Another major advantage to the education programs required for Allied Health professions is that some of them are fully online. The ones that require clinical or lab hours are exceptions, but it is still something to think about when medical school, and even nursing school, are full-time, in person, no exceptions.

If any of these fields pique your interest, visit ASAHP to learn more about them and view the complete list of Allied Health Professions!

Written by: Valerie Jaquith

April 8, 2021

About the Author

Valerie Jaquith, Senior Manager, Academic Coaching

Valerie is a Senior Manager on the Academic Coaching team with Bright Horizons EdAssist, where she advises healthcare employees on how to further their education. She previously worked in undergraduate admissions and academic advising at the University of South Florida College of Nursing.