The mission of an allied health care professional is to support and complete the work of physicians and other specialists. There are many, many different occupations in the allied health field. Examples of these professions include nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy, and physician assistance.
The health care industry is one of the most diverse in its employment of people from varying socioeconomic and educational backgrounds and lifestyles.
Nurse Practitioner (NP): Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced education that prepares them to take on management positions within the field. Nurse practitioners are also qualified to provide basic primary care. An NP, working under the supervision of a physician, can do much of what the physician does. Some NPs with advanced training can prescribe medications and diagnose and treat common acute illnesses and injuries. Most NPs have a master’s degree, although there is a growing movement to require NPs to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (CDNP) degree. American Association of Nurse Practitioners
Registered Nurse (RN): There is always a need for registered nurses (RNs), and employment is expected to grow faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nursing is already the largest health care occupation there is. Nurses provide direct patient care; observe, assess, and record symptoms; administer medications; and assist physicians during treatment and examination. Nurses can specialize in areas such as emergency room, operating room, or pediatric nursing with additional training. To become an RN, you must graduate from a nursing program and pass a national licensing examination. The minimum educational requirements for nursing include a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) and completion of a national licensing exam. If possible however, it is better to attend a RN program at a 4-year college or university and earn a BSN. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, the fastest track to an RN is an accelerated second degree BSN program, which gives you credit for non-nursing classes you already took in college. American Nurses Association
Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist: Audiologists determine if a person has a hearing loss, and what type of loss it is. If a person can benefit from using hearing aids or other assistive listening systems, the audiologist can assist with the selection, fitting, and training in their effective use. Speech Language Pathologists evaluate speech, language, cognitive communication, and swallowing skills of adults and children; and then determine what problems exist and the best treatment. A degree in communication sciences and disorders is required, which may be acquired on the undergraduate and/or graduate level. A strong background in the liberal arts is also beneficial. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Registered Dietician: Dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs, and supervise the preparation and serving of meals. They help prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and suggesting diet modifications. Dietitians run food service systems for institutions such as hospitals and schools, promote sound eating habits through education, and conduct research. Major areas of practice include clinical, community, management, and consultant dietetics. To become a RD, you must complete (at minimum) an undergraduate degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related field or a 2-year post-baccalaureate degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related field. Those who go on to earn a MS or PhD in dietetics or a related field most often teach, conduct research, or work as administrators or consultants. Academy of Nutrition of Dietetics
Physical Therapist (PT): Physical therapists most often work with patients who are recovering from an accident, injury, or ailment (such as a stroke) or have a disability, which affects their strength or mobility. PTs practice in hospitals, clinics, and private offices, and consult with other health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, educators, and social workers. Some PTs specialize in areas such as sports physical therapy, pediatrics, neurology, or geriatrics. Physical therapists in every state must graduate from an accredited physical therapist educational program and be licensed before they can practice. Degrees in physical therapy are offered on the doctoral level. American Physical Therapy Association
Occupational Therapist (OT): Occupational therapists work with people of all ages who have suffered from some type of injury, illness, or other impairment that hinders them from conducting basic work or life tasks. Occupational therapists provide exercises and sometimes orthotic devices to help these patients improve their life and work functioning. Some OTs specialize in areas such as pediatrics, neurology, burns, or geriatrics. Occupational therapists undergo a training program similar to the one physical therapists complete. In order to sit for the national certification exam administered by the American Occupational Therapy Certification Board, a person must have a master’s or doctoral degree in occupational therapy. American Occupational Therapy Association
Pharmacist: Pharmacists dispense drugs prescribed by physicians and other health practitioners and provide information to patients about medications and their use. They advise physicians and other health practitioners on the selection, dosages, interactions, and side effects of medications. Pharmacists must understand the use; clinical effects; and composition of drugs, including their chemical, biological, and physical properties. Most pharmacists work in a community setting, such as a retail drug store, or in a hospital or clinic. Pharmacists in community or retail pharmacies counsel patients and answer questions about prescription drugs. They also provide information about over-the-counter drugs. A Pharm-D (doctorate of pharmacy) requires at least 2-years of specific pre-professional (undergraduate) coursework followed by 4-academic years of professional study. Most students apply to Pharm-D programs after their sophomore or junior year in college. Some programs may allow graduates of four year colleges and universities to transfer into the Pharm-D program, which would most likely entail 2-3 years of coursework in pharmacy. American Pharmacists Association
Physician Assistant (PA): A PA always works under a physician’s supervision, though in understaffed facilities where a primary care physician may not be available every day, a PA might handle all the patient care. More often, a PA will interview patients to record their medical histories, give basic physicals, interpret lab results, and make tentative diagnoses to confirm later with a physician. Many PAs also follow up with patients to monitor their reaction to drugs, teach them about nutrition, and consult with their family members. PAs may also specialize in certain areas, such as surgery. In some states, physician’s assistants can prescribe medicines from certain classes of drugs. Physician assistant is a master’s degree program. For most programs, prerequisite requirements are: bachelor degree including two semesters of biology with labs, two semesters of general chemistry with labs, organic chemistry with lab, bio-statistics, and biochemistry; and 1000 hours of health care experience. American Academy of Physician Assistants
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