By Morgan Chilson
While doctors and nurses may be the most visible members of America’s health care workforce, allied health professionals actually make up more than 60 percent of positions, filling vital roles in medical facilities, laboratories, doctors’ offices and in-home care, according to the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions.
What an allied health professional does
People categorized as allied health professionals work in a wide variety of positions, from medical billing and coding technicians to medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and dieticians, to name just a few. Such positions require post-secondary education, either through a certification program or an associate’s degree. Many of these healthcare jobs offer excellent career opportunities and often make leading lists such as College Quest’s “The Top High-Paying Jobs with an Associate’s Degree.”
A wide-open job market for these health care specialties is encouraging for students. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the health care field will add the most jobs to the labor market through 2022.
What employers are looking for
For Mercy Health System’s Director of Laboratory Services Geralyn Fattore, the need for qualified allied health professionals is a fact of her everyday world. The employees at Mercy Health have a variety of educational levels, with many holding certifications or associate’s degrees before choosing to go on to complete a bachelor’s degree, or even further, Fattore said. Employees will often be hired with a medical-assistant or phlebotomist certification, and then they discover an affinity for the work and continue studying for an associate’s degree to become medical laboratory technicians.
Fattore herself started with an associate’s degree as a medical laboratory technician and then returned to school for her bachelor’s degree.
Using phlebotomists or medical assistants as an example, Fattore said professionals at Mercy Health operate in a variety of settings, drawing blood in laboratories, on the hospital floors or through a program that travels to area nursing homes. People who excel in such professions tend to be customer oriented.
“When I interview candidates, it’s basically about customer service,” she said. “In the hospital, it’s customer service, just like if you’re going to buy a pair of shoes at Macy’s. I look for someone who is upbeat and happy and professional. That’s very important to us because customer service is very important.”
Such traits are even more important than experience, Fattore said, pointing out that skills can be refined in the health care setting.
“I feel like you can always teach the skill; a lot of these kids come out and don’t have experience, and I’m really a big advocate in giving these candidates a chance, because we were all there at one point,” she said. “You can perfect skills but you can’t change their attitude and their personality.”
A day in the life of an allied health professional
Eric Schmidt is a pharmacy technician at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia. Every day he uses people skills and the health care skills he learned during post-secondary education.
“We work hand-in-hand with the pharmacists once the orders are entered by the doctors,” Schmidt said. “It’s rewarding. And it’s definitely a fast pace, and I like being busy. You’re overloaded, but it makes the day go fast. You get to work with all the different departments, which is interesting.”
During his day, Schmidt will help stock the carts used during emergency situations, such as when someone is in respiratory distress. He stocks the Pyxis Medstations (automated medication dispensers) and makes up IV bags used to infuse patients in the hospital.
Schmidt, who said he wished he had gone on to pharmacy school, said it’s fulfilling to know he’s helping people who “are the most vulnerable at that point in time.”
The fulfilling aspect of the work draws many people to allied health professions, Fattore said. As an administrator, she said, she misses patient contact tremendously, and so she makes an effort to visit with patients, which “brings you back to why we’re all in this profession.”
“It’s about the patients and it is very fulfilling,” she said. “You don’t realize sometimes what people are going through, how sick they are….Sometimes people might need the simplest thing, and you give them a smile and they’re happy.”
Morgan Chilson is a business writer who specializes in health and science topics.