Allied Health Specialites

Allied Health Specialites

Listed below are some of the more common areas of specialization in the allied health professions. Included in these listings are links to resources to help you learn more about the allied health specializations that interest you.

Allied Health Professionals   |   Anesthesia Technologists   |   Anesthesiologist Assistants & Anesthetists   |   Cardiovascular Technologists & Technicians   |   Diagnostic Medical Sonographers & Ultrasound Technologists   |   Health Information Technicians & Medical Records Technicians   |   Histotechnicians & Histotechnologists   |   Massage Therapists   |   Medical Assistants   |   Medical Billers & Coders   |   Medical Laboratory Technologists   |   Medical Office Administration Assistants   |   Medical Transcriptionists   |   Physical Therapists & Physical Therapist Assistants   |   Physician Assistants   |   Radiologic Technologists & Technicians   |   Respiratory Therapists & Respiratory Therapy Technicians   |   Surgical Technologists & Operating Room Technicians  

Allied Health Professionals

Allied health professionals (AHPs) work with children and adults of all ages who are ill, have disabilities or special needs. AHPs help people to recover movement or mobility, overcome visual problems, improve nutritional status, develop communication abilities and restore confidence in everyday living skills.

Within allied health, there are over 60 different career options, such as, occupational therapist, art therapist, dietician, paramedic, speech therapist, and psychologist, just to name a few.

AHPs work with doctors, teachers and social workers to develop and follow-through with treatment plans for patients. AHPs can work in a variety of settings, including: hospitals, clinics, housing services, people's homes, schools and colleges.

Educational requirements to enter the allied health profession vary, depending on which area you are interested in. Some positions require only a high school diloma and provide on-the-job-training, such as paramedic and assistant positions. However, it's recommended to have at least an Associate's degree before entering the allied health profession, and some specialties, such as podiatry or orthoptics require Bachelor's degree.

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Anesthesia Technologists

The role of the anesthesia technologist is to expedite, facilitate, and support the clinical work done by the professional anesthesia personnel. Anesthesia technologists are responsible for managing the anesthesia equipment and its proper maintenance, including procurement, assembly, operation troubleshooting, dismantling, and cleaning.

Formal education is not required to obtain a position as an anesthesia technologist, and many anesthesia technologists are trained on the job. However, demand for formally trained anesthesia technologists is on the rise. Formal training programs range from an Associate's to a Bachelor's Degree program. The curriculum may include classroom and clinical education in: anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, EKG analysis, and anesthetics.

Voluntary certification may be obtained through the American Society of Anesthesia Technologists and Technicians (ASATT). Upon successful completion of a written exam, the Certified Anesthesia Technicians (Cer. A.T.) is earned. Anesthesia technologists are not permitted to sit for the exam unless they have either two years of employment as a technologist, or have graduated from an ASATT approved formal education program (at least two years).

Anesthesia technologists work in hospitals, medical centers or clinics.

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Anesthesiologist Assistants & Anesthetists

Anesthesiologist assistants (AAs), also referred to as anesthetists, work under the direction of licensed anesthesiologists to develop and implement anesthesia care plans. Specific job functions of AAs vary and are regulated by state, regional and local facility rules of practice, but may include: pre-testing and calibrating monitors, collecting preoperative data, inserting catheters, and assisting in implementing the anesthesia plan during surgery, just to name a few.

Educational requirements for becoming an AA include a Bachelor's degree, preferably in a pre-medical program, and successful completion of a graduate program, which includes both classroom and clinical training. Graduate programs for anesthesiology are typically found in medical schools.

Anesthesiologist assistants are certified through the National Commission for Certification of Anesthesiologist Assistants (NCCAA), and may become certified after graduating from a degree program and successfully completing the certification exam. States regulate licensing of AAs, and interested persons should contact their state to find out about specific licensure requirements.

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Cardiovascular Technologists & Technicians

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians assist physicians in diagnosing and treating cardiac (heart) and peripheral vascular (blood vessel) ailments. Within cardiovascular technology there are three main areas of specialty practice -- invasive cardiology, non-invasive cardiology (or echocardiography), and non-invasive peripheral vascular technology.

Cardiology technologists, specialize in invasive procedures, and assist physicians with cardiac catheterization procedures. Technologists who specialize in echocardiography or vascular technology typically run noninvasive tests such as Doppler ultrasound. Lastly, vascular technologists or vascular sonographers assist physicians in the diagnosis of disorders affecting the circulation.

Cardiovascular technologists, vascular technologists, and cardiac sonographers normally complete a 2-year junior or community college program, although some have a four-year degree. Areas of study include: specialized instruction in either invasive, noninvasive cardiovascular, or noninvasive vascular technology.

Many cardiovascular technologists work in a hospital setting.

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Diagnostic Medical Sonographers & Ultrasound Technologists

Diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as ultrasonographers, use medical ultrasound equipment (nonionizing, high frequency sound waves that produce images of internal structures). Sonographic data is used in diagnosis by a physician, as well as to monitor fetal development.

Sonographic specialties include: obstetric and gynecologic sonography, abdominal sonography, neurosonography, or ophthalmologic sonography. In addition, sonographers may specialize in vascular technology or echocardiography (see section on Cardiovascular Technologists & Technicians).

Education and background of Sonographers ranges from a high school diploma to a Bachelor's Degree. However, 2-year programs resulting in an Associate's Degree are the most prevalent. Education programs typically include classes in anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care, and medical ethics.

There is currently no state mandated certification; however, sonographers can increase their marketability by registering with the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), which requires passing a general physics and instrumentation examination, in addition to passing an exam in a specialty such as obstetric and gynecologic sonography.

Sonographers work in hospitals, physician offices, and diagnostic imaging centers.

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Health Information Technicians & Medical Records Technicians

Health information technicians organize and evaluate patient health records for completeness and accuracy. This is one of the few occupations in the health industry where there is little-to-no contact with the patients themselves. Health information technicians, sometimes referred to as medical records technicians, make sure that all health and medical charts are complete and properly identified. They also ensure that all of the information is assigned proper medical codes and entered into a computer system.

Some technicians specialize in coding and are called health information coders, medical record coders, coder/abstractors, or coding specialists. Technicians may also assist in improving patient care, controlling costs, assisting in legal actions, responding to surveys, or participating in research studies.

Health information technicians work in a variety of settings, including: physician offices, hospitals, nursing care centers, outpatient care, home health organizations, insurance firms, and public health departments.

Health information technicians typically have an Associate's Degree, with coursework focusing on medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, legal aspects of health information, coding and abstraction of data, statistics, database management, quality improvement methods, and computer science. Employment opportunity increases greatly for technicians who are RHIT certified (Registered Health Information Technicians). In order to obtain this certification one must have an Associate's Degree and pass a written examination given by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

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Histotechnicians & Histotechnologists

Histotechnicians (HTs) and histotechnologists (HTLs), prepare sections of body tissue for microscopic examination by pathologists or other medical scientists. Histotechnicians must work quickly and under pressure since the answers may be needed while the patient is in surgery.

The minimum education requirement for histotechnicians is an Associate's Degree, although there are Bachelor Degree programs offered, as well. Course study may include: histology, histotechniques, histotechnology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, medical terminology, and clinical immunology.

Licensure is regulated by states, but usually requires passing the licensure examination administered by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists.

Most histologic technicians/technologists work in hospitals or private pathology laboratories. Other working environments may include research institutions, industrial laboratories, or government agencies.

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Massage Therapists

Massage therapy is the general term covering a variety of disciplines for the manipulation of soft tissue for therapeutic purposes, such as Swedish, Shiatsu, trigger point, and neuromuscular. Licensed massage therapists promote relaxation as well as comfort and symptom management (such as fatigue, insomnia, nausea and pain levels). The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) defines massage therapy as "manual soft tissue manipulation, and includes holding, causing movement, and/or applying pressure to the body."

Massage therapists work in a variety of settings including: physician or chiropractor offices, nursing homes, hospitals, client homes, pain clinics, resorts, spas, and salons. Surveys of hospitals, conducted through the American Hospital Association, have shown a rapid increase in use of massage in the hospital setting.

Educational and certification requirements vary significantly based on state and local requirements. The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) accredits massage programs and institutions that offer a minimum training of 600 hours of classroom and clinical instruction, conducted or directly supervised by qualified faculty. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have regulations regarding massage therapists. Some of those states require licensure, while others have basic standards that must be followed. Certification requires successful completion of the National Certification Examination in Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, and a minimum of 500 in-class training hours, and is administered by The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB).

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Medical Assistants

Medical assistants perform a variety of administrative and clinical tasks, such as answering telephones, greeting patients, updating and filing patients' medical records, filling out insurance forms, scheduling appointments, arranging for hospital admission and laboratory services, and the handling of patient billing. Medical assistants usually work in an office environment for physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. They should not be confused with physician assistants, who examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the direct supervision of a physician.

Some medical assistants are trained on the job, however, many complete 1- or 2-year programs in vocational-technical high schools, postsecondary vocational schools, and community and junior colleges. Students completing a postsecondary program are typically awarded either a certificate or diploma; two-year programs at community or junior colleges typically result in an Associates Degree.

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Medical Billers & Coders

Medical billers review patients' insurance coverage, explain the physician's fees, estimate what charges payers will cover, estimate how much patients should pay, and prepare complete and accurate health-care invoices and claims. Codes exist for every doctor's visit, procedure or test that is administered and must be properly documented on all billing forms in order for offices and hospitals to receive proper payment.

Training and education for medical billers and coders ranges from correspondence school certification to two-year Associate degree programs, and even four-year Bachelor degree programs. Optional certification is offered through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA).

Medical billers and coders work in medical offices, clinics, hospitals, and insurance companies. They provide support to physicians, clinics, hospitals, and patients.

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Medical Laboratory Technologists

Clinical laboratory technicians perform lab tests under the supervision of a pathologist. Lab technicians also develop data on the blood, tissues, and fluids of the human body by using a variety of precise methodologies and technologies.

In 1999 medical laboratory technicians were ranked in the top 20 list of best jobs by "Jobs Rated Almanac: The Best and Worst Jobs".

Typical education or training for laboratory technicians is a two-year degree program resulting in an Associate's degree. The curriculum usually consists of a combination of classroom and laboratory classes focusing on basic laboratory mathematics, computer technology, communication skills and interpersonal relationships, and social responsibilities, as well as procedures in hematology, microbiology, immunohematology, immunology, clinical chemistry, and urinalysis.

Laboratory technicians may sit for the optional certification exam, administered by the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology. Successful completion of this exam results in the official designation of Medical Laboratory Technician or MLT(ASCP).

Most laboratory technicians work in a hospital lab or free-standing lab clinic.

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Medical Office Administration Assistants

Medical office administration assistants perform a wide variety of tasks from answering phones and setting up appointments, to assisting with billing and working with insurance firms. The skills required for Medical office administration assistants is similar to the skills needed for other administrative assistant type positions - good typing skills, computer proficiency, good communication skills, good understanding of filling systems, and planning and scheduling meetings, just to name a few.

No formal training is required, and many medical office administration assistants have on-the-job training. However, there are several formal education options, from correspondence courses to two-year Associate Degree programs from community colleges.

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Medical Transcriptionists

Medical transcriptionists listen to dictated recordings made by physicians and other healthcare professionals and transcribe them into medical reports, correspondence, and other administrative material. The documents they produce include discharge summaries, history and physical examination reports, operative reports, consultation reports, autopsy reports, diagnostic imaging studies, progress notes, and referral letters.

Medical transcriptionists must understand medical terminology in order to accurately transcribe. They should also have a solid understanding of anatomy and physiology, diagnostic procedures, pharmacology, and treatment assessments. In order to gain this understanding most transcriptionists have formal training in medical transcription from a vocational school, community college, or distance-learning program. Completion of a 2-year associate degree or 1-year certificate program is highly recommended. Coursework in formal training programs usually include: anatomy, medical terminology, legal issues relating to healthcare documentation, and English grammar and punctuation.

Transcriptionists may opt for the voluntary designation of Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT) which is awarded by the American Association for Medical Transcription (AAMT).

Working conditions for medical transcriptionists vary from hospital and physician office settings to transcription service offices. Many transcriptionists are self-employed or contract through a transcription service and work from their homes.

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Physical Therapists & Physical Therapist Assistants

Physical therapists (PTs) provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. Their patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy. Physical therapist specialties can include: pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports medicine, neurology, and cardiopulmonary physical therapy.

Physical therapist assistants, work under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist, and perform routine support tasks such as exercises, massages, electrical stimulation, paraffin baths, hot and cold packs, traction, and ultrasound.

All states require physical therapists to pass a licensure exam before practicing. Before sitting for the licensure exam, aspiring PTs must have completed a physical therapy program. Before entering one of these programs individuals must have at least a Bachelor's degree and some programs require previous experience as a volunteer in a physical therapy department of a hospital or clinic.

Physical therapist assistants typically have an Associate's degree, but are not required to be licensed by all states. However, those individuals interested in pursuing a career as a physical therapist assistant should check with the state in which they would like to practice to see the specific requirements.

PTs and PT assistants can practice in hospitals, clinics, private offices, schools or even patients' homes.

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Physician Assistants

Physician assistants (PA) are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive healthcare services, under the direction and guidance of a physician. Common duties performed by PAs include: taking medical histories, examining and treating patients, ordering and interpreting laboratory tests and x rays, making diagnoses, and treating minor injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting. In 47 states and the District of Columbia, PAs are allowed to prescribe medications. Specific duties of physician assistants are determined by the supervising physician and by state law. Aspiring PAs should investigate the laws and regulations in the States in which they wish to practice.

All 50 states require that PAs have completed a formal program. PA programs can be found in schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or 4-year colleges, with a few in community colleges, the military, or hospitals. PA program admissions requirements vary, however most applicants into PA programs already hold a Bachelor's or Master's degree, and some programs require prior experience in the healthcare industry. PA programs usually take two years to complete, with students attending on a full-time basis. Coursework generally includes: biochemistry, pathology, human anatomy, physiology, microbiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine, geriatric and home healthcare, disease prevention, and medical ethics, as well as hands-on clinical training.

All states and D.C. require physician assistants to pass the Physician Assistants National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Once they certified, PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years. Every 6 years, they must pass a recertification examination or complete an alternative program combining learning experiences and a take-home examination.

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Radiologic Technologists & Technicians

Radiologic technologists and technicians are also referred to as radiographers. There are two types of radiographers. Diagnostic radiographers produce x-ray films (radiographs) of parts of the human body to diagnose and assess disease and injuries. Therapeutic radiographers help in the treatment of cancer through the use of high-energy radiation.

Formal training programs in radiography range in length from 1 to 4 years and lead to a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor's degree, with two-year associate degree programs being the most prevalent. Programs include both classroom and clinical instruction in anatomy and physiology, patient care procedures, radiation physics, radiation protection, principles of imaging, medical terminology, positioning of patients, medical ethics, radiobiology, and pathology.

About half of all radiologic technologists and technicians work in a hospital setting, while the other half work in physician offices, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and outpatient care centers.

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Respiratory Therapists & Respiratory Therapy Technicians

Respiratory therapists and respiratory therapy technicians (also known as respiratory care practitioners) evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders. Both respiratory therapists and respiratory therapy technicians practice under physician direction. Respiratory therapists are responsible for all respiratory care therapeutic treatments and diagnostic procedures; while respiratory therapy technicians follow specific, well-defined respiratory care procedures. In clinical practice, many of the daily duties of therapists and technicians overlap, although therapists generally have greater responsibilities than technicians.

Formal training is necessary, with an Associate's Degree becoming the standard requirement. Educational programs in respiratory therapy can be found at colleges, medical schools, vocational-technical institutes, and through the Armed Forces. Areas of study may include: human anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, pharmacology, and mathematics.

Over 40 states license respiratory care practitioners. Individuals aspiring to a career in respiratory therapy should check with their state's licensing board, as requirements vary from state to state.

More than 80 percent of respiratory therapy jobs are found in a hospital setting, typically in respiratory care, anesthesiology, or pulmonary medicine departments.

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Surgical Technologists & Operating Room Technicians

Surgical technologists, also called scrubs and surgical or operating room technicians, assist in surgical operations under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical personnel. Surgical technologists help prepare both the operating room (setting up surgical instruments and equipment) and patients (washing, shaving, and disinfecting incision sites).

Formal training for surgical technologists can be found in community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, and the military. Training programs typically last 9 to 24 months and lead to a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. Training includes both classroom and clinical education.

Although certification is not regulated by the state, most employers prefer to hire certified technologists. Technologists may obtain certification from the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist or the National Center for Competency Testing.

About three-quarters of surgical technologist jobs are found in a hospital setting.

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