How to Choose the Best Allied Health Degree

The article below details why you should earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in one of the allied health professions. It also offers helpful information on how to select your program, joint degree options and accreditation.

What Is An Allied Health Degree?

An allied health degree is an academic degree – usually a bachelor’s or master’s degree – in one of the allied health fields, such as:

  • Health administration
  • Emergency medical services
  • Physical therapy
  • Radiography
  • Respiratory therapy
  • Speech-language pathology
  • Physician assistant
  • Occupational therapy

According to the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions, allied health is the part of the healthcare field that delivers patient services that involves the identification, evaluation and prevention of many diseases and disorders, as well as dietary and nutrition services. Rehabilitation services and health systems management also falls under the purview of allied health professionals.

There are at least five million allied healthcare workers in the US who work in dozens of professions. They represent nearly 60% of all healthcare workers in the US. By 2020, it is believed that there will be at least 20 million allied health workers in the US, most of whom hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Why Earn a Allied Health Degree?

The entire allied health field is one where there is high demand and excellent pay. You also have the opportunity to help people overcome their illnesses and physical problems, which is very rewarding work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment for all healthcare professionals will increase by 19% by 2024, which is a very fast growth rate. This means more than 2.3 million jobs will be added in the healthcare field, and many of these are in the allied health professions.

The allied health field is very broad and involves specialities with very specific job skills. So, early on, you will need to decide which type of allied health career you want. No matter which profession you choose in allied health, you will likely find there is strong job demand.

As you are considering an allied health career, you must decide the best degree and the correct program for you. The type of degree that you decide upon is very important, as is the correct university so that employers know that you have a high quality degree.

Before you begin to look at the various allied health degree options, you should determine how long you want to be in college. There are some allied health professions that may take only two years, but others require a bachelor’s degree or master’s. The longer you are in college, the higher pay and responsibility you can expect when you graduate.

With a two year or associate’s degree, you can expect a lower level of compensation, but this degree will get you experience in the field and you can eventually earn a higher degree later. Most of your classes should transfer when you decide to further your education.

Many of the allied health professions are available with a bachelor’s degree, including respiratory care, radiography, dental hygiene and health administration. Others will require you to earn your master’s degree, such as physician assistant and physical therapy.

Choosing Your Degree Path

After you have decided how long you want to spend in college, you will need to determined which allied health career field is best for you. There are many specialities to choose from. Some of the most popular allied health career fields today are:

  • Physician assistant: This allied health profession has been ranked as one of the best health care roles in the US, according to US News and World Report. PAs are advanced medical providers who are licensed to diagnose/treat diseases and illnesses much the same as doctors are. They also may prescribe medications and order and evaluate test results. The job demand in this field is very high and the salary is excellent. A master’s degree from an accredited PA school is required.
  • Physical therapist: PTs provide therapy services to people to restore function, boost mobility, relieve much pain and limit long term disabilities for patients who suffer from injuries and diseases. PTs work closely with patients to restore and maintain their physical fitness level so they can live and work well on their own. This allied health profession also requires a master’s degree.
  • Respiratory therapy: These respiratory professionals help people who have chronic respiratory problems including COPD, asthma and emphysema. People who have heart problems and babies born prematurely often need help to breathe properly. They also work in emergency and trauma situations to help people who have had heart attacks or accidents. This degree requires a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy.
  • Dental hygienist: These oral health care professionals graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program that usually takes four years. This type of career involves assessing the oral and teeth problems of patients and determining if major diseases are present. Some of the clinical procedures they perform include removing plaque and stains from teeth; exposing/processing x-rays; and applying agents that prevent cavities. Depending upon the state, some dental hygienists may operate independently of dentists in their own offices.
  • Audiologist: This is the science of hearing, balance and disorders related to these items. These allied health professionals are experts in diagnosing nonmedical conditions of the auditory and balance systems. They typically identify and assess hearing/balance issues; rehabilitate those with hearing and balance problems; and prevent hearing loss. This profession requires an advanced degree.

Online Allied Health Degree Options

If you are interested in an allied health career and want to earn your degree online, you have many options in the 21st century. Consider these online allied health degree options:

  • Bachelor’s in Health Science from Southern New Hampshire University: This bachelor’s program is designed for someone who already has their associate’s degree in one of the allied health professions. With this degree, you can find exciting work in cardiovascular technology; radiography; sonography; surgical technology; veterinary technology; and health information technology.
  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies from University of North Dakota: This is a two year online degree program that is designed for two types: those who have a license as a health care professional, and those who have a science-based educational background and have at least 500 hours of direct patient care.
  • Bachelor’s in Health Care Administration from Grand Canyon University: This four year online program stresses the analytical and conceptual skills that are needed to manage operations and develop process within a healthcare organization. This program will prepare you for entry into many health administration positions.
  • Master of Occupational Therapy from Shenandoah University: This is a two year, largely online degree. You attend campus classes one day per week and complete fieldwork experiences on days when you are not on campus. However, much of the classwork can be completed online.

Accreditation

When you are considering any allied health degree program, you will want to ensure first that the university has been accredited by one of the six regional accreditation bodies recognized by the Department of Education:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

If the university has been accredited by one of these bodies, you can be confident that your allied health degree will be recognized by most or all employers.

You also should ensure that your specific degree program has been accredited by a respected accreditation body. This body will vary depending upon which allied health degree that you earn. Some of the common program accreditation bodies in allied health are:

Summary

There are many allied health programs from which you can choose. You should consider all of your health care career options in this exciting area and determine which is best for you.

Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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