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Did you know that you can have a career in health care without going to medical school or nursing school? In fact, of the six million health care workers in the United States, sixty percent are neither physicians nor nurses. The advances in medical technology, the growth of the HMO concept of health care and the aging of the population have all created a need for medical specialists in what are called the allied health professions. If you are interested in a health care career but medical school is not an option, an associate degree in allied health can be your stepping stone to achieving your goal.

Allied Health

Allied health science careers

Allied health workers are involved with patient care, either directly or indirectly. A person with an associate degree in allied health may work in a hospital environment, a physician's office, a government health department or even for a professional sports team. Allied health professions are divided into two broad categories: technologists/therapists and technicians/assistants. The latter category usually operates under the supervision of the former category, or directly for physicians and nurses. Below are just a few of the more well-known allied health careers and their median annual compensation, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2014:

  • Respiratory Therapists -- $56,730
  • Physical Therapist Assistants -- $54,410
  • Medical and Public Health Social Workers -- $46,300
  • Occupational Therapist Assistants -- $56,950
  • Radiation Therapists -- $80,090
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers -- $67,530

The BLS projects that demand for all of these jobs will grow by more than 19 percent between 2012 and 2022. Most other jobs that fall under the allied health science umbrella are projected to have faster than average or much faster than average growth.

Allied health science education

With an associate degree in allied health science you can enter the workforce immediately or take additional technical training to become certified in any number of medical specialties. An associate degree in allied medical science typically takes two years to accomplish, whether you attend college on campus or elect to pursue an online associate degree. An online associate degree in allied health science program is better if you have job or family obligations that preclude attending a campus-based program. However, some allied health science degree programs require clinical coursework and externships. In these cases a hybrid program may be available to allow the online student to attend on-campus courses as necessary.

As with any associate degree, most allied health science degree programs require at least 60 semester hours which include general education subjects as well as 30 hours of courses specifically related to health science. Depending on the program, these courses may include such subjects as:

  • Medical terminology
  • Nutrition
  • Principles of disease
  • Electronic principles in medical instrumentation
  • Health care organization
  • Health care information systems

When researching schools that offer an associate degree in allied health sciences, make sure that the curriculum matches your interests and goals. Once you've done that, it's just a matter of time before you're able to enter the growing allied health science field.


"Respiratory Therapists," Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291126.htm

"Respiratory Therapists," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm

"Physical Therapist Assistants," Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm

"Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm

"Medical and Public Health Social Workers," Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2009/may/oes211022.htm

"Social Workers," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm

"Occupational Therapy Assistants," Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312011.htm

"Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm

"Radiation Therapists," Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291124.htm

"Radiation Therapists," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiation-therapists.htm

"Diagnostic Medical Sonographers," Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292032.htm

"Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm

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