Allied Health Professions


Allied Health Professions

One of the most important changes that occurred during the evolution and progression of scientific medicine in this country was the tendency of health providers to specialize. Allied health, which is a group of specialized, complex, and highly technical professions, grew, developed, and proliferated out of this specialization, which brought with it the need to develop efficient working relationships among the numerous medical professionals, as well as among the organizational components of health services. These relationships needed to extend beyond the health field into other areas, including science and industry. Specialization allowed health professionals to develop more complex skills and expertise in their fields.

As the population has increased and medical care has become more sophisticated, the role of allied health professions has greatly expanded. Many new professions have emerged as more duties and responsibilities once performed by physicians and dentists have shifted to allied health personnel. Allied health personnel can be trained more quickly and less expensively than physicians and dentists, who can now make better use of their time and skills.

Some of the allied health professions are well established and well known; others have just emerged and parallel the introduction of new technology. You should be aware of the tasks performed by allied health providers in your work environment and the role they play in the health care team. This chapter discusses some health professions you may encounter in your clinical experience, but it by no means covers all of them. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a federal government department with the responsibility for providing services in health care, has identified more than 250 health-related occupations. The following descriptions introduce you to a few of these other health care team members.


Nursing, although not considered an allied health profession, is listed here because of its health-related services. The nursing profession is the largest, oldest, and most readily identified of the health professions besides that of the physician. The nurse has around-the-clock contact with patients and must provide the physical and emotional support a patient needs because of illness or disability. The nurse often teaches patients and their families about illness and therapy, thereby alleviating many of their anxieties.

The registered nurse makes observations and assessments that are useful to other staff members, takes patient histories, gives physical examinations, and administers prescribed treatments.

The nursing student can consider three courses for becoming a registered nurse. The diploma program is administered in a hospital and is sometimes affiliated with a college or university; this program usually takes 3 years to complete. The associate degree program involves 2 years at a community college, technical institute, or university with course work in basic physical, biologic, and social sciences, humanities, and nursing. The baccalaureate program usually involves 4 to 5 academic years, and the graduate from this program most often receives a bachelor of science in nursing. Course work includes anatomy and physiology, biology, physical and social sciences, nursing, and humanities.

To become a registered nurse, the student must graduate from an approved nursing program, pass the state board examination, and meet individual state requirements for licensure.

Specialized areas of nursing include psychiatric nursing, community health nursing, and rehabilitation nursing. The individual nurse practitioner must have advanced nursing skills, which usually include a master of arts or master of science in nursing. The practitioner often establishes private practice and offers services in health teaching, assessment, and physical care; he or she often has close contact with a physician for patient referral and follow-up.

The nurse anesthetist must complete an advanced program to administer anesthesia to surgery and obstetrics patients. The nurse midwife must be certified or have a master of arts in midwifery. Critical care nursing has a core curriculum of advanced specialized study and a critical care registry examination.

Nursing, as in radiologic technology, is experiencing the development of specialized functions that stimulate the growth of separate educational programs, professional organizations, and qualifying examinations and procedures.

Medical technology

The medical technologist functions within the clinical laboratory to provide diagnostic and therapeutic information to primary caregivers. This information is generated by the medical technologist through highly precise analysis of blood and body fluids to measure and identify the constituents (Fig. 19-1). Several different disciplines or specialties are within the profession of medical technology. Body fluid chemistry involves measurement of constituents such as glucose, cholesterol, blood acidity, and the various blood proteins. Hematologic analyses include counting red and white blood cells and using the microscope to identify abnormalities. Clotting abnormalities also can be identified by a variety of special tests. Medical technologists working in the blood banking discipline test donor and recipient blood to ensure compatibility of transfusion products. In the microbiology laboratory, medical technologists culture and analyze bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses to diagnose infectious diseases while also performing tests to determine the most effective therapeutic agents. Immunodiagnostic testing involves the detection of immune system products such as antibodies to determine infectious disease status, as well as protective immunity. A newly emerging discipline in medical technology involves molecular testing such as analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

To perform these tasks, medical technologists must apply technical skills, while they also must understand the related chemical, physical, and biologic principles necessary to ensure accurate laboratory results. The educational requirements to become a medical technologist take approximately 4 years and involve completion of chemistry, biology, math, English, and elective prerequisites after which the student attends an accredited program of medical technology to focus on both classroom and practical experiences in all the disciplines to complete a baccalaureate degree. Once educational requirements are complete, the graduate is eligible to sit for one or more of the national certification examinations in medical technology. The most recognized certification as a medical technologist is offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology, which results in the MT(ASCP) credential.

The traditional work settings for medical technologists are in the hospital clinical laboratory or in large independent laboratories. However, many medical technologists work in other settings such as research, education, or in the laboratory supply industry as technical representatives.


The field of histotechnology is fairly small; approximately 9000 registered histologic technicians practice in the United States. The histologic technician processes tissue samples from surgical autopsies and research procedures. These technicians may work in university hospitals, research centers, or private laboratories. They must be skilled in processing tissue from surgical and autopsy procedures, embedding tissue into paraffin blocks, cutting ultra-thin, paraffin-embedded tissue samples, and identifying tissue by sight and stain.

Mar 2, 2016 | Posted by in GENERAL RADIOLOGY | Comments Off on Allied Health Professions

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