Allied health professionals play a vital role in diagnosing, identifying, evaluating and treating illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions. While performing their job duties, they help physicians, nurses and other providers deliver the best possible care to patients. The Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions reports that roughly 60% of healthcare workers may work in allied health. They may find permanent allied health jobs in hospitals, private practices, clinics, diagnostic imaging centers, long-term care facilities and home health services.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that many allied health specialties will see significant growth in job availability between 2021 and 2031. Read on to explore some of the fastest-growing specialties, potentially providing many new opportunities for those who are looking to start allied health careers or are considering a career path change.
Top Allied Health Specialties
If you’re looking to embark on a new career, dozens of allied health specialties exist for your consideration. The demand for allied health professionals varies within each specialty. Some factors impacting demand include the growing need for medical care or advanced testing and turnover due to allied health workers changing careers or retiring.
According to BLS projections, the following allied health specialties should provide some of the best employment opportunities in terms of growth and annual open positions through 2031. All the salary data noted below is from Vivian Health during the last week of November 2022.
- Average hourly wage: $40.02
- Expected employment growth: 21.3%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 14,000
The BLS estimates that speech pathology will be one of the fastest-growing of the allied health specialties on this list, second only to medical technology. Also known as speech therapists, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) help people overcome problems with speaking, communicating and swallowing. Earning a master’s degree from an accredited SLP program is the first step for those wishing to enter the field. All states require prospective SLPs to gain a license. In some states, the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association fulfills licensing requirements. However, others require SLPs to pass state licensing exams.
- Average hourly wage: $44.67
- Expected employment growth: 16.9%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 15,400
In addition to being one of the fastest-growing specialties, physical therapy is one of the higher-paying allied health fields. Physical therapists (PTs) help patients with mobility issues due to injuries, illnesses, chronic conditions, surgical procedures and pain. PTs must obtain a license to work in every state. To obtain a license, allied health workers must complete an accredited physical therapy master’s degree program and pass an exam created by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Voluntary certifications are available in specialty fields, such as the Geriatrics Physical Therapy Specialist Certification Specialist or Sports Specialist credential through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.
- Average hourly wage: $36.44
- Expected employment growth: 14.7%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 6,000
Diagnostic medical sonographers perform sonograms and ultrasounds, diagnostic imaging tests that use sound waves to produce pictures. Many allied health professionals in this field specialize in a specific type of testing, such as sonograms of breast tissue or pediatrics. Typically, the minimum education required is an associate degree to work in this field, and employers often prefer candidates who hold voluntary certifications. Examples include the Sonography RT certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) or the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Obstetrics & Gynecology certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
- Average hourly wage: $43.02
- Expected employment growth: 13.9%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 10,100
Occupational therapy is a top allied health specialty in terms of wages, growth and the number of estimated job openings per year. Professionals in the field help people regain the strength, dexterity and motor skills required to perform daily living tasks, such as dressing and grooming. All states require prospective occupational therapists to gain licensing. Although requirements vary, completing an approved master’s degree program in occupational therapy and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy‘s written Occupational Therapist Registered examination are criteria in every state.
- Average hourly wage: $30.75
- Expected employment growth: 13.6%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 9,400
Respiratory therapists perform interventions to help people with illnesses and chronic conditions breathe more easily. This allied health specialty typically requires an associate degree in respiratory therapy, and nearly all states regulate the field, mandating professional licensing. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers Certified Respiratory Therapist and Registered Respiratory Therapist certifications for those meeting education and experience requirements and passing the relevant exam. In some states, this certification is a prerequisite for licensing. Therapists may focus on a subspecialty and gain additional credentials from the NBRC, such as the Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist or Adult Critical Care Specialty credential.
- Average hourly wage: $24.01
- Expected employment growth: 10.9%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 9,900
Behavioral health technicians, sometimes called psychiatric or mental health technicians, help provide direct care to individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health disorders. They may lead therapies, administer medications, monitor vital signs and assist with daily living activities. A post-secondary certificate or associate degree in behavioral health, psychiatric or mental health technology is usually needed to launch allied health careers in this field. States don’t require professional licensing for behavioral health techs, but many employers prioritize candidates holding a Licensed Psychiatric Technician certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors.
- Average hourly wage: $17.54
- Expected employment growth: 10.2%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 21,500
For those looking for an in-demand allied health specialty they can enter quickly, phlebotomy may be an ideal fit. Generally, applicants only need a post-secondary certificate to work in this field. Phlebotomists work in hospitals, medical laboratories, private medical practices, outpatient clinics and other settings, drawing blood for diagnostic testing. State requirements for phlebotomists vary. Some only require allied health professionals to complete an approved training course. Others have state licensing exams or mandate that phlebotomists hold a Registered Phlebotomy Technician certification from American Medical Technologists.
- Average hourly wage: $14.99
- Expected employment growth: 6.8%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 5,600
Dietitians develop eating plans geared toward health goals, such as weight management or blood sugar control for diabetics. They calculate patients’ nutritional requirements, create customized menus and educate patients about healthy eating. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum education necessary to work in this allied health specialty. Some states require dietitians to have professional licensing or obtain the Registered Dietitian certification from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Average hourly wage: $30.34
- Expected employment growth: 6.3%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 13,800
Radiology technology is commonly among the highest-paying allied health careers. Rad techs perform diagnostic imaging tests medical professionals use to diagnose and treat injuries and chronic conditions. Many specialize in a particular type of testing, such as magnetic resonance imaging or X-rays. An associate or a bachelor’s degree in radiologic sciences is usually the minimum education necessary for these allied health professionals. Most states also require radiology technologists to obtain either a license or professional certification. American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists offers numerous certifications for radiologic technologists, and some technologists seek credentials through ARRT, like sonographers.
- Average hourly wage: $24.09
- Expected employment growth: 5.9%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 9,600
Surgical technologists are a vital part of the operating team, with essential duties before, during and after surgical procedures. Their tasks may include preparing operating rooms, arranging equipment and assisting doctors and first assistants during surgeries. Vital technical skills include expert knowledge of surgical procedures, sterilization techniques, patient care, CPR and basic life support. To enter the field, allied health professionals need a diploma, certificate or associate degree from a surgical technology program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. To become certified, they must pass the Certified Surgical Technologist examination administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting.
- Average hourly wage: $16.95
- Expected employment growth: 5%
- Estimated number of new jobs annually: 43,500
While expected growth and hourly wages are lower for pharmacy technicians, the BLS predicts they’ll be among the most in-demand allied health care professionals in terms of annual job openings. Pharmacy technicians help licensed pharmacists dispense drugs in hospitals, long-term care facilities and retail pharmacies. Typically, only a high school diploma or the equivalent is necessary to work in this field. Professional requirements for pharmacy techs vary by state, and certification, registration or licensing may be required. However, even in states without any requirements, many technicians seek Certified Pharmacy Technician status from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board to stand out to employers and potentially earn higher pay rates
What Are Travel Contracts in Allied Health Careers?
Travel allied health jobs offer an alternative to permanent positions. When working travel contracts, allied health professionals work for an employer for a predetermined period, often 13 weeks. They may fill in during labor shortages or cover for workers on leave. At the end of the contract, they can seek another travel job in the same area or another part of the country.
In some cases, allied health professionals earn more than their counterparts in permanent positions. Overall, allied health professionals earned an average of $28.95 hourly in staff positions, per Vivian’s salary data in late November 2022. This hourly rate equates to $1,158 during a standard 40-hour workweek.
Comparably, travel allied health positions paid an average of $2,388 per week during this same period. The table below compares staff and travel wages by specialty. We multiplied the average hourly rate in permanent roles by 40 hours to calculate the average weekly rate for staff members in identical specialties to compare to average weekly travel wages.
|Allied Health Specialty||Average Perm Weekly Wages||Average Travel Weekly Wages|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||$1,458||$2,202|
|Behavioral Health Technicians||$961||$1,435|
Source: Vivian Health Salary Data, November 29, 2022
Travel contracts allow allied health workers to experience life in new places and learn new skills in varied settings while still earning a living. Working for different employers may help travelers remain outside the workplace drama, reduce the risk of burnout and enable individuals to try new allied health careers without making a long-term commitment to one employer.
Although Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) anticipates a 10% decline for allied health workers in 2023, it notes that the decline follows peak growth in 2021 due to the pandemic, and it still expects the market to exceed pre-pandemic levels. Overall, SIA feels the reduction is relatively moderate and because allied health professionals can gain credentials relatively quickly, they’ll continue to be vital for health systems looking to bridge their staffing gaps.