Careers in the Allied Health Professions

If you are looking for a career that combines challenge, an excellent employment package and the rewards of doing something really worthwhile, the allied health professions (AHPs) offer a wide range of opportunities.

If you are looking for a career that combines challenge, an excellent employment package and the rewards of doing something really worthwhile, the allied health professions (AHPs) offer a wide range of opportunities. As key members of today’s healthcare team, AHPs provide treatment that helps transform people’s lives.

There are various roles that come under the banner of the allied health professions (AHPs)

These include arts therapists (art therapists, dramatherapists and music therapists), chiropodists/podiatrists, dietitians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, orthotists, paramedics, physiotherapists, prosthetists, radiographers and speech and language therapists

Entry requirements for the AHPs vary, and acquiring the knowledge and skills to become a professional involves training and study at degree or diploma level, but there is a range of vital support roles that require no set academic qualifications.

AHPs carry their own caseloads and work as autonomous professionals, for example they may work directly with a patient to develop some interactive therapies to aid recovery. However, health and social care today is about teamwork so AHPs will also be part of a team and may even lead one. This might mean working with other AHPs or other professionals such GPs, hospital doctors, teachers, or social workers for example.

AHPs often see patients and clients in different surroundings. You will find AHPs working in hospitals, clinics, housing services, people’s homes, schools and colleges to name but few. Not surprisingly, the academic requirements and training demands are high, but then so are the rewards, both in terms of job satisfaction and career prospects.

Skills required
As an allied health professional you need to be practical and have a good academic background, including a science-based qualification. Here are some of the key skills you will need to pursue a career:

  • Want to make a difference to people’s lives
  • You will be helping patients to become as independent as possible and to achieve their personal goals. You will need to be focused on what the patient wants and needs and what you can do to help them to achieve the best outcome possible.
  • Personal awareness, maturity and professionalism
  • You will be working closely with patients, often on a one-to-one basis. You must be trustworthy and have a friendly and professional attitude towards them. Tact and maturity are vital. You will also be personally responsible for your actions so you must be able to justify your own decisions.
  • Good people skills and excellent communication skills
  • People skills and communication are crucial to being an AHP. You need to be good at listening as well as talking and you have to be constantly alert to changes in patients’ conditions and the implications in terms of care. You’ll also need to be able to communicate this to other team members, patients and their families.
  • Committed to working as part of a team
  • You’ll be working as part of a team whose collective focus is the health and well-being of people. You need to know how all these different people collaborate and enjoy working as a team.
  • Be able to ‘teach’
  • You will need to be able to educate and train other healthcare staff to develop their skills in the rehabilitation of patients and service users.
  • Have empathy
  • Empathy is an essential behaviour when dealing with clients and service users, especially when you are working with patients with long-term conditions.

Entry requirements for working in the allied health professions

There are a wide range of career opportunities within the allied health professions. Whatever your interests, qualifications, academic background and work experience there will be something for you.

To become a qualified professional you will need to study for a degree and some careers such as art therapy also require further post-graduate study. Alternatively you can join the NHS as a therapy assistant, working along side qualified staff, where you can also build up qualifications and experience to help you apply for training. The following entry requirements will help you identify which career you might be most suited to.

With good GCSEs and/or work experience
Across most of the allied health professions there is also a range of clinical support/assistant roles that play an important part in providing treatment to patients. There are no set academic requirements but these roles can act as a springboard for further career development and eventual professional qualification. How far you want to take your career will depend on you but the culture of personal development and continuing learning within the NHS will provide all the support you need.

With A-Levels
To move into any of the professional AHP roles, you will need to have completed an *approved course of study and training at degree or diploma level or above. Only then will you be qualified to make the kind of clinical judgements on which the health and well-being of your patients may depend. This means you will need good grades at A-level or equivalent to gain a place on a university course, including a science, or relevant work experience combined with evidence of academic ability.

As a graduate
In all of the AHPs, you will be working as an independent professional, responsible for the assessment and treatment of your own caseload of patients. For most of the AHPs, you must complete an *approved higher education training programme at degree/diploma level or equivalent.

However, if you already have a degree in a relevant discipline, there are also postgraduate training courses at diploma, masters or doctorate level in some of the allied health professions – specifically dietetics, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, radiography and speech and language therapy.

To work as an art therapist, dramatherapist or music therapist, the only route is by way of an *approved postgraduate qualification.

*To work in the NHS, allied health professionals must be registered with the appropriate regulatory body. Registration is through the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You will only be eligible for registration if you have completed accredited training and been awarded an approved qualification.

Applying to university through UCAS

UCAS is the organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK.

The vast majority of applications through UCAS are made online, through the UCAS Apply system.

In broad terms, the rules for applying for most courses are as follows:

  • Applications for degree programmes should be submitted the autumn of the year before the course starts. Applications for the courses should normally be forwarded to UCAS between 1 September and 15 January.
  • Applications received between 16 January and 30 June will be considered as late applications.
  • Any application received after this period will be subject to clearing.
  • There are slightly different arrangements and timescales for applicants applying for degrees in medicine and dentistry (and veterinary science).

There are also additional requirements for applicants applying for pre-registration nursing programmes at institutions with multiple start dates.

Financial support for AHP students

This page describes the new financial support that students on certain specified allied health professions courses may be eligible to receive.

The review of the NHS bursary scheme has concluded that, in the future, students on NHS funded courses will all have access to the same package of financial support from September 2012.

These arrangements will provide new students with a small non-means tested grant, a larger means tested bursary and a reduced rate non-means tested loan. Different rates of means tested bursary and loan will apply according to where a student lives in the Country.

The new arrangements remove the discrepancy between funding available to students on a diploma course or a degree course.

Changes will only apply to new students who begin their training on or after the date the new arrangements come into effect. Existing students will remain on the current scheme.

Financial support
Students on university courses (which lead to registration with the Health and Care Professions Council) for certain allied health professions may be eligible for financial help from the NHS, while studying.

Eligible students who are accepted onto approved courses will usually have their tuition fees paid in full and may receive financial support in the form of a bursary.

All eligible students will receive a £1,000 grant each year. They will also be eligible to apply for an additional means-tested bursary of up to £4,395 per year. Students in London will qualify for more (up to £5,460)

NHS Student Bursaries provides financial support to eligible students taking approved (NHS funded) courses in the following subjects.

  • dietetics
  • occupational therapy
  • operating department practice
  • orthoptics
  • orthotics & prosthetics
  • physiotherapy
  • podiatry/chiropody
  • radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic)
  • speech and language therapy

Further information
Contact the university/universities you are planning to apply to, to find out if the course is an approved course and attracts NHS financial support.

To be eligible for financial support from the NHS, you must meet certain criteria.