Allied health professions: a rewarding career

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The Independent Online

If you're a good listener who likes talking to people, solving problems and putting those solutions to good use in helping others lead a full life, then a career in the allied health professions could be right up your street.

Your skills and knowledge could make it easier for someone who has had a bad accident to get back to work, a child born with a physical disability to be able to enjoy playing with friends or enable someone in mental distress to better cope with the world.

Many of the allied health professionals use a combination of advice, support and physical activities to stimulate and engage the client whilst helping them to recover or cope with illness, injury or disease.

Some general descriptions of the work that allied health professionals (AHPs) do may seem similar. Podiatrists specialise in the assessment, treatment and management of patients with foot and lower limb disorders; prosthetists design and fit artificial replacements for limbs; and orthotists provide braces, splints and special footwear. However, each profession uses their own particular skills to help improve their client's situation.

Careers within the therapies can also seem confusing. Occupational therapists help people with physical, psychological or social problems achieve their goals through practical advice, teaching personal coping strategies or using activities to stimulate clients back into everyday life. Physiotherapists treat physical problems caused by accidents, illness or ageing, particularly those that affect the muscles, bones, heart, circulation and lungs.

Speech and language therapists work with clients who have eating, swallowing or speech difficulties, whereas a psychotherapist uses a psychological approach to treat clients for mental and physical difficulties. Arts therapy sees art, music and drama used to help people find different ways of expressing their feelings if they have physical, mental, social or emotional difficulties.

So, as a physiotherapist you might plan a treatment with the input of a prosthetist, orthotist, doctor, nurse or occupational therapist. For someone with a swallowing problem, a speech and language therapist may work with the client and a dietitian.

As an AHP you have an important role in health and social care. Each week you might work in a range of settings, from hospitals to prisons. The salaries can be excellent and the NHS suports flexible working. You could be entitled to have your tuition fees paid in full and apply for a means-tested bursary.

Many AHPs need to start with A-levels or equivalent and then take an approved, pre-registration degree. Other routes include entering as a graduate and then applying for postgraduate training. But you don't have to be highly qualified exam-wise to enter the world of allied health as a therapy assistant. You can use your GCSEs, similar qualifications or work experience to assist a registered AHP. In some areas this can lead on to you studying for a degree to become a qualified AHP too.

If you want a career where every day is different, and every client you meet and get to know offers new challenges for you and your team to tackle, look no further. The world of allied health professions is waiting!