Allied Health Assistants are becoming an increasingly important part of the health system and play a vital role in enhancing the treatment and support provided by allied health professionals. Appropriately supported, allied health assistants can successfully and efficiently support and assist individual treatment interventions, allowing allied health professionals adequate time to focus on managing and evaluating an individual’s treatment plan.
What does an allied health assistant do?
An allied health assistant (AHA) provides support to improve the output, quality and efficiency of allied health professionals’ (AHPs) services, delivering services in both a one-to-one and group format. Allied health assistants work with people of different ages, presenting with many conditions, depending on their work setting and the delegating allied health profession.
Some allied health assistants work with one type of allied health profession, whereas others work in multidisciplinary healthcare teams as multidisciplinary allied health assistants. In the UK, the umbrella term ‘healthcare support workers’ is used to describe a range of roles that support the allied health professions (e.g., dietetic assistant, orthotic technician, podiatry assistant, radiography assistant and others).
Allied health assistants’ roles vary quite significantly, in line with the needs of their team and the patients they work with. There are some core skills and qualities they must have, such as great communication skills, the ability to build rapport with patients, work independently and as part of a team. They need to be flexible and responsive to the demands of a broad range of patient and healthcare team support needs, have high-level organisation skills and confidence to talk to and manage groups of patients.
Where do allied health assistants work?
Allied health assistants are likely to work wherever allied health professionals work, however their level of recognition varies greatly according to the country, and even the setting in which they work.
Allied health assistants work in all kinds of public and private health and social care settings, including hospitals, (in- and out-patient settings), community health centres, rehabilitation facilities, medical imaging departments and clinics, schools, disability, acute care and aged care services. They support individuals who require treatment from allied health professionals, which may include people with disabilities, elderly, sick and injured clients, athletes, or the general population.
Desirable personality traits of an allied health assistant
An individual who has an interest in health, rehabilitation, therapy, a passion for caring, assisting and working with people, the community and allied health/healthcare/medical professionals.
How to qualify as an allied health assistant
In Australia (and most other countries), the AHA workforce is unregulated and unregistered and there are no, formal, recognised minimum training standards. AHAs generally have vocational qualifications and may be supported by a Certificate III or Certificate IV, however they will learn their most important skills on the job. A number of undergraduate allied health professionals work as AHAs while they train, and this is a pathway to employment for a number of graduate allied health professionals. Training for AHAs varies by state, by profession, and also by employment type. There is currently a move in Australia to introduce a self-regulation framework for AHAs. More information is available here.
Those looking to qualify as a healthcare support worker in the UK have different options, depending on the allied health profession with which they choose to work. Dietetic, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy assistants complete on the job training, with the option to complete a level 2 Certificate in Healthcare Support Services or a level 3 Diploma in Healthcare Support. With experience, dietetic, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy assistants can apply to train as an assistant practitioner. Those wishing to work as a radiography assistant receive workplace-based training and can complete a level 2 or 3 Certificate in Imaging Support. Podiatry Assistants complete on the job training only in the UK.
In the USA, allied health assistants are aligned with the specific allied health professions, for example, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language therapy. Aspiring allied health assistants in the USA may complete a two-year accredited associate degree program, with an additional 100 hours of clinical experience.
Workforce considerations for allied health assistants
Allied health assistants do not have a peak body in any of the countries in which they work. This means they lack a united voice for advocacy, recognition, and scope of practice advancement. The recent formation of the Allied Health Assistants’ National Association Ltd (A.H.A.N.A.) represents a big step forward for allied health assistants as an occupational group as it aims to promote awareness of, and advocacy for allied health assistants in Australia.
A day in the life of an allied health assistant
Allied Health Assistants may begin their working day by discussing with the allied health professional/assistant manager their client workload for the day and obtain any necessary client treatment information and details regarding a client’s therapeutic plan. They then plan when and who they will be working with.
They may drive to clients’ homes, hospitals, or rehabilitation/healthcare facilities to provide therapeutic intervention and assessment with and without the Allied Health Professional. They may also participate on telehealth calls to speak with rehabilitation, healthcare, allied health professionals, or managers and contribute to various client treatment planning meetings to obtain relevant information to support and assist the Allied Health Professional. During or before the end of the day, Allied Health Assistants fill out their client notes, documents and speak with/update any relevant managers or professionals.
Find out more about allied health assistants
Here are some links to websites and resources for and about allied health assistants:
- Allied Health Assistants’ National Association Ltd A.H.A.N.A.
- Allied Health Assistants | Queensland Health
- Allied Health Assistants | South Island Alliance
- Shaping our South Island Allied Health workforce | White Paper
- Roles as a healthcare support worker | NHS Health Careers
- Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant | American Physical Therapy Association
- OTA Guide – A Student Career Guide to Becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Scope of Practice for the Speech-Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA) | American Speech Language Hearing Association
- Being a Podiatric Medical Assistant | Medical Assistant Online