In this article, Beverley Bailey outlines opportunites for working in healthcare.

Many people, regardless of their age, assume that the NHS is made up purely of doctors and nurses. In fact, there are over 300 different jobs and careers in healthcare, including many within the field of the allied health professions (AHPs). These practitioners play a vital part in providing healthcare to millions of people in hospitals and the community.

At a time when students are making subject choices and exploring possible career options, NHS Careers offers a service that provides information about hundreds of different health professions including AHPs, as well as offering guidance with entry levels and training. Exploring career descriptions of various jobs in the AHPs through the NHS Careers website could also help students to understand more about health topics such as diabetes, cancer, or obesity, and how a patient with any of these conditions could be helped.

What kind of allied health professions are there?

AHPs encompass careers such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy, arts therapy (music, drama and art) and speech and language therapy.  Therapeutic and diagnostic radiographers, podiatrists, orthoptists and dietitians are also AHPs.

Get them talking – SLT

Talking is a skill we normally learn at a very young age. Talking, though, is just one part of communication. Communication also includes listening, showing understanding, reading and writing. The aim of speech and language therapy (SLT) is to help people communicate in the best way they can.

Speech and language therapists help patients whose problems could be with:

  • speaking because muscles don’t work properly
  • making the right sounds
  • remembering the right sounds or words
  • understanding what is said to them
  • stammering
  • swallowing because of an accident or illness.

SLTs work in many in different places. They might work in a hospital, or in health centres or day centres. They sometimes work in schools, in special units in schools, and in schools especially for children with disabilities and learning disabilities. SLTs may also go to patients’ homes. Speech and language therapists also work with people of all ages from children to adults.  Patients may need help after a stroke or head injury; they may have a disease that affects the brain like Parkinson’s, or have a hearing or voice problem.

Keep them focused – orthoptics

Orthoptists look at eyes. They mainly treat problems with eye movement and how the eye sees. They will help give better vision to people, who can then have better lives. Most orthoptists work in:

  • an eye department of a hospital
  • a special eye hospital
  • schools, mobile units and health clinics.

Orthoptists work with people of all ages from newborn babies to elderly people. They see people who have had accidents such as head injuries or people who may have an illness that is causing problems with their eyes. They also treat people who have problems they were born with, such as a squint (when an eye turns in or out, or up or down) or a lazy eye (when one eye is weaker than the other and doesn’t do any work).

A bite-size look at dieticians

Dietitians work with people to give them information about healthy eating. Nutritional advice will help to keep them healthy through the food they eat. Dietitians also help prevent health problems that may happen because of eating too much unhealthy food. They will also treat diseases – like obesity and diabetes. They use the information they have about the science of nutrition to do this. People with diabetes must pay careful attention to the food they eat because they can’t have too much sugar in their diet. There are other sorts of people who need special diets or diets without certain substances in them.

Get a life – occupational therapy

Occupational therapists (OTs) help people who have a problem due to disability or an illness. They help people to discover what they can do. They also find ways to help people do what they want to do – this might be living in their own home or driving a car or being able to go to the shops on their own. OTs work in all sorts of places: hospitals, people’s homes, clinics, schools or community centres. OTs work with every age of person right from the newborn baby to the very old. OTs could be doing a wide variety of different things including:

  • rehabilitation – when people are helped to get better after an accident or an illness
  • paediatrics – working with children
  • environmental adaptation – when people’s homes or workplaces are changed so that someone with a disability can get around and do what they need to do.

Walking back to happiness – physiotherapy

Physiotherapists help and treat people who have had accidents, or an illness, or who are elderly. They are especially involved where the problem is with the muscles, bones, heart, circulation and lungs.

Physiotherapists work in almost every department in a hospital as well as in factories, special schools and in the sports and leisure industry. You find physiotherapists where people are at risk of getting injured in their work. They can see patients in a gym, in a hospital or give specialist treatment using hi-tech equipment. Physiotherapists are also important in intensive care units in hospitals where they give chest physiotherapy to help keep unconscious patients breathing. Physiotherapists work with:

  • people who have had an injury
  • people who are terminally ill
  • elderly people and children
  • people with all sorts of physical problems.

Bringing healthcare to life in lessons

Free literature is available for schools, colleges, universities and other education providers from the NHS Careers website, www.nhscareers.nhs.uk. Another useful website, www.newgenerations.org.uk, contains interactive and classroom-based lesson plans for younger students and downloadable resources for the 16-plus age group.

Beverley Bailey is a communications officer for NHS Careers.

First published in Learning for Life, September 2006

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