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Meet the Team

The New Physician March 2010

Allied Health TeamMedicine is teamwork. The practice requires interaction with a variety of nonphysician clinicians assisting with patient care. The problem? Medical students often find the duties of allied health workers a mystery, since they get little formal training about what they do. Debates over scope of practice and the competitive nature of medicine can hijack constructive conversation about who these other team members are, what they can do, and how they can help.

Since you will undoubtedly work with these individuals at some point, we present general information on a select few allied health careers, including tasks, median salaries and
education required.


  • Registered nurse (RN)
  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
  • Advanced practice nurse

Nurses are employed in a wide range of specialties to assist in patient care, from hospital staff nurse to pediatrics to critical care. RNs, the most common kind of nurses, record patients’ medical histories and symptoms, help perform diagnostic tests and analyze results, operate medical machinery, administer treatment and medications, and help with patient follow-up and rehabilitation.

There are four kinds of advanced practice nurses: Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia and related care before and after surgery; nurse-midwives focus on care during pregnancy, including gynecological exams, prenatal care, assistance in labor and delivery, and neonatal care. Nurse practitioners combine nursing and health care services to patients and families, most commonly in family practice, adult practice, women’s health, pediatrics, acute care and geriatrics.

LPNs work under the supervision of physicians and RNs. LPNs provide basic bedside care such as recording patients’ vital signs. In nursing care facilities, they help evaluate residents’ needs and develop care plans. In clinics and doctors’ offices, they may have administrative and clerical duties such as making appointments and keeping records.

Educational requirements
RNs may begin practice with one of the following: a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing, a two- to three-year associate’s degree in nursing, or a three-year hospital-based diploma program. Advanced practice nurses require a master’s degree. Generally, licensed graduates of any of the three types of educational programs qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse, but salary and career advancement is limited by education.

Median annual salary

  • RNs: $62,500
  • Advanced practice nurses: Salary based on specialty and experience, but averages $80,000

Professional organizations and resources

Physician assistants (PA)

PAs practice under the supervision of physicians at all times to provide many of the diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive services that would otherwise be handled by a physician. They may assist in a variety of specialties, from primary care to surgery. As delegated by a physician, PAs may take medical histories, examine, diagnose and treat patients, and order and interpret laboratory tests. In some states, PAs can prescribe some medications.

Educational requirements
Physician assistant school, usually at least two years, plus clinical training. Applicants generally have an undergraduate degree and prior health care experience.

Median annual salary

  • $80,000

Professional organizations and resources

Occupational therapists and physical therapists

Occupational therapists help patients improve their ability to perform tasks in living and working environments. They work with individuals who suffer from mentally, physically, developmentally or emotionally disabling conditions.

Occupational therapists use treatments to develop, recover or maintain the daily living and work skills of their patients.

Physical therapists help rehabilitate those with injuries, illnesses or long-term medical conditions that limit their ability to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists develop a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain and prevent disability.

Educational requirements
A master’s degree is generally required for both specialties, as well as clinical internships.

Median annual salary

  • $70,000

Professional organizations and resources

Diagnostic technicians

  • Radiologic
  • X-ray
  • Computerized tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists
  • Diagnostic medical sonographers

Radiologic technologists and technicians perform diagnostic imaging tests such as taking X-rays, CT and MRI scans. Other technologists include sonographers or ultrasound technicians.

Educational requirements
Formal radiography training programs are offered in hospitals, colleges and universities, which lead to a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree.

Median annual salary

  • $52,210

Professional organizations and resources

  • American Society of Radiologic Technologists  

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics

  • EMT-Basic
  • EMT-Intermediate
  • Paramedic

Basic EMTs provide emergency first aid and transport injured people to hospitals.

Intermediate EMTs provide more advanced care such as controlling bleeding, administering oxygen and monitoring vital signs. They take the lead in assessing situations and manage lower-level technicians.

Paramedics have the most advanced training and can perform procedures such as endotracheal intubations and interpreting tests such as electrocardiograms. They also use more complex equipment.

Educational requirements
Training is offered at progressive levels: EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate and paramedic.

At the EMT-Basic level, training consists of learning emergency skills such as managing respiratory, trauma and cardiac emergencies, and patient assessment. Courses are often combined with practical training in a two- to six-month program. A high-school diploma is required, as is the ability to meet the physical and mental demands of the job.

At the EMT-Intermediate level, they must meet EMT-Basic requirements plus additional months of courses and clinical training.
Paramedics can train at community colleges and technical schools that offer a paramedic associate’s degree, which may take one to two years to earn.

Median salary

  • Earnings of EMTs and paramedics depend on their training and experience. Median hourly wages of EMTs and paramedics were $14.10 in 2008.

Professional organizations and resources

  • National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)

Medical assistants

  • Clinical medical assistants
  • Administrative medical assistants

Clinical medical assistants often take medical histories and record vital signs, preparing patients for examination. Medical assistants collect and prepare laboratory specimens and sometimes perform basic laboratory tests, dispose of contaminated supplies, and sterilize instruments.

Administrative medical assistants may perform clinical work such as managing patient information and participating in administrative duties.

Educational requirements
No formal training is needed, but a high-school diploma is usually required. Many are trained on the job, and others complete one- or two-year programs, resulting in a certificate or associate’s degree.

Median annual salary

  • $28,000

Professional organizations and resources

Social workers

Medical and public health social workers provide psychosocial support to individuals, families or vulnerable populations so they can cope with chronic, acute or terminal illnesses. They may assist in issues involving the practical lives of their patients such as finances and family relationships that affect their health.

They also advise family and caregivers, counsel patients, and help plan for patients’ needs after discharge from hospitals. They may work in settings for the aging, in assisted-living or senior living communities, or may arrange for at-home services such as home care. Some work on interdisciplinary teams that evaluate certain kinds of patients, such as geriatric or organ transplant patients.

Educational requirements
A bachelor’s degree in social work is a minimum requirement. A master’s degree in social work is generally required in health care settings and assisted-living or senior-living communities.

Median annual salary

  • $47,500

Professional organizations and resources

The pharmacy

  • Pharmacist
  • Pharmacy technician
  • Pharmacy aide

Pharmacists dispense prescibed medications, monitor drug interactions, advise patients on the use and effect of drugs, and monitor progress of patients on those medications.

Pharmacy technicians work under a pharmacist’s supervision to help fill prescriptions, including packaging medications.

Pharmacy aides work with technicians to perform administrative tasks like answering phones, restocking shelves and collecting payments.

Educational requirements
Pharmacists need a four-year Doctor of Pharmacy degree and an internship after two years of pre-pharmacy courses as an undergraduate.

There is no national training standard for pharmacy technicians, except a preferred high-school diploma or equivalent. Most pharmacy technicians receive informal on-the-job training, but may also pursue a formal program of at least 15 weeks for a diploma, certificate or associate’s degree in the field, depending on the program. Precision is a must to dispense correct medications to ensure the safety of patients.

For pharmacy aides, no formal education is required, but informal on-the-job training lasts about three months.

Median annual salary or hourly wage

  • Pharmacists: $106,000 per year
  • Technicians: $13 per hour
  • Aides: $9.50 per hour

Professional organizations and resources

Dieticians and nutritionists

Clinical dietitians and nutritionists provide nutritional services to patients in hospitals, nursing care facilities and other institutions. They assess patients’ nutritional needs, develop and implement nutrition programs, evaluate results and coordinate with doctors and other health care workers in this process. Some dietitians specialize in managing the nutrition of diabetic, cardiovascular or critically ill patients. They may also work at nursing care facilities and hospitals to manage meal plans.

Educational requirements
A bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management or a related area is required. A supervised internship is required for certification. These internships may be full-time programs lasting six to 12 months or part-time programs lasting two years. Certification is not needed to practice.

Median annual salary

  • $50,000

Professional organizations and resources


Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and professional associations

Editor’s note: The following addition to our list was contributed by Leonard Levin, administrative director of Laboratory Services at Capital Health in Trenton, New Jersey.

Clinical Laboratory Scientists

Educational requirements

Cytotechnologists are responsible for examining specimens microscopically for early signs of cancer and other diseases. This position requires a baccalaureate degree and completion of an accredited cytotechnologist program.

Histotechnicians and histotechnologists process tissue biopsy specimens obtained during surgery, cut the tissue into thin slices, mount them on slides which are then stained with special dyes to make the cell details visible microscopically so they can be reviewed and interpreted by a pathologist. Histotechnicians possess a high-school diploma and complete an accredited histology program, while histotechnologists additionally obtain baccalaureate degrees.

Medical laboratory scientists and medical laboratory technicians perform a full range of laboratory tests—from simple premarital blood tests to more complex tests for diagnosis of a broad spectrum of diseases such as AIDS, diabetes and cancer. They are responsible for confirming the accuracy of their results and reporting them to clinicians. Medical laboratory scientists possess at least a baccalaureate degree and have completed an accredited medical technologist program, while medical laboratory technicians have associate degrees and have completed an accredited medical laboratory technician program.

Phlebotomists collect the blood specimens to be analyzed in the clinical laboratory, and are the laboratory professionals who are the most visible to the patients. The accuracy and skill with which they perform their work are critical to patient safety. Phlebotomists are required to have a high-school diploma with phlebotomy training.

Laboratory assistants provide support to the clinical laboratory by preparing specimens for analysis by the clinical laboratory scientists and performing various clerical functions. They must have a high-school diploma and training on laboratory terminology.

Pathologists are doctoral-level (M.D., D.O., or Ph.D.) clinical laboratory scientists who examine tissues and are responsible for accuracy and interpretation of clinical laboratory tests. The director of a clinical laboratory is usually a pathologist, and serves as the clinical liaison between the clinical laboratory and the medical staff of a hospital. Clinical pathologists oversee laboratory tests conducted on blood and other body fluids, anatomic pathologists assist surgeons by providing immediate diagnoses on biopsies, and forensic pathologists interpret laboratory test results on evidentiary specimens for application to criminal and civil cases. Pathologists complete medical school or postgraduate training and an approved residency in pathology.

Pathologists’ assistants support pathologists by providing gross examinations of pathology specimens. They possess a baccalaureate degree and successful completion of an accredited pathologists’ assistants program.

Median annual salary

(Sources: American Society for Clinical Pathology, College of American Pathologists)

Cytotechnologists: $58,032.

Histotechnologists and histotechnicians: $48,797 and $42,099, respectively.

Medical laboratory scientists and medical laboratory technicians: $47,840 and $38,438, respectively.

Phlebotomists: $27,040

Laboratory assistants: $28,080

Pathologists: $220,000

Pathologists’ assistants: $72,800

Professional organizations and resources


• American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science—

• American Society for Clinical Pathology—