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November 7, 2006 > This Week, Say ‘Thanks’ to an Allied Health Professional

This Week, Say ‘Thanks’ to an Allied Health Professional

by Washington Hospital

When thinking of the people who work in a hospital, most of us picture nurses and doctors. Yet, did you know that nearly one-third of hospital employees aren’t physicians or RNs? Yet, they are essential members of the patient health care team. They’re part of a broader category of workers called allied health professionals.

These trained and credentialed workers are among five million Americans representing 200 different disciplines in all health care settings, including clinics, dental offices, nursing homes, emergency medical response services and much more. In addition to having a major impact on quality medical care, the allied health professions are great employment opportunities for someone planning a career or wanting to make a job change.

“Allied health practitioners greatly influence health care delivery by supporting, facilitating and complementing the roles of physicians and other health care specialists,” says the Health Professions Network (HPN). “This collaboration, which emphasizes the strengths of all health professions, is enhancing the quality of care in this country.”

HPN reports that most allied health professions are experiencing shortages. Seven of the top 10 fastest growing occupations in the country are in this category, including medical assistant, physician assistant, social and human service assistant, home health aide, medical records and health information technician, physical therapy aide and physical therapy assistant.

At Washington Hospital, you’ll find most allied health professionals working in the Clinical Laboratory, Medical Imaging, Pharmacy, Rehabilitation, Respiratory Care and Social Services. The hospital’s laboratory is staffed by a group of licensed laboratory scientists who perform approximately 800,000 tests each year. The information they gather helps doctors make diagnoses and prescribe treatment. In addition, the lab employs about 30 phlebotomists, who are trained to draw the blood for testing. The lab scientists also work in the blood bank to test and match blood in preparation for transfusion.   

“This is a very busy department where speed and accuracy are absolutely essential,” says Mary Reynolds, director of Washington Hospital’s Laboratory Services.

The hospital’s Rehabilitation Services department includes a staff of physical therapists and physical therapy assistants who help patients regain their strength, balance and mobility after surgery or a serious illness. Occupational therapists assist patients in regaining their functional independence through activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing and grooming. Speech therapists help with communication and swallowing problems after a stroke or neurological disease. Lymphedema therapists are physical therapists specially trained to work with patients who have swelling and edema in their arms and legs due to changes in their lymph system, usually after cancer treatment.

“The rehabilitation therapists make a huge difference to a person’s ability to function, perform everyday tasks, take care of themselves and go home,” comments Vicki Otting, Washington Hospital’s director of Rehabilitation Services. “Our patients adore their therapists and the therapists really enjoy their work because they get to build relationships with their patients.”

In the Respiratory Services department, respiratory care professionals help patients with breathing problems, including some very serious, life threatening conditions. Respiratory therapists are important members of the hospital’s rapid response team and part of the first line in the emergency room. They also help treat patients with chronic obstructive lung problems, emphysema, bronchitis, asthma and restrictive lung disorders, like pulmonary fibrosis.

“We care for patients on life support, from adults to tiny newborns,” reports Kent Joraanstad, director of Respiratory Care at Washington. “We are often in places where patients are the sickest.”

Washington’s Medical Imaging department is staffed by radiologic, nuclear medicine and ultrasound technologists who perform tests and assessments to give physicians diagnostic information as quickly and accurately as possible. Other allied health professionals work in the hospital’s pharmacy where clinical pharmacists, pharmacy specialists and technicians monitor the pharmaceutical aspects of patient care, including pain management. Social workers at Washington are trained to help patients and families strengthen their psychological and social health. They also assist with discharge planning.

This week, November 5-11, has been designated Allied Health Professions Week. If you know or have been served by anyone working in the allied health professions field, take a moment to recognize their contribution to quality medical care in our community and say “Thanks!”

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