Move Toward Clinical Doctorates in the Allied Health Professions: Implications for Rural Areas

Lead researcher:
Project funded:
September 2007
Project completed:
August 2008
Allied health occupations play a major role in health care delivery and comprise a significant proportion of the health care workforce in the United States. Researchers have found empirical evidence of allied health shortages in many states, including reports of rising salaries, high vacancy rates (particularly in rural areas), increased use of contract workers, and large signing bonuses for certain allied health professions. Given the longstanding history of health professional shortages facing rural areas, there are concerns that the existing and impending shortages in allied health professions may be particularly acute in rural areas.

Definitions of which professions fall under allied health differ and it is often easier to define the allied health workforce by which professions are excluded, typically nurses, physicians, chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, and podiatrists. Most allied health professionals are high school graduates who receive on-the-job training or two-year associate degrees from community college programs. A small subset is educated at four-year institutions, graduating with Bachelors- or Masters-level terminal degrees. Recently, a noticeable trend toward doctoral-level training for some allied health professions has emerged. The move toward the clinical doctorate in the allied health professions is an emerging issue with important implications for health professional education, supply and distribution in rural areas.

This study will have two components. The first part will provide background information on allied health professions, such as credentialing requirements and wage comparisons. The second component will use telephone and in-person interviews with rural health care employers, educators, and practitioners to assess the degree of alignment between community needs for allied health care services and existing and proposed certification and educational training for these health care providers. The results of these interviews will be synthesized and a policy report prepared to identify whether the rising level of academic preparation for allied health professionals is necessary to meet an evolving health care need or if it will create an ever widening gap in the ability of health care employers to staff their facilities with the most appropriate health care providers for their patient population.