Hidden talents: The multiple career backgrounds of allied health professionals

Professor Susan Nancarrow1, Dr Rosalie Boyce3,4, Dr Anna Moran2

1Southern Cross University, Coolangatta, Australia, 2University of Melbourne, Albury / Wodonga, Australia, 3University Hospital Geelong, Barwon Health and Southwest Healthcare, Geelong and Warrnambool, Australia, 4University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

The 21st Century career is sometimes described as encompassing “portfolio careers”, involving multiple interruptions, different roles and multiple employers. However, allied health professions (AHP) are largely examined from a linear perspective, ignoring the potential for previous roles and the skills and expertise these may bring to the workforce.

This paper reports on the previous careers of 7399 AHPs from 11 disciplines (occupational therapy, physiotherapy, psychology, allied health assistants, social work, audiology, medical laboratory science, exercise physiology, dietetics, sonography and speech pathology) who participated in Victorian Allied Health Workforce Research project, a three year project commissioned by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services from 2015-18.

An important goal of the study was to understand AHP career pathways. To explore this, we asked all survey respondents whether they had worked in a previous career, defined as having worked full-time for more than 6 months in another role, and asked about the nature of this role. This paper describes the scale and diversity of the previous careers of AHPs.

The results show that AHPs come from enormously diverse backgrounds. The most diverse workforces, with more than 50% of respondents reporting a previous career, were exercise physiology, social work, psychology, allied health assistants and sonography. Between 20 – 50% of the physiotherapy, medical laboratory science, dietetics, audiology, occupational therapy and speech pathology workforces reported a previous career. Physiotherapy was the least diverse (22%), while 69% of psychologists reported previous careers, the largest proportion of whom had come from teaching backgrounds; and 80% of allied health assistants.

This paper explores the rich diversity of the AHP workforce, and looks at ways that the structure of work, alongside the growth of technologies such as E-credentialing and micro-credentialing may enable these skills to be recognised and embedded into existing allied health careers.


Susan is Professor of Health Sciences at Southern Cross University. Susan has nearly 20 years’ international experience as a health services researcher with expertise in health workforce reform, service delivery and organisation. In particular, she works with health services to help them think differently about how they organise and deliver care to provide solutions to enhance health care from the patient’s perspective. She is particularly committed to regional and rural health issues, community health, and capacity building. Recent research projects have explored the use of the NBN to provide telehealth to keep older people independent at home; primary health care integration; the use of social media to engage with health service users; and the recent Victorian Allied Health Workforce Research Project.

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