Blog Post

Q&A: The Hidden Health Workforce

August 16, 2016

They diagnose diseases, take care of older adults in their homes, help people control chronic illnesses and so much more. Yet, allied health workers, who make up more than 60 percent of the health workforce, are often underpaid and under-researched, according to Healthforce Center at UCSF Faculty Member Susan Chapman. Chapman is a leading researcher examining the impact of these workers on health care outcomes and costs. We recently sat down with Chapman to find out why this segment of the population is hidden, yet essential, to the health care system.

Q: Who are allied health workers and why are they hidden? There are many definitions of allied health workers, but according to the Association of Schools of Allied Health Professionals, allied health workers are defined as people who are “involved with the delivery of health or related services pertaining to the identification, evaluation, and prevention of diseases and disorders.” This includes sonographers, dietitians, medical technologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and more. They are hidden because they are less recognized and studied even though, in some settings, especially long-term care, they do the bulk of the health care work. Many of them are low paid and living in poverty.

Q: What about allied health workers in long-term care? We want to maximize peoples’ ability to have choice and stay in their homes if they desire. Therefore, we need more support in the home to prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and unwanted placements in nursing homes. To do this well, there must be excellent communications between the home and health care teams. Allied health workers are often the eyes and ears on the ground and they need to be trained to communicate what they see and hear.

Q: What would you say about allied health workers on Labor Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the contributions of workers across the country? It’s time to provide allied health workers with sustainable jobs at living wages. We cannot ignore this huge segment of the workforce because of the breadth and impact of the work they do.  Labor Day is a great time to honor these workers and commit to continuing research on their impact, in addition to advocating for higher wages and benefits. In retooling care, we can’t ignore this segment of the workforce.

About Susan Chapman:

Dr. Susan A. Chapman is a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF School of Nursing, and faculty at UCSF’s Healthforce Center and the Institute for Health Policy Studies. In addition, she is co-director of the masters and doctoral programs in health policy at the School of Nursing. Her scholarly work focuses on health workforce research, health policy analysis and program evaluation. Dr. Chapman’s workforce research focuses on transforming models of primary care to address new and expanded roles for the health care workforce and the long-term care workforce. She received her BSN from the University of Iowa, MSN from Boston College, MPH from Boston University, and PhD in Health Services and Policy Analysis from UC Berkeley.