A complete guide to every community allied health profession 

Considering becoming an allied health professional? Not sure which discipline to choose? This comprehensive guide can help you decide whether a career in this dynamic and growing sector is for you and reveals what you need to practice as an AHP in Australia.

There are a wide range of allied health professions in Australia, all focused on improving the health, wellbeing and quality of life of the people they support and care for. 

So, as an allied health professional, or AHP, your career will be all about helping people achieve their personal goals, from the small yet essential every day ones, like showering, getting dressed and making their favourite food, and the ones that make life fun, fulfilling and better like taking up a new hobby, catching up with friends, and visiting the local café, to the big goals, such as studying, getting a job, returning to work, and living independently for the first time. 

Ready to find out how to help make people’s lives better? 

Who are allied health professionals? 

Allied health professionals (AHPs) are university qualified health clinicians, or Practitioners, with specialised expertise in preventing, diagnosing and treating a range of health conditions and illnesses. In addition to the right qualifications, AHPs need to be registered, licenced, or accredited to practice their allied health profession in Australia. 

AHPs often work closely with their patients and people living with disability and their families and carers in a variety of settings, including hospitals and outpatient centres, private medical practices, disability providers’ clinics, community health and aged care facilities, sporting organisations, and government departments. Some AHPs, including those who work with people with disability, provide in-home support. 

And while AHPs are not part of the medical, dental or nursing professions, they share a focus on improving quality of life, and often form part of a person’s health team, which can include their doctor, or GP, specialist doctor, dentist, and nurses. 

And as an AHP, you’ll be part of a bigger ‘team’ – the dynamic and growing allied health sector. Australia’s 200,000 allied health professionals already make up a third of the country’s health workforce and the demand for their services is increasing in the disability, mental health, health, and aged care, a demand compounded by a national shortage of some allied health professions. This growing demand means an increase in allied health roles over the coming years. 

As an AHP, it’s common to work within multidisciplinary health teams comprising two or more clinicians to create programs that provide comprehensive, consistent and specialised support for their clients and NDIS participants.  This holistic approach can reduce or remove the need for supports and medical interventions. (It’s not surprising that the word ‘allied’ relates to AHPs working together, and with their clients and carers).  

Some of the many benefits of working in allied health 

A personally and professionally rewarding career 

As an allied health professional, you’ll have the opportunity to make a significant positive impact on people’s lives, see them reach their goals with your support, and enjoy the ‘wins’ together.  

A career in allied health can also offer career progression opportunities, including leadership roles, such as operational and clinical lead roles

Career opportunities and ‘job security’ 

A career in allied health can offer good employment opportunities and job security as the demand for many AHPs has grown over the past six years and is predicted to continue growing.  

This growth is based on the current demand for allied health professionals and the shortage of healthcare professionals along with the prediction that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will substantially increase its expenditure over the next few years (NDIS participants can use NDIS funds to pay for support from allied health professionals).  

Flexibility and support 

Today there is a greater awareness of the benefits of healthy workplaces, with some employers offering clinicians greater flexibility and supportive environments.  

At Better Rehab, for example, clinicians are supported by a diverse group of leaders and a work environment that encourages talking through challenges and sharing ‘the day’ with teammates. Better Rehab also enables clinicians to structure their work for a better work/life balance and supports clinician learning and professional development by providing study leave, a professional development allowance, Leadership Development Programs, peer-to-peer learning opportunities and one-to-one supervision, and our knowledge hub that puts the latest allied health information at their fingertips. 

 “I am really passionate about providing a space for individual growth and learning for our speech pathologists – somewhere where they are excited to go to for supervision and can always expect to get really high-quality support as a clinician.”  Alison King, National Clinical Lead for Speech Pathology, Better Rehab. 

Variety 

Allied health is full of variety! allied health professionals can work with people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, with differing conditions, needs, challenges, and goals. 

AHPs can also choose to work in either community allied health hospitals, so there’s a variety of work settings as well, including private and public hospitals and outpatient clinics, private practices, community health centres, government organisations, aged-care facilities, and private community disability providers.  

Allied health clinicians can also enjoy variety within their discipline as many allied health clinicians can help participants with a variety of conditions across both developmental and acquired diagnoses. 

“Community work provides the chance to fully understand the unmet needs of participants in their own environment. The variety in caseload in the community keeps me engaged and always learning.” Tom Pritchard, Physiotherapist, Better Rehab. 

Community allied health professions in Australia that Better Rehab recruits 

The following information on community allied health professions can help you choose an allied health discipline that’s right for you. 

Occupational therapy 

Occupational therapists, or OTs, help people living with disabilities or health conditions participate in the activities that enable them to create a meaningful life and enjoy improved health and wellbeing. These activities are called the ‘occupations of life’, which is where the term occupational therapy comes from. 

OTs help people become more independent through performing their daily, or functional tasks, like bathing, getting dressed and preparing meals, moving around the community, and participating in work and recreational activities. In fact, OTs often incorporate a person’s everyday tasks in their therapy, a treatment approach called task-specific training or task-based learning. 

OTs can also recommend ways to adapt a person’s home environment to allow them to live the way they want and create more easily navigated and safer spaces. This might be through modifications, such as the addition of rails and ramps, or assistive equipment, also called assistive technology, such as specially designed utensils, electric wheelchairs, chairs and beds, and electronic devices including tablets. 

There are many areas of specialisation within occupational therapy, including  disability, sensory, driving assessment and rehabilitation, mental health, aged care, paediatric, and neurological OT. 

Occupational therapists often work in multidisciplinary teams and in a wide variety of settings, with most working in hospitals and other community health care settings followed by outpatient clinics, private practices and disability services.   

How to become an occupational therapist 

To practice as an occupational therapist, you need to have completed a four-year undergraduate degree or a two-year postgraduate master’s degree approved by the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia and met the board’s other standards to gain registration. 

“I am passionate about community-focused healthcare, especially when it comes to supporting participants within their home environments. Collaborating with family, formal supports and a multidisciplinary team is exciting. I find true fulfilment in helping others navigate life’s challenges, empowering them to thrive amidst change.” Este Roberts, Occupational Therapist, Better Rehab. 

Physiotherapy 

Physiotherapy focuses on enhancing physical function and mobility in people of all ages and allied health professionals that practice this discipline, physiotherapists, work closely with patients and people with respiratory, musculoskeletal and neurological conditions, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, and chronic health conditions such as diabetes and osteoarthritis. 

Like occupational therapists, physiotherapists are university-qualified and registered practitioners who can specialise in a variety of areas of practice including paediatrics, neurology, pain, and cardiorespiratory. In Australia, physios practice in a broad range of settings including hospitals, outpatient facilities, private practices, community health centres, community disability service providers, aged care facilities and sporting organisations. 

As a physio you will assess your patients or NDIS participants and create personalised programs to improve their strength, fitness, range of motion, movement, posture, balance, and coordination and help them manage their condition and pain.  Programs can include exercises and therapies such as massage, therapeutic ultrasound, taping, heat and cold therapy, lifestyle changes, and recommendations for assistive equipment. 

Physios often work in multidisciplinary teams with other allied health professionals such as occupational therapists and speech pathologists, to create comprehensive and specialist programs that meet the various needs and goals of their patients and participants. 

How to become a physiotherapist 

To practice as a physiotherapist, you need to complete a minimum four-year undergraduate degree or two-year postgraduate master program approved by the Physiotherapy Board of Australia and meet the board’s other standards, including supervised practice in a clinical setting to gain registration. 

“Community work provides the chance to fully understand the unmet needs of participants in their own environment. The variety in caseload in the community keeps me engaged and always learning.” Tom Pritchard, Physiotherapist, Better Rehab. 

Speech pathology 

Speech pathologists, also called SPs or speechies, help children and adults who have difficulties or impairments in speech (the articulation of sounds), receptive language (the understanding of language), expressive language, social communication, voice, fluency (stuttering), literacy, and swallowing. These difficulties can be due to a variety of causes such as developmental delays, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, autism spectrum disorder, dementia, stroke and brain injuries.  

Speech pathologists are qualified to diagnose and assess people and provide individualised therapy and alternative communication methods to help them express their thoughts and feelings both verbally and non-verbally, understand language, and eat and drink safely without choking.  

Like many allied health professionals, speech pathologists work in a range of settings including hospitals, schools, community and private health clinics, aged care facilities, disability providers, and private practices. 

How to become a speech pathologist 

There are three main study paths to becoming a speech pathologist in Australia: 

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology, which is usually four years in duration. Some universities offer Honours as part of the bachelor’s degree, for example, Bachelor of Speech Pathology (honours). 
  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as Science and Health Sciences, followed by a master’s degree in speech pathology 
  1. Gain a bachelor’s degree in either Arts, Science, Education or other Health Sciences and a Graduate Entry Master (GEM).  

Each degree needs to meet Speech Pathology Australia’s accreditation standards to enable you to gain membership as a graduate.  

According to Speech Pathology Australia, the majority of employers, insurance schemes and funding bodies require speech pathologists to be a member of, or eligible for membership of, Speech Pathology Australia by becoming a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP). 

“I find it very fulfilling to work in a setting that allows me to build strong, therapeutic and long-term rapport with my clients. I mainly work with children, so I love seeing them participating socially with their peers and having the time of their lives.” Allison Yuwen Lin, Speech Pathologist, Better Rehab. 

Positive behaviour support 

Positive Behaviour Support is provided by behaviour support practitioners (BSPs) who are qualified to give children and adults the skills and strategies to manage their behaviour. 

One aspect of a BSPs role is helping participants manage their behaviours of concern. Behaviours of concern can affect the participant in many ways, including reducing or stopping social participation, putting a strain on relationships, impacting their mental and emotional health, and compromising their safety and that of others. 

BSPs often work closely with NDIS participants and their caregivers to identify behaviour triggers and develop intervention plans and strategies to reduce the frequency, duration and severity of their negative behaviours. BSPs also often work in multidisciplinary teams comprising one or more allied health professionals, such as occupational therapists, to provide a more comprehensive program of support. 

Positive behaviour support intervention plans and strategies can include: 

  • improving communication to help a participant express their thoughts and needs, which in turn can reduce feelings of frustration and anger; 
  • removing or reducing their triggers; 
  • giving them techniques to manage their negative feels and behaviours; 
  • and working closely with their carers, families, support workers and teachers to provide guidance on managing their behaviours of concern.  

Positive behaviour support practitioners can help people enjoy fuller, more independent lives, from helping adults return to participating in the activities they enjoy to preparing children for mainstream primary school and teens for high school or their first job. 

How to become a positive behaviour support practitioner 

To work as a positive behaviour support (PBS) practitioner with NDIS participants you need a relevant university degree, or skills and training in a relevant field (such as social work). 

Relevant university bachelor’s degrees include a Bachelor of Social Sciences, Bachelor of Psychology, and bachelor’s degrees in behaviour science like Swinburne University of Technology’s Bachelor’s degree, Social Science. 

Behaviour Support Practitioners Australia provides a handy list of PBS-related qualifications, including a four-year full-time undergraduate Bachelor of Disability and Developmental Education at Flinders University, and post-graduate certificate courses and master’s degrees, which require an undergraduate degree for entry. 

“My time working with individuals with disabilities overseas opened my eyes to how much they valued the support of volunteers. This inspired me to transfer this experience into a career as a Positive Behaviour Support Practitioner.” Olivia Hills, PBSP, Better Rehab. 

Exercise physiology 

Exercise physiologists (EPs) are allied health professionals who help improve people’s fitness and health through exercise and healthy eating programs. Like all allied health professionals, EPs are university-trained, and to practice, need accreditation with Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA)

Exercise physiologists create personalised fitness and exercise programs for a broad variety of people, including those seeking to rehabilitate from injury or improve their fitness, health and sports performance, and people living with chronic conditions, including NDIS participants. 

More specifically, EPs help people prevent and manage chronic conditions and injuries by helping them build muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance to improve their mobility, balance, physical fitness and mental health. Their programs can also reduce discomfort and pain and help people manage their pain. 

To help ensure each program is effective and personalised, EPs conduct thorough assessments and talk to their patient or participant about their goals. 

EPs work in a variety of settings, including community organisations, hospitals, private fitness and sports clinics, government health centres, aged care and rehabilitation facilities, and with community disability providers
 

How to become an exercise physiologist 

To become an exercise physiologist and gain accreditation from Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) you need to complete a three or four-year exercise or sports science degree that meets the core requirements, the National University Course Accredited Program, and 500 hours of practical experience. Review the complete list of ESSA approved courses

“I love helping people remain active in every possible way. Being part of the NDIS community has allowed me to channel this passion even further.” Brooke Eather, Exercise Physiologist, Better Rehab Maroubra. 

Other allied health professions in Australia 

Dietetics and nutrition 

Dietitians provide advice on nutrition and diet to help people experience improved health and wellbeing, including patients recovering from surgery and NDIS participants living with health conditions and disorders, including cerebral palsy, cancer, heart disease, gastro-intestinal diseases, celiac disease and diabetes. 

Unlike nutritionists, dietitians are qualified to consult with patients and participants in hospitals, medical practices and medical centres as they have an approved dietetics degree from an Australian university and practice in a regulated profession with a strict code of conduct and national competency standards.  

How to become a dietitian 

To become a dietitian, you need to complete a recognised bachelor’s degree or master’s level dietetic qualification, as well as a minimum of 30 hours of continuing professional development each year. To become an Accredited Practising Dietitian, you need to join Dietetics Australia’s APD program

Podiatry 

Podiatrists specialise in treating conditions of the feet, ankles and legs to help people enjoy improved mobility, balance and coordination and reduced pain. 

Podiatrists are also trained to help reduce symptoms and complications from poor circulation and certain chronic conditions including diabetes. 

Most podiatrists work in private practices, followed by community health care, medical centres, age-care facilities and hospitals and outpatient clinics. To practice as a podiatrist in Australia you need to be registered with the Podiatry Board of Australia.   

How to become a podiatrist 

To practice as a podiatrist, you need to complete a minimum three-year undergraduate bachelor’s degree or two-year postgraduate master’s degree approved by the Podiatry Board of Australia.  

Psychology 

Psychologists are registered practitioners who have studied human behaviour, the brain, memory, learning, and how we learn and develop. These university-trained allied health professionals assess, diagnose and treat mental health issues and behavioural problems.  

The majority of psychologists in Australia work in clinical psychology within private practices and many work in schools, community mental health service facilities, hospitals, medical centres, and in government departments and agencies. 

How to become a psychologist 

To practice as a psychologist, you must complete a minimum four-year program of study followed by two years of post-graduate study and a supervised practice program and/or internship all approved by the Psychology Board of Australia.  

Optometry 

Optometrists are university-trained and registered allied health practitioners who diagnose and treat vision problems and a range of eye conditions, as well as prescribe optical appliances such as lenses for glasses and contact lenses. 

Most optometrists work out of private practices in Australia with some based in hospitals, low-vision clinics, and government and community organisations.  

How to become an optometrist 

To gain registration as an optometrist, you need to complete a five-year undergraduate, a five-year combined undergraduate bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, or a four-year master’s degree approved by the Optometry Board of Australia

Audiology 

Audiologists specialise in helping people who experience hearing loss and balance disorders, such as vertigo and dizziness.  

Audiologists are qualified to test and assess hearing, diagnose conditions and impairments, and recommend and fit hearing aids, and provide information on Cochlear implants and other assistive technology devices to help people communicate. For people with balance disorders caused by problems in their inner ear (the vestibular system), audiologists can recommend treatments and management programs. 

In Australia, audiologists work largely in hospitals, private practices, aged care facilities, and schools. 

How to become an audiologist 

To practise as an audiologist in Australia, you must gain a Masters-level degree in clinical audiology and meet the requirements of Audiology Australia Accredited Audiologist program and/or the Australian College of Audiology Hearing Rehabilitation Specialist (HRS) and Diagnostic Rehabilitation Specialist (DRS) competencies. 

Will you play a part in helping people live fuller, better lives? 

Regardless of which allied health profession you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of your patients and NDIS participants, and everyone in their lives, including their families, carers and teachers. 

And with the demand for allied health professionals predicted to grow, you can enjoy good career opportunities and job security, along with plenty of variety.  

The next steps … 

Our blog The Best Australian Universities for Allied Health Degrees can also help you choose an allied health discipline and degree pathway and university to gain your qualification and the required ‘prac’ – practical work experience – to gain registration or accreditation to practice as an AHP. 

You can find out more about working in community allied health at Australia’s fastest-growing allied health provider, Better Rehab, including how we support our clinicians and help them enjoy a better work-life balance, run an industry-leading graduate program that sets grads up for rewarding careers – which could be you one day! You can also read our articles and Good News Stories on how our clinicians support NDIS participants around Australia to achieve their goals and discover what a typical day in the life of Better Rehab clinician is like. 

Welcome to allied health – we look forward to meeting you

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