Upskilling in the Allied Health Professions

Partly propelled by the pandemic and partly by the momentum of technological innovation, the last few years have marked the beginning of a whirlwind of rapid change within the healthcare sector. The use of telehealth—which turned out to be a boon during lockdowns—has stood the test of time, now a permanent option at many hospitals and private practices across the country.

Meanwhile, a host of AI-based tools have entered the scene, modernizing diagnostics, patient monitoring, and interpretations of images and scans, just to name a few applications.

Additionally, a shift in the type of healthcare that will be in the highest demand is also underway. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will be 65 or older. As the generation of 73 million continues to age, their healthcare needs become more complex, creating a higher demand for all types of healthcare services and the professionals who provide them.

The collision of these different factors has the potential to give rise to skill gaps within the allied health professions, requiring members of the healthcare workforce to adapt quickly.

Allied health professions describe a broad range of specialties with varying educational requirements, such as:

This projected trend is not unique to healthcare. Countless other industries are undergoing similar metamorphoses, and American workers see the writing on the wall. In a recent Gallup survey, results showed that upskilling opportunities are becoming a valuable benefit to American workers. In fact, 65 percent said employer-provided upskilling is very important when evaluating a potential new job,, and over half (55 percent) reported they would be likely to leave their current role for one that provides upskilling.

The good news for healthcare workers is that due to the talent shortage, which spans niches in healthcare, employers are poised to step up to the plate to help individuals develop and expand their skill sets.

We asked healthcare executives and academics to weigh in on how healthcare workers can navigate this period of change.

The Rise of Skills-based Hiring

Over half of healthcare leaders say skills shortages are one of the biggest challenges they anticipate in 2024, according to a survey of 700 healthcare leaders by talent acquisition company Beamery.

Baseline requirements to fulfill healthcare roles, such as attending an accredited program and passing applicable licensure exams are obviously non-negotiable. However, healthcare employers are increasingly considering candidates’ potential to learn rather than just their prior professional experience or where they earned their degree from.

This approach to recruitment is sometimes called skills-based hiring or grow-your-own recruitment. “I think all too often, we think there is something new or different that we have to do to land a job,” says Dr. Stephen Clark, clinical innovations director at Confluent Health, a group of physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy companies with locations in 39 states.

“It’s true that we should never stop learning and we should always be in pursuit of improving ourselves, particularly in the allied health field. But what makes you ‘you’ is what makes you the perfect person for the job.”

Employers Take the Reins

There are a few different ways that healthcare organizations are carving out paths for current and potential employees to further their skills. For example, a health system may seek out a partnership with a university to create upskilling programs for their employees.

“As your experiences, ambitions and value to an organization changes, some organizations will help you get the training to [advance in your career],” says Dr. Beth Virnig dean at University of Florida’s college of public health and health professions.

To give an example, Dr. Virnig notes that the UF college of public health is currently working with local clinical partners who want to train their top physical and occupational therapists to rise to leadership and management.

Dr. Clark’s own career followed a very similar path through Confluent Health’s professional development “ACE” program. One year after graduating from PT school, he joined Confluent as a staff physical therapist. “As I developed clinically, I also began to develop into a leader,” he says. He began to train to become a clinic director, then became a regional director, and most recently, rose to become a clinical innovations director.

New fellowship programs in emergency medicine have also been cropping up in recent years due to the healthcare worker shortage. WellNow, a network of urgent care centers with more than 200 centers across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, introduced its own professional development program in 2018 with a very small group of candidates in its Syracuse region.

“It started as an opportunity to educate and grow new PA/NP graduates that wanted to begin their careers in urgent care medicine,” says Dr. Robert Biernbaum, chief medical officer for WellNow Urgent Care. While new graduates without experience were not typically hired previously, the extra training endowed by the company’s fellowship program “opens up more career opportunities for new graduates by giving them specialized urgent care experience right away,” says Dr. Biernbaum.

“In the case of new graduates who have no previous experience, we make sure they are provided with the knowledge and mentorship needed for long-term success,” he says. The program focuses on all aspects of urgent care medicine and some aspects of emergency medicine such as suture skills, splinting of orthopedic injuries, radiology reading, and ECG interpretation. It also helps participants hone softer skills such as emotional intelligence, documentation, and overall medical leadership. Program participants receive training in WellNow’s own facilities.

In five years, a total of 216 fellows have graduated WellNow’s program with 90 percent of graduates accepting full time positions as advanced practice providers at WellNow Urgent Care, says Dr. Biernbaum.

Some companies are taking an even more involved approach. For instance, in 2020, Kaiser Permanente opened its own medical school to train future physicians.

These examples are for more relevant or advanced practice providers. But according to a recent McKinsey report, this approach could also be applied to more entry-level employees, such as high school graduates, and support them through completing associate-level degrees and perhaps higher levels of education later on down the road.

For example, a medical technician who stands out for their dedication and intelligence may go on to complete the next level of certification to become a medical technologist with the financial support of their employer. Or a CNA may go on to become an RN.

In coming years, it’s likely that more and more healthcare employers will debut their own upskilling programs, creating unique opportunities for new entrants and current members of the field who are interested in developing their careers further.

This development will not only benefit healthcare workers and employment institutions, but will also strengthen local economies and ultimately improve access to care and quality of care in the long run.

Nina Chamlou
Nina Chamlou Writer

Nina Chamlou is an avid freelance writer from Portland, OR. She writes about economic trends, business, technology, digitization, supply chain, healthcare, education, aviation, and travel. You can find her floating around the Pacific Northwest in diners and coffee shops, or traveling abroad, studying the locale from behind her MacBook. Visit her website at