Previous installments of “Academic Pursuits” offered tips and advice on getting into grad school—such as how to write a personal statement or how to acquire letters of recommendation. This time, however, we thought we would take a different angle and answer the question: “What does it take to teach in the academic field as an allied health professional?”
There are as many answers to this question as there are allied health professions and academic institutions, and it's impossible to cover them all in a three-page column. Instead, we hope to provide you with a starting point. Below you'll find general information for prospective allied health faculty on the job market, education requirements, typical workday—and last but not least—salary. Who knows? Pretty soon you might find yourself working on the other side of the podium.
First, let's start with some good news: Nationally, there is a very strong demand for qualified allied health faculty. “There is a national shortage of faculty in nearly all allied health disciplines,” says James D. Blagg, Jr., Ph.D., and dean of the College of Health Professions at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. “And this situation is expected to worsen because many faculty members are ‘boomers' and are approaching their retirement years.”
According to David A. Lake, PT, Ph.D., head of the Department of Physical Therapy at Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, Ga., the demand is greatest at the doctoral level. “There will be a generation of faculty retiring in the next 10-15 years that will need to be replaced,” he says. “The particular need is for faculty with doctoral degrees. Although there are clinical tracks in which those with master's degrees can work, the preferred pathway is the tenure track, which requires a doctoral degree.”
In several disciplines, this need for Ph.D.s is exacerbated by the steady progression of the terminal degree offered. In physical therapy, for example, the terminal degree has steadily progressed from a simple certificate to a bachelor's degree to a master's degree and, most recently, to a DPT—the clinical doctorate. Currently, about half of physical therapy programs offer DPTs, and as this number continues to grow, there will be a greater demand for Ph.D.s to teach these programs.
So does that mean that you must have a Ph.D. in order to teach in an allied health program? “It depends on the discipline and the level of the program,” says Blagg. “Generally, one needs to have a degree one level higher than the degree being offered. For example, if teaching associate degree-seeking students, one should have a baccalaureate at minimum. If teaching master's degree-seeking students, one should have a doctorate.”
“The answer also depends upon the institution and whether the person is seeking tenure or not,” adds Lake. “There are a large number of faculty members who hold the master's degree, however, most institutions do require the doctoral degree for promotion from assistant to associate and for tenure.”
But perhaps you aren't interested in a tenure track. Maybe you just want to pick up a few lectures or labs to supplement your full-time job as a clinician or to get a taste of what it is like to teach before committing to a Ph.D. If this is the case, a master's is probably sufficient. However, a master's alone will not get you a teaching gig. Most teaching positions require three to five years clinical experience, and if you want to teach a lab, a specific area of expertise. “Many physical therapists who don't have a Ph.D. come in as adjunct instructors,” says Mira Mariano, PT, MF, OCF, a senior lecturer in the School of Physical Therapy at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. “Instead of giving lectures, they teach particular techniques in lab and pass on their first-hand knowledge to the students.”
As Lake points out, this type of arrangement has benefits for both the clinician and the academic institution. “Typically, a clinician will start by guest lecturing or doing a lab section while still in full-time clinical practice,” he says. “The part-time teaching experience gives the academic institution a chance to see how the clinician teaches, and it gives the clinician an idea of what it is like to be a faculty member.”
A full-time allied health instructor can expect to spend anywhere from 12-18 hours in the classroom or lab each week. But that's only a fraction of the time they'll have to devote to the job. Lecture and lab preparation, student advisement, grading, faculty meetings, and time for professional development and research, all add to a considerable workload. In order to free-up time for research or service activities during the day, Lake says that many faculty members use evening and weekends for class preparation and grading.
“Many folks both inside and outside the university don't understand how much time it really takes to prepare for an hour or two of lecture or lab,” says Faye E. Coleman, M.S., CLS, MT (ASCP), program director of the Medical Technology/Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Old Dominion University. “If you aren't spending your time in the lab or the classroom, you're spending a good portion of it preparing for one or the other or both.”
Professional development can also take up a huge amount of time. “It is up to the instructor to make sure that he or she is updated in terms of new techniques, theories and concepts,” Coleman continues. “This can be a huge task, because whereas a practitioner's job often focuses on a specific area, an instructor may be responsible for providing his or her students with information covering a broad range of topics.”
The technical nature of the allied health professions means that teachers must continually change their lectures and lesson plans as new technologies and techniques are developed. “One of the big jokes that we have in our department is that we sometimes wish we were all history professors,” says Mariano. “Then we could take out the same folder and teach the same stuff 20 years in a row. But in physical therapy, as in all the allied health professions, we have to change our course content to keep up with changes in the medical profession.”
Despite the huge time commitment, most positions offer one strong advantage: flexibility. Other than set times for classes and meetings, faculty members are free to use their time as they please. As long as the work gets done, it doesn't matter when you do it. This freedom is particularly beneficial to faculty members with young families. “I have two little ones,” says Mariano. “So I correct a lot of my papers at night when my kids are asleep. And since I don't have to go into work at eight o'clock in the morning, I have the freedom to stay with my kids if one of them gets sick.”
Compared to a job outside academia, working as an allied health faculty member does not pay that well. Blagg says that it's not unusual for recent graduates working outside the university to make as much, if not more, than the faculty who taught them. In fact, lower pay is a main factor contributing to the current shortage of allied health instructors. “In the past two years I have had two faculty lured back to clinical or health care supervisory work,” Blagg says. “One at double her salary and one at two and a half times his.”
But you may be able to avoid this disparity if you can land a job with a university that is associated with a hospital or medical facility. According to Danielle Ripich, Ph.D. and dean of the College of Health Professions at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, pay at academic medical centers is almost on par with clinical pay.
Keep in mind, however, that lower pay is tempered by a more flexible work schedule and long vacations. The faculty at most universities work on nine- or ten-month contracts, with their summers free, and long periods off for Christmas and spring break. Many faculty members use this time off to pick up per diem work, which can make up a lot of the salary differences. Others simply enjoy the time off.
As you might imagine, there is no single resource that provides teaching requirements and information for all of the allied health disciplines. The closest thing to that is The Association of Schools of Allied Health Professions (www.asahp.org), which provides links to dozens of allied health programs, health and higher education organizations, government agencies and accrediting bodies. Under the “Surveys” button, you'll also find the results of the “Faculty Vacancy Survey,” which provides the average number of part-time and full-time teaching vacancies at member institutions for 20 separate areas of allied health. If you're interested in a teaching career, it's a good place to start.
Another good source is any professional organization within your discipline. The education section of the American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org), for example, provides multiple resources and links for both potential students and educators.
But perhaps your best resources are the allied health professionals who are already working in academia. Talk to your current or former professors. Or find the nearest allied health program that you would like to teach for and contact the dean. Most of these professionals would be happy to discuss the experience and qualifications you need to land a part-time or full-time teaching position.