With more than 500,000 jobs added since the start of the recession, it’s no surprise that allied health fields are forecasted to remain a key source of job growth. Jobs in inpatient and outpatient settings and nurse care facilities will be in high demand and the healthcare support industry (such as medical technicians, physician’s assistants and physical therapist assistants) are slated to experience 48% growth.

Involved with the delivery of health or related services, workers in allied health care fields include a cluster of health professions encompassing as many as 200 health careers. There are 5 million allied health care providers in the United States who work in more than 80 different professions representing approximately 60% of all health care providers. Yet, that number is no match to the number of allied health care workers that are needed to meet current and future needs in America.

Highly regarded as experts in their field, allied health professions fall into two broad categories – technicians (assistants) and therapists/technologists. With education requirements and curriculum varying depending on the chosen field, academic prerequisites range from less than two years for technicians to a more intensive educational process for therapists and technologists that include acquiring procedural skills. With such explosive growth in allied health care career options and so many diverse fields from which to choose, it’s no wonder students preparing for their future are seeking opportunities in allied health fields.

Yet, with more than 5 million current allied health professions in the U.S. and more on the horizon, careful examination of the educational development and environment of emerging students identifies areas of needed improvement to meet the diverse needs of this ever-changing landscape.

A New Path of Education – Trends Affecting Allied Health Education

With student enrollment in allied health education programs gaining momentum, major advancements in technology coupled with shifts in education audiences, learner profiles, campus cultures, campus design and faculty development have spawned a new wave of trends that are dramatically affecting where and how allied health students learn. Understanding the dynamics of allied health trends begins by taking a brief look at a few of the societal and economic factors that have affected the educational landscape as a whole.

Economic Trends:
* With the economy in a recession, the nations’ workforce is being challenged to learn new skills or explore advanced training options.
* The U.S. Labor Department estimates that with the current economic climate, nearly 40% of the workforce will change jobs every year. As a result, the demand for short, accelerated educational programs is on the rise.
* With retirement being delayed until later in life, a “new age” of workers has emerged into the job market creating an older generation of students.

Societal Trends:
* Adult learners are the fastest growing segment in higher education. Approximately 42% of all students in both private and public institutions are age 25 or older.
* This highly competitive learning market allows educational institutions to specialize in meeting particular niches in the market.
* The number of minority learners is increasing.
* More women continue to enter the workforce – 57% of students are women.

Student / Enrollment Trends:
* Students are seeking educational programs that meet their individual demographics, schedule and learning style.
* More students are requiring flexibility in the educational structure to allow more time for other areas of responsibility.
* Students are attending multiple schools to attain degrees – 77% of all students graduating with a baccalaureate degree have attended two or more institutions.

Academic Trends:
* According to the Chronicle of High Education, traditional college campuses are declining as for-profit institutions grow and public and private institutions continue to emerge.
* Instruction is moving more toward diversified learner-centered versus self-directed, traditional classroom instruction.
* Educational partnerships are increasing as institutions share technology and information with other colleges, universities and companies to deliver cooperative educational programs.
* Emphasis is shifting from degrees to competency as employers place more importance on knowledge, performance and skills.

Technology Trends:
* Technology competency is becoming a requirement.
* Immense growth in Internet and technological devices.
* Institutional instruction will involve more computerized programs.
* Colleges will be required to offer the best technological equipment to remain competitive.

Classroom Environment Trends:
* Classroom environments are being designed to mirror real-life career settings.
* Flexible classroom settings geared for multi-instructional learning.
* Color, lighting, acoustics, furniture and design capitalize on comfortable learner-centered environments.

The Application of Knowledge – A Move Toward Lifelong Learning Concepts

To meet the ever-changing educational needs of students entering allied health fields, classrooms, curricula and teaching philosophies are becoming more responsive to the diverse settings in which varied populations are served. Educators and administrators are seeking educational environments that engage and connect students with their learning space to capitalize and foster knowledge, growth and learning.

Flexible Classrooms and Lab Space:
Adaptable learning environments that provide versatility to shift from classroom to lab space and the flexibility for plenty of future growth are the driving force behind allied health classrooms of the future. Modern allied health classrooms will provide flexible, multi-functional, comfortable classroom environments that encourage a sense of community, essentially inviting the students and instructors to work together and interrelate. Studies reflect that students are better able to actively process information when sensory, stimulation, information exchange and application opportunities are available. Flexible classroom spaces encourage students to share what they know and build on this shared base.

Student Areas:
Connecting students with the “center of gravity” core spaces for studying and socializing further enhances the new wave of allied health campuses. Flexible student areas that foster circulation, interaction, collaboration and learning enhance various learning styles and further reinforce students’ abilities to harmoniously blend learning with discovery and collaboration.

Integrating Advanced Technology:
The use of technology in the classroom plays a vital role in how students learn and the long-term effect of knowledge gained. When students are using technology as an educational tool they are in an active role rather than a passive role in a typical teacher-led lesson. The integration of advanced technology in an allied health classroom allows students to actively engage in generating, obtaining manipulating or displaying information. Through this process, students become empowered to define their goals, make decisions and evaluate their progress. Coupled with student applied technology, classrooms are being equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and tools to prepare students for the transition from classroom to career.

Lecture / Laboratory and Classroom Models:
High Performing Buildings: As allied health programs shift to incorporate collaborative, interdisciplinary classrooms and clinical experiences that mirror real-life settings, students are empowered to move beyond mastery of skill to lifelong learning concepts. By creating classroom models that take students directly into their chosen field and allow them to “step into” their chosen career in a classroom setting, students are essentially provided a “business internship” that prepares them for their careers far beyond traditional text book curriculum. Bridging the gap between textbook knowledge and the application of “real world” experiences is the foundation of the new allied health classrooms settings.

Each school day 50 million children and 6 million adults enter our schools nationwide; each of whom is directly affected by the physical environment. And, while most people have heard about the benefits of sustainable design from an energy savings standpoint, few truly understand the benefits gained from a student performance perspective. High performance schools have several distinct advantages:

* Higher Test Scores. Studies are confirming the relationship between a school’s physical condition and student performance. Factors such as increased day light, indoor thermal comfort and indoor air quality will enhance learning which equates to improved test results.

* Increased Average Daily Attendance. Indoor air quality plays a vital role in the health of students. By controlling sources of contaminants, providing adequate ventilation and preventing moisture – all designed to reduce sources of health problems and inhibit the spread of airborne infections – students and teachers will experience fewer sick days, especially for those suffering from respiratory or asthma problems.

* Reduced Operating Costs. High performance schools are specifically designed, using life-cycle cost methods, to minimize long-term costs of facility ownership. Using less energy and water than standard schools, means lower operating costs. Savings can then be redirected to supplement other budgets such as computers, books, classrooms and salaries.

* Increased Teacher Satisfaction and Retention. Designed to be pleasant and effective places to work and learn, high performance classrooms are visually pleasing, provide the appropriate thermal comfort and capitalize on effective acoustics for teaching. A positive and inviting place to work and learn improves overall satisfaction for teachers and sets the foundation for improved learning and retention of students.

* Reduced Environmental Impact. High performance buildings are specifically designed to have low environmental impact. They are energy and water efficient, use durable, non-toxic materials that are high in recycled content and they use non-polluting renewable energy to the greatest extent possible.
In short, we have an obligation to equip our students to do the hard work ahead of them.

A Vision for the Future
With the rapidly changing landscape of education as whole, taking on the challenge of designing multi-functional educational facilities means more than just designing a building. From technology to curriculums, campus structure to classroom environments, those involved in the planning, design and construction must be dedicated to providing solutions that meet the distinct needs of today’s students.

Roy Abernathy is Managing Principal with Atlanta-based Jova/Daniels/Busby Architects and is a partner with FWAJDB Architects – a partnership focused on facilities at the intersection of animal and human health. He is actively involved in AIA Georgia serving as 2012 AIA GA President, a member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), International Interior Design Association (IIDA), and is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional.

With years of experience as both a consultant and architect, Roy’s expansive knowledge of design, workplace performance and green building allows him to approach a project from many perspectives, allowing him an unparalleled ability to innovate. His expertise in operations, program management, real estate strategy and sustainable design span a broad range of industry sectors including civic, hospitality, religious, corporate and higher education with a dedicated specialty in veterinary medicine facilities.