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The Allied Health Professions – A Sociological Perspective

I’m going to do a quick plug for my new book, co-authored with Professor Alan Borthwick OBE “The Allied Health Professions – A sociological Perspective”, published by Policy Press (March 2021). The book is part of a series on the Sociology of the Health Professions: Future International Directions, edited by Professors Mike Saks and Mike Dent.

You can also view the video of our virtual book launch, chaired by Professor Mike Saks.

What is the book about?

This book compares the allied health professions as a collective, and as individual disciplines, in Australia and the United Kingdom (UK). We start by looking at the sociological theory of the professions generally, and how and why that is important for allied health. We then compare the different funding and organisational contexts of allied health in both countries.

The allied health professions are relatively young – all have professionalised over the past century, and many have only formed in response to population and technological changes in the past fifty years. The Australian health care context, while complex, allows new professions to emerge in response to population needs (for example exercise physiologists, developmental educators, diabetes educators and pedorthists), whereas the monopoly employer of the NHS has had relatively stable membership to the AHP group, and, for example, does not formally recognise the professions listed above.

We discuss the way the professions have emerged and evolved and what allows new occupations to professionalise. The different funding and organisational contexts in Australia and UK provide a valuable backdrop to compare the different developmental pathways of the AHPs.

Why is sociology important for the allied health professions?

The allied health professions have been very good at collecting evidence for the effectiveness of their interventions, but have had limited success in implementing those interventions as widely as they could. This book came about as a result of my own frustration in driving evidence based changes – and the realisation that it is politics, not evidence that drives change.

The allied health professions (and indeed all professions) are social constructs that have emerged in response to specific population and societal needs. If the professions want to drive changes – any changes – to their own scope of practice, to the health system, to funding models, to their levels of autonomy – then they need to understand and navigate the social and political systems that have defined those professions.

Alan Borthwick’s PhD was on exactly this topic (e.g. see this paper). Alan is an expert on the sociology of the professions, how professions negotiate their boundaries in the context of other professions, and the systems in which they work to drive change. Our book discusses these social and political contexts using a number of case studies of AHPs at different stages of their own professionalisation.

The timing of this book was fortuitous. I am going to suggest (perhaps contentiously) that we were already on the cusp of a reframing and re-visioning of traditional professions, but I suspect that COVID-19 will accelerate that change.

While we don’t know what this will look like, some of the drivers for change include the funding pressures on higher education; growth of incremental training models such as micro-credentials; health and social care funding models where the client (or their proxy) is a fund-holder – which tends to push prices down and fragment the workforce into skills / tasks rather than focus on professions; a new uprising of feminism and an increasing international dialogue around the need to recognise and reward traditional female roles; an impending inter-generational tsunami of debt; rising global inequality; and a rapidly ageing population in most high income countries.

Allied health needs to be ready to respond to these changes, both in terms of their roles, and professional structures. Fortunately, as we illustrate in this book, AHPs have demonstrated that they are nimble and responsive to change.

This book empowers the allied health professions to take control of their future by understanding their past.

Who is the audience for The Allied Health Professions – A Sociological Perspective?

We would argue that any allied health professional should read this book, although we acknowledge that it is not ‘light reading’!

  • Current students of allied health need to understand how their profession has been shaped to give them some control over the destiny of their profession.
  • Managers and employers of allied health would benefit from an understanding of interprofessional dynamics and how to drive workforce changes.
  • Policy makers whose roles interact with allied health would particularly benefit by understanding the interprofessional dynamics, potential for substitution, opportunities around regulatory frameworks, and also the diversity of the workforce.
  • Educators and scholars of allied health professionals for all of the reasons listed above.
  • We also believe that this book is relevant to other, non-allied health profession groups to understand the history and development of the professions and interprofessional relationships.

We have framed the book within the Australian and UK contexts, however we draw on literature from all over the world. The learning from the Australian and UK contexts has relevance for other jurisdictions that employ (or want to employ) allied health professionals.

What the reviewers said

“A thoughtful and meticulous consideration of the allied health professions. The analysis helps address a remarkable neglect in our knowledge of the many and varied roles in the provision of 21st century health care.” Ivy Lynn Bourgeault, University of Ottawa

“A timely book that offers a thoughtful, sociologically-informed, comparative analysis and shines a much-needed light on the professional project of Allied Health in the UK and Australia.” Catherine Pope, University of Oxford

“This excellent book offers a refreshing, sophisticated but eminently readable treatment of theory and inquiry applied to the allied professions. Grounded in social understanding, it deserves to be required reading on any allied health professional course.” Anne Rogers, University of Southampton

A more detailed synopsis and review of the book by Mike Potter is available here.

Where do I buy a copy?

The book is published by Policy Press, Bristol and can be purchased from the publisher as a hard copy or electronic version.

In Australia, BooktopiaAmazon and other online booksellers have copies available. Amazon also sell copies available internationally.


Published: Mar 10, 2021

Page count: 252 pages

Series: Sociology of Health Professions

ISBN: 978-1447345367

Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm

Imprint: Policy Press