When many people think of hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities, images of doctors and nurses are most likely to come to mind—and for a good reason. Nurses comprise the most significant component of the healthcare workforce, are the primary providers of hospital patient care. According to a report by Avalere Health and the Physicians Advisory Institute (PAI), U.S. hospitals employed about 25 percent of the country’s physicians in 2012. That percentage nearly doubled to 44 percent in 2018.
Still, those familiar enough with the healthcare industry know that tucked away in every hospital is an office in which a vital role spends much of their time. They’re known as the administrator, and in the most basic sense, it’s their responsibility to organize and manage the staffing, facilities, and finances. Their end goal? To ensure the hospital runs smoothly while providing efficient and quality care.
To make it happen, hospital administrators lead teams trained across a variety of specialized functions to improve patient care and outcomes while streamlining workplace productivity and maintaining accreditation. They coordinate and organize everything from compliance training concerning patient privacy to contract negotiations and the purchase of new medical equipment. Given their wide range of tasks, prospective administrators should consider an advanced degree that offers training across disciplines like human resources, psychology, finances, mathematics, and healthcare law.
Potential degree paths to a hospital administration career include a Master of Science (MS) in Healthcare Administration or a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), both of which can be completed in as little as 15 months or as long as three or more years. A Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) is also worthwhile, particularly with a concentration in healthcare management.
But before you jump into graduate school or even get an undergraduate degree squared away, you’ll need to consider whether your values, interests, skills, and personality type makes this career a solid fit—or maybe, not so fitting after all. To prove the former, here are six undeniable signs that you’d make a promising hospital administrator.
Say that nurses walk out due to a labor dispute or an unexpected expense blows a massive hole in a department’s budget. Or maybe, you’re dealing with a security issue concerning digital health records. The challenges you’ll face as a hospital administrator will be constant and ever-changing—and require creativity and quick-thinking skills to prevent a potential crisis. In a general sense, you’ll be responsible for providing healthcare teams with educational workshops and hands-on coaching to enhance their critical thinking skills in solving day-to-day medical and nursing problems.
Health administration undergraduates sometimes start out in admissions, marketing, risk management, managed-care analysis, or other non-clinical staff positions and work their way into higher-level administrative roles. While it’s possible to work in healthcare administration without an MHA, it can take a lot longer to climb the managerial ladder without a master’s degree. (
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2018, the median wage for health service managers was $99,730 per year, with the highest 10 percent in the field earning over $182,600 in base pay. Employment opportunities for health services managers is expected to grow by 20 percent by 2026. This growth is much faster than growth for other occupations. ( )
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In all aspects of life, people form perceptions of the trustworthiness of others based on their behavior. As a hospital administrator, your trustworthiness will create a sense of reliability in all of your professional relationships, from those with doctors and nurses to HR teams and public advocacy groups. To do that, you’ll need to be transparent with staff and the outside community on a long and changing list of factors that play into a hospital environment.
Additionally, you’ll need to avoid being persuaded by obstacles and, instead, find ways around them. From new levels of industry burnout to increasingly frustrated patients, keeping a focused, results-driven mentality is vital. And while broad throwaway excuses can be an easy call when, say, employee feedback is negative, or a hospital’s revenue falls, resisting them will be essential to finding the real source of problems you’ll face throughout your career.
Like any other business, healthcare has objectives. Whether you’re making big-picture decisions like merging with another healthcare facility or focused on more routine tasks like recruitment, your organizational skills will be crucial. And with so many responsibilities spread among different aspects of healthcare, time-management skills are an added requirement to guarantee deadlines don’t move, procedures are up-to-date, and employees and patients are satisfied and supported.
Like any healthcare profession, this role also leaves little room for error. When patient health is at stake, seemingly small details like scheduling become incredibly significant. Hospital administrators must be meticulous when it comes to every aspect of their work. From filling out paperwork to implementing a new billing process, you’ll need to be observant, notice problems before they become problems, and spot even not-so-serious mistakes.
Hospital administrators don’t always have all of the personnel and capital they need at every given point in their careers. However, with a degree of creativity and resourcefulness, they know how to utilize what’s on hand. In the case of budgeting, in particular, you’ll need to determine which resources—whether bed sheets, bedpans, or employee salaries—can be allocated for maximum impact. To do this, they need to gather input from hospital staff to determine each department’s financial needs while avoiding a high degree of overhead. From here, they must determine what needs are absolute and, if necessary, where cutbacks can happen.
Within a day, a hospital administrator might interact with doctors, health educators, executive boards, and financial department staff members. Fostering strong relationships and a clear sense of communication can rally staff behind a common cause and help keep the hospital running smoothly. Establishing trust is critical, as is making decisions that align with the long-term goals of the organization.
The more specific details of how relationship-building skills can help your career will vary depending on your immediate work environment. Still, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see how a focus on teamwork will also be a huge benefit when working across departments and with a variety of individuals.
Say you’re responsible for implementing a new healthcare policy that, while not particularly difficult, is a change to the way a particular team operates. You’re bound to find employees that are resistant to the move, which could make shifting to the new policy far more complicated than necessary. The better your rapport with your staff, the healthier your sense of teamwork—and chances are, the fewer the number of people who will offer more than a groan or two when the change takes effect.
Many of a hospital’s decisions fall on its administrator, making a steadfast moral compass necessary to ensure the right ones play out. You’ll need to weigh the needs of patients, employees, the community you serve, and the facilities you run in all of your decisions—not to mention, their potential impact on people’s health and welfare, as well their medical, social, economic, and professional standings.
It’s a responsibility that will require you to make sure that your medical staff has the training to perform necessary procedures, that appropriate drugs are available and administered correctly, and that a sufficient number of skilled and knowledgeable employees are available to care for patients. Ultimately, by admitting by patients, a hospital is a commitment to doing all it can provide quality care. With the right skills as its leader, it will with integrity.
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