Healthcare Administration

Highest-Paying Healthcare Administration Jobs

Highest-Paying Healthcare Administration Jobs
Healthcare administration jobs are typically higher-level leadership positions. They handle the planning and oversight of staffing, finance, medical records management, daily operations, marketing, and everything else involved in the business side of medicine. Image from Pexels
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry August 25, 2020

Healthcare administrators work behind the scenes so that healthcare systems run smoothly. It's essential work; it's also quite lucrative. Here's what you need to know to build a career on the business side of medicine.

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Overall, healthcare administration is an umbrella term for everything that allows medical facilities—such as doctors’ offices, surgical centers, hospitals, and specialty clinics—to run smoothly. Because of the complexity of medical billing and compensation, this work is challenging and essential.

In the past, patient care providers—i.e., doctors and nurses—oversaw office operations in addition to practicing medicine. That’s no longer possible: modern medical billing, staffing, and marketing are simply too complicated for medical professionals to handle while also delivering healthcare. The work requires highly trained, dedicated managers.

The role healthcare administrators play in medical services management grows more critical with each passing year. Today, these professionals oversee everything from accounting to patient records management to operations management for doctors, hospitals, and medical networks.

Academic institutions now offer degree programs and specialty certifications for healthcare administrators. These credentials are distinct from those for general business management professionals, requiring specialized knowledge and practices. Healthcare administration (also called healthcare management) has been described as the hidden healthcare specialty; most people aren’t aware of just how many healthcare administration jobs there are—or how well they pay. Professionals who work in health administration have titles like medical practice manager, nursing home administrator, and hospital CEO. Salaries over $90,000 are the norm for healthcare administrators with just a few years of experience. Top earners in healthcare administration can make a lot more.

In this article about the highest-paying healthcare administration jobs, we cover:

  • What is healthcare administration, and what kinds of people choose careers in this field?
  • What do average salaries in healthcare administration look like?
  • How much of an impact does workplace setting have on salaries in this field?
  • What roles in healthcare administration pay the most?
  • Are the highest-paying healthcare administration jobs usually held by nurses and doctors?
  • Is a master’s in healthcare administration required to work in those positions?
  • How can I increase my earning potential in healthcare administration?

What is healthcare administration, and what kinds of people choose careers in this field?

People often equate careers in healthcare with patient care. That’s part of it, but many healthcare jobs don’t involve treating or even interacting with patients. Not all healthcare professionals are doctors, PAs, or nurses.

Think about the resources and operations required to keep a single medical office running smoothly. Big hospitals and medical networks have similar administrative needs, but on a much larger scale. Medical research labs and pharmaceutical companies also have complex administrative needs.

Typically, healthcare administration jobs are higher-level leadership positions. They handle the planning and oversight of staffing, finance, medical records management, daily operations, marketing, and everything else involved in the business side of medicine.

Healthcare services administration attracts professionals for numerous reasons. For one, becoming a healthcare administrator is a way to contribute to medicine without going to medical school. It may seem like hyperbole, but quality healthcare administration can profoundly impact the patient experience and patient outcomes.

Two other reasons stand out. First, healthcare jobs are remarkably stable, because illnesses and injuries are a fact of life. We’re getting better at treating both thanks to new medical technologies and treatments. Consequently, people live longer, which has led to an increased need for competent, qualified managers who can handle the complex administrative needs of healthcare companies. Healthcare continues to employ more people than any other sector of the US economy, and jobs in health administration are currently being created much faster than in other fields. Second, salaries are relatively high, because demand is high and the skill set required to excel requires training and skill.

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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. (source)

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. (source)

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What do average salaries in healthcare administration look like?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals in healthcare administration roles typically earn about $104,000—not too shabby! That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. While the highest-paid healthcare administrators earn more than $195,000, the lowest-paid 10 percent earn about $60,000. There is a great deal of variability where healthcare administrator salaries are concerned.

That variability may be due to the fact that ‘healthcare administrator’ isn’t one role, but many. How much someone earns in this field may depend a great deal on whether they choose to specialize. While some healthcare managers handle anything and everything related to the business of medicine, others build their careers around specific areas of healthcare administration like:

Electronics records and computer systems management

Good healthcare practices require organized medical records and systems, including procedural records, appointment histories, and lab results. It’s essential to keep electronic records secure and up to medical standards. Professionals with an IT background focus on managing and securing the organization’s computer system.

Health finance

Finance and healthcare are (unfortunately) interconnected. Health finance encompasses everything from healthcare system operation to the way individuals pay for care. There are many different jobs in health finance, including developing systems with an equitable care structure, raising money, and consulting for insurance companies.

Health information management

Essentially, health information management is a more common term for electronics records and computer systems management.

Healthcare marketing

Remember, healthcare is a business. That means companies, including insurance companies and advocacy groups, must advertise their services to attract clients.

Home healthcare administration

There is a significant demand for home care, especially for elderly patients. So, home healthcare administrators coordinate this type of care rather than send patients to other facilities. Depending on the position, you may focus on tasks like billing, case management, and operations management.

Hospital management

In general, hospital management professionals are responsible for daily operations. They can have a significant impact on patients through their decisions about the facility’s care system. Hospital managers often make difficult financial decisions.

Human resources management

This focus area is devoted to overseeing administrative functions, including hiring and firing, managing benefits, and resolving workplace issues. Human resource management is not specific to healthcare.

Manpower systems analysis

Systems analysis is the process of examining and improving a system. There are many applications of system analytics, including in information technology and military processes. Manpower systems analysis is an archaic term that involves studying people and how they work, often to reduce costs.

Materials management

Materials management is a logistics position; you must get the right supplies to the right place for the right cost. Healthcare facilities with a good logistics structure can focus more on providing quality care at a lower price.

Nursing home management

As one might expect, nursing home management is like any other healthcare administration position, except you focus specifically on nursing homes. One main difference is these administrators typically work with patients who live in the facility instead of a hospital where most patients are admitted and discharged within several days or weeks.

Practice management

This is another discipline that revolves around the business of medicine. It encompasses many other specialties on this list, including human resources, finance, and marketing. In addition to hospitals, practice managers can work for clinics, consulting companies, and even private practices.

Program management

According to one study, the program management structure, “allows for an interdisciplinary team of health care providers to facilitate patient care delivery.” It requires a diverse skill set, including cost management and information technology optimization techniques.

Public affairs management

Public affairs professionals often work to create beneficial legislation or policies. In a healthcare setting, that typically means working with advocacy groups or nonprofits to influence policy.

Location also plays a significant role in the earning potential of healthcare administrators. The BLS breaks down mean salaries for administrators by state, making it easy to see that medical managers in New York earn quite a bit more ($156,140) than those working in Arkansas ($89,700). Salaries diverge even further when you look at wages by city. A healthcare manager in Santa Cruz, CA, might earn about $171,000. In contrast, one working in a rural part of Arkansas might earn around $79,000.

How much of an impact does workplace setting have on salaries in this field?

The quick answer is: a big one. The BLS also tracks pay in healthcare administration by workplace setting, and it has found that health administrators who work for government agencies tend to earn the most. In contrast, those employed by nursing homes and residential care facilities earn the least. That said, median salaries in the lowest-paying sectors hover around $90,000, which is enough to earn a comfortable living in most parts of the US.

For health administrators working in clinical practice management, practice size can also play a role in earning potential. Healthcare managers employed by hospitals make more than those employed by outpatient care centers, who make more than those employed by doctors’ offices. A good rule of thumb might be that the more providers there are at a practice, the higher administrator salaries will be.

What roles in healthcare administration pay the most?

There are many different healthcare administration jobs. Not all of them come with a big paycheck. Some of the highest-paying roles in healthcare administration are:

Clinical practice manager

Clinical practice managers and medical practice managers handle operations, HR, and accounting for healthcare organizations (including long-term care facilities, insurance companies, and even veterinary practices). A clinical practice manager might oversee an entire practice, multiple facilities, or one department. The breadth of their responsibilities determines how much they’re paid. In general, however, most clinical practice managers earn between $94,000 and $140,000.

Healthcare consultant

In general, healthcare consultants are management analysts who specialize in the business of medicine. They work with private practices, hospitals, outpatient surgical centers, and healthcare networks to find ways to make operations more efficient, increase profits, and improve patient satisfaction. According to CNN Money, this is one of the 100 Best Jobs in the US. On average, healthcare consultants earn about $80,000. Bonuses and promotions can drive that figure far higher.

Hospital administrator

Hospital administrators oversee both the health services and the daily operational activities of hospitals and hospital networks. It’s a big job considering how large a staff even smaller hospitals may have. On top of that, a hospital administrator’s responsibilities reach beyond the walls of their facility. They may manage everything from overall staffing needs to departmental budgets, and they may be responsible for cost reduction and patient satisfaction. Surprisingly, the average hospital administrator salary is only about $87,000, though the best-paid professionals in this role can earn around $150,000.

Hospital CEO

This is where the big money is because this is one of the roles in health administration with the most responsibility attached. A hospital CEO takes ownership of their facility’s financial health, regulatory compliance, program development, and patient outcomes. The CEO is the public face of that institution in the community. When things go wrong, they take the blame. While the average hospital CEO earns about $154,000, high-profile hospital CEOs in large health systems can command salaries in the eight-figure range.

Informatics manager

The widespread adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) has created a need for administrative professionals to bridge the gap between clinical and clerical staff members and IT. Informatics managers oversee the daily operations of the clinical information systems at healthcare facilities, which can involve training staff, creating and tracking budgets, making sure that records are accessible, and monitoring systems to ensure regulatory compliance and patient privacy. For that, informatics managers earn about $106,000.

Nursing home administrator

As expected, nursing home administrators supervise the business affairs of long-term care facilities, live-in rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes. They can earn more than $90,000 in this role, and are tasked with overseeing HR, financial matters, scheduling, resource management, and everything else related to daily operations. Depending on the size of a facility, this can be an extremely hands-on position involving a lot of interaction with residents.

Are the highest-paying healthcare administration jobs usually held by nurses and doctors?

No. Most healthcare management professionals are not providers, nor do they come from a clinical background. That said, some high-paying positions in healthcare administration tend to be held by practitioners, including:

Chief nursing officer

The Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) is a top-level administrator employed by a hospital, healthcare network, or other health system to oversee everything related to nursing care. Typically, CNOs rise through the ranks from RN into administrative roles (often after earning a master’s degree in healthcare administration) before advancing into this C-level position. The average Chief Nursing Officer salary is about $240,000. Some CNOs earn more than $300,000.

Nursing director

Again, it’s unusual to find a nursing director (or director of nursing) who was not an RN or an advanced practice registered nurse before they transitioned into management. Nursing directors are experienced clinical practitioners who have a career history of providing excellent patient care and demonstrate a high-level of managerial acumen. They typically earn about $100,000.

Clinical program director

Clinical program directors are in charge of operations and staffing in specific areas of a large medical practice, hospital, or specialty clinic. They often come from clinical backgrounds (and may even be licensed practitioners) because this gives them the knowledge necessary to direct resources related to program functionality. The average clinical program director salary is about $109,000.

Is a master’s in healthcare administration required to work in those positions?

You can launch a career in healthcare administration after earning a bachelor’s degree, but your ascent up the career ladder may be slowed by your lack of an advanced degree. Some people are promoted into management roles after working hard in lower-level positions in admissions, marketing, risk management, informatics, patient finance, or managed care analysis, but that’s not the norm. It’s much more common for professionals in health administration roles to have a Master of Health Administration (MHA), a master’s degree in healthcare management, a Master of Health Services Administration, or even an MBA in health administration.

Quite a few high-ranking schools have on-campus and online master’s degree programs related to healthcare administration. Some of the best programs can be found at the following colleges and universities:

Columbia University

Columbia offers full-time, part-time, and executive MHA program options; each have acceptance and employment rates above 95 percent. Students take courses in healthcare management, information technology, and healthcare finance.

Cornell University

Students in the Sloan program are encouraged to take classes at the university’s other colleges, including in hotel administration or engineering. Most graduates find roles in management consulting (31 percent of students) or the hospital/health system (49 percent) in their first year post-graduation.

George Washington University

GWU offers a policy-focused program. Students learn to utilize tools like healthcare informatics, management theory, and law, especially to help create cost effective solutions for patients.

Johns Hopkins University

The Johns Hopkins program is designed for younger professionals looking to advance their careers. Students complete the program in two years but only spend one taking courses. Students spend 11 months completing an administrative residency.

Tulane University of Louisiana

Students complete analytics-focused coursework to help improve their decision-making. Graduates look to “address the unique challenges presented in this complex industry, including ensuring equitable opportunity to health and optimal well-being.”

University of Alabama at Birmingham

University of Alabama offers Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA) students the option to simultaneously complete their Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Science in Health Informatics.

University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus

University of Colorado offers a health administration MBA concentration. Students can specialize in financial health management, health information technology management, or international health management and policy. Though the program is primarily in-person, students can complete a few degree requirements online.

University of Michigan

The Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA) focuses on both management and policy to prepare graduates for healthcare leadership positions. Experienced applicants may want to look at the executive Executive Master’s Program in Health Management and Policy program, which allows them to work as they earn their degree.

University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota boasts that “historically” all graduates find work or a fellowship within a few months of graduation. There are two MHA tracks to choose from. The traditional one is designed for inexperienced professionals, while the executive track is made for experienced professionals.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The goal of this program is to “improve decision-making and leadership skills of early and mid-career professionals.” Students complete coursework in communication, management, finance, leadership, and the environment of healthcare.

University of Southern California

The USC health administration program includes an information technology focus in addition to finance, law, and policy coursework. Students also complete a 1,000 hour residency, and can choose from two concentrations.

Virginia Commonwealth University

The VCU MSHA is a part-time, online program that can take under two years. The school has a high job placement rate. In 2018, 100 percent of graduates earned a job within three months of graduation.

MHAs and related graduate degrees are associated with higher salaries in healthcare administration jobs. According to PayScale, MHA holders earn about $15,000 more than healthcare administrators with bachelor’s degrees right out of school, and after ten years of employment, they out earn their peers by about $20,000.

How can I increase my earning potential in healthcare administration?

Consider the factors used to calculate salaries in healthcare administration. Experience is essential, but on top of that, there’s your highest level of education achieved. As shown above, earning a master’s degree can increase your earning potential considerably.

Job title also factors into how much you earn, with executive roles paying the most. Specialty positions usually pay more than general management positions, so consider specializing in one area of healthcare administration, like finance or long-term care facility management.

Job setting is another factor to consider. Hospital administrators earn more than clinical practice managers working for smaller doctors’ offices, but keep in mind that there is also administrative work in non-clinical settings. You may be able to earn more at a pharmaceutical company or in a government agency. And finally, don’t limit your job search to one geographical area if relocation is an option.

In other words, the best way to increase your earning potential in healthcare administration outside of gaining experience will almost always be to keep your options open.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle. He has been managing editor of the Noodle.com website for over four years.

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