Healthcare is the fastest-growing job sector in the U.S. economy; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the field will increase by 18 percent through 2026. Another high-growth field: management consulting, predicted to expand by a robust 14 percent over the same period of time. Put the two together and you get healthcare consultants, specialized management consultants who help healthcare practitioners and organizations identify ways to:
Healthcare consultants typically work with:
They analyze facilities’ current operations, identify problem areas, and propose actionable solutions to those issues.
So, why the need for consultants? Why don’t these facilities identify and address the problems on their own? Sometimes it’s because they can’t spare the manpower or resources for the requisite investigation. More often, though, it’s that they are too close to the problems to see them; that is, they are so used to doing things a certain way that they take their processes—many of which can be improved—for granted.
A healthcare consultant, on the other hand, has no preconceived ideas, and so can focus solely on optimizing flawed processes and practices. As the nineteenth-century theologian Thomas Wentworth Higginson so aptly put it, “Originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes.”
In this article, we’ll cover:
All kinds of medical and healthcare organizations work with medical management consultants, from small private practices to hospitals to health insurance companies. In some cases, consultants work for larger general or healthcare consulting companies that assign consultants to different projects, while in others, healthcare consultants may be independent contract hires working directly for healthcare companies to meet operational challenges.
Consultants work with everyone from care providers like doctors, registered nurses, and specialists to top-level executives at healthcare organizations. As a healthcare consultant, you’ll meet a lot of people.
What does a healthcare consultant actually do? These experts help healthcare executives, healthcare administrators, and health services managers make their facilities more efficient, safe, and profitable.
They do this by:
Healthcare consultants may also work with a private practice or facility to implement the new processes or systems they’ve recommended.
Becoming a healthcare consultant is about more than business acumen. As you might imagine, healthcare consultants have to be great problem solvers, very organized, familiar with healthcare law, and comfortable working in new settings—especially medical settings—and with unfamiliar people.
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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This brings us to the pros and cons of becoming a healthcare consultant. In the plus column, every job will be different. Those who thrive on variety will never be bored by this job. In the minus column, this is a high-pressure, deadline-driven role for which clients have high expectations. You may routinely work more than 40 hours a week in a job that can be stressful and fast-paced.
While there are no official educational prerequisites to becoming a healthcare consultant, most employers won’t consider candidates who don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree and, in most cases, a master’s degree as well. Real-world experience is also all-but-essential, so it’s a good idea to take an internship at a medical office or hospital during your undergraduate or even graduate studies.
The most useful bachelor’s degree programs for students looking to become healthcare consultants are generally those in business, nursing, or public health. One good option is a bachelor of science in healthcare administration degree—Southern New Hampshire University has an online program—because it will prepare you to tackle the business, management, and organizational challenges that medical facilities face.
Coursework typically includes classes in:
Next, you’ll probably pursue a master’s in health administration (MHA)—though likely not until gaining some real-world work experience in healthcare administration; many MHA programs require students applying to have at least two to five years of relevant employment under their belts. In most MHA programs, you’ll dive deeper into the organizational side of healthcare administration, and you may even concentrate on a specific area of administration, e.g., geriatrics.
Your MHA core classes will focus on the needs of those in the healthcare market, which means that once you graduate, you’ll be prepared to become a leader in the field. Even so, some people choose to pursue an MBA in healthcare management, a degree path that is more business-focused. In either case, having a master’s degree makes it easier to compete for the best-paying healthcare consultant jobs.
Most MHA programs take two to three years to complete full-time, but there are accelerated MHA programs like the one-year MHA program offered by Louisiana State University. It’s also possible to earn an MHA entirely online from schools like George Washington University and Des Moines University.
If you have to work while studying, there are executive MHA programs that take place mostly on nights and weekends (and/or online), though these obviously take longer to complete. Accelerated, online, and executive programs typically have all the same educational requirements as on-campus programs.
You may be surprised to learn that there are no licenses or certifications required for consultants to work independently or to become full-time employees at a consulting firm. The typical advancement path for healthcare consultants is all about experience.
Employers may prefer candidates with certain certifications—like a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation awarded by the Institute of Management Consultants or one of the National Association of Healthcare Business Consultants certification programs—but on-the-job experience is often much more important than any particular certification.
In fact, whereas consulting companies in the business world are happy to hire recent graduates, healthcare consulting companies often prefer to hire people who have worked in the industry over those who might appear more credentialed on paper. Sometimes, having completed an unpaid internship in healthcare administration can make you a more attractive candidate than one with more education or certifications.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that demand for consultants in healthcare will be especially strong in coming years due to an aging population and a regulatory environment that’s growing in complexity (especially when it comes to health insurance).
It doesn’t look like job growth in the medical field will slow down any time soon, and according to CNN Money, this is one of the 100 Best Jobs in the US. Maybe because the median salary for healthcare consultants is $97,400. Or maybe it’s because almost everything healthcare consultants do helps make the patient experience better. No matter why you decide to enter this field, your hard work will pay off in many ways.
(Updated on January 24, 2024)
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