Your Healthcare Administrator Career Plan: From Degrees Required to Paychecks Earned
March 10, 2021
Behind-the-scenes of a hospital doesn't have to be like a TV drama—especially if there's a take-charge, organized healthcare administrator to keep things running smoothly. To become a healthcare administrator, you'll need strong leadership skills, organizational skills, and people skills.
Healthcare administrators work behind the scenes at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to ensure that everything runs as safely, smoothly, and efficiently as possible. It's not a glamour job, but no medical facility could operate without them.
Most employers expect healthcare administrators to hold a master's degree, either in healthcare administration (MHA) or in business (MBA). Many MBA programs now offer a concentration in healthcare administration to cater to this fast-growing sector of the US economy.
With America's population aging and, inevitably, growing more infirm, now is a good time to consider a career in healthcare. You don't have to be a doctor or nurse to contribute to the nation's well-being. America needs healthcare administrators too. This article explains how to become one. It covers:
- What does a healthcare administrator do?
- Education and training to become a healthcare administrator
- Salary and career outlook for healthcare administrators
What does a healthcare administrator do?
Healthcare administrators manage the delivery of healthcare in various facilities, focusing on improving both efficiency and quality of services. The job requires a delicate balance of healthcare and financial priorities: both are essential to the continuing success of any healthcare operation.
Healthcare administrators oversee large enterprises, which requires them to delegate responsibilities to appropriate staff members. They need to be excellent people managers to select the right employees for each job and to motivate team members to provide optimal medical and health services.
As a healthcare administrator, you could work in a variety of venues, including:
- Emergency services
- Small or large doctor's offices and outpatient clinics
- Long-term nursing homes
- Home healthcare agencies
- Health insurance companies
Depending on the size of the organization, healthcare administrators may manage the entire facility or a specific department. They must work closely with doctors, nurses, and labs to coordinate care and eliminate redundancy. Their many responsibilities include:
- Determining a facility's short- and long-term goals
- Monitoring department budgets
- Tracking the use of facilities and services to minimize waste
- Ensuring that equipment is up-to-date and in compliance with regulations
- Recruiting and training new staff
- Creating staff work schedules
- Attending investor meetings and governing boards to represent the facility's interests
- Communicating facility objectives to staff
Skills required to succeed in this role include:
- Organizational skills
- Communication skills
- Supervisory skills
- Ethical judgment
- High emotional intelligence (EQ) to deal with sensitive health issues to relate to patients
Regarding this last item: researchers at St. Joseph's College in Maine recommend that graduate schools for healthcare administration implement more programing on emotional intelligence. They found that including curriculum on emotional intelligence had a positive impact on leadership effectiveness in graduates.
Education and training to become a healthcare administrator
A bachelor's degree is the bare minimum academic requirement to start a medical and health services career that leads to healthcare administration. For most employers, though, it won't be enough. Leadership-oriented positions in larger facilities typically call for an MBA or a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA). An MHA typically takes about two years to complete on a full-time basis.
What are some of the best healthcare administration degree programs?
According to US News and World Report, some _top schools for healthcare administration and management_ for bachelor's degree and master's degree programs include:
- The University of Alabama
- University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
- University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
All of these universities include traditional bachelor's and master's degree programs. Some also offer what's called competency-based curriculum models versus a traditional curriculum. UNC describes its competency model this way: "Rather than simply imparting knowledge and skills to students and assessing what students know, a competency-based curriculum focuses on assessing what students can accomplish with the knowledge, skills, and behaviors they acquire during the program.'' The competencies align with the skills necessary for the job, with courses focusing on such skills as analysis, law and ethics, and communication.
Regardless of the approach you pursue, be sure to choose a program that's accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), which hosts a database searchable by state of accredited programs. It's the only organization that puts a stamp of approval on healthcare management academic programs.
The CAHME started accrediting online MHA programs in 2015.
Accredited online MHA programs include:
- Cornell University Florida International University Pennsylvania State University - World Campus
- Saint Joseph's University University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
- University of Scranton
Those who choose the MBA route—a sensible choice, since healthcare administration is as much about business as it is about healthcare— should pursue a concentration in healthcare management. As an added bonus, you can transfer your skills with this specialization: should you decide healthcare management is not for you, your general business education will provide a smart fallback.
Or you could get two degrees. The University of California - Berkeley offers a program that allows students to earn an MBA and a Master's in Public Health (MPH) concurrently, with an eye towards "preparing leaders who are innovating and reinventing the healthcare sector." That program is highly selective, admitting only 20 students in each cohort. Other schools offer concurrent programs that aren't as exclusive. A dual program can take about three years to complete, while an MBA with a concentration typically takes two years.
A final option is to pursue a healthcare administration certificate from a CAHME-accredited university. Certificate programs are not as thorough as master's programs, and they don't carry as much weight with employers, but they definitely represent a step up from a bachelor's degree. They also signal your commitment to improving your skills in healthcare administration, which always helps.
Further certifications or education to become a healthcare administrator
There are no licensing requirements for healthcare administrators, meaning that there are no mandatory degrees or certifications to hold the position. That said, most employers prefer candidates who hold at least a master's-level degree, and many will not consider applicants who lack one. Some schools offer a Ph.D. in healthcare administration or a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration (DHA), but these degrees are rarely necessary for any but the highest-level positions, or to teach healthcare administration at the university level.
Healthcare administrators are represented by several professional organizations, some of which offer certifications in the field. They include:
- The American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management: AAHAM offers five certification options in the areas of revenue cycle, revenue integrity, and compliance.
- The Healthcare Financial Management Association: HFMA offers eight certifications: Certified Healthcare Financial Professional; Certified Revenue Cycle Representative; Certified Specialist Accounting & Finance; Certified Specialist Business Intelligence; Certified Specialist Managed Care; Certified Specialist Physician Practice Management; Fellow of HFMA; Certified Inpatient Coding Auditor
- The National Association of Healthcare Access Management: The NAHAM offers two certifications: Certified Healthcare Access Associate, and Certified Healthcare Access Manager.
Salary and career outlook for healthcare administrators
Healthcare administration is one of the great invisible line items in the United States. One study estimates that 30 percent of US healthcare costs go to healthcare administration. For better or worse, healthcare administration is a robust professional field.
The job outlook for healthcare administrative positions is strong; jobs are expected to grow by 18 percent through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Better still, healthcare administrators earn a healthy annual income of $99,730 per year. Average pay is highest in government ($110,460) and hospitals ($108,730) and lowest in nursing and residential care facilities ($84,260).
Healthcare administrators who maintain patient records and data are known as health information managers. In this role, you'll work closely with technology and databases and keep up with systems trends to keep patient information secure. Indeed reports that healthcare information managers earn, on average, $74,172.
From structural and finance issues to biotech and pharmaceutical companies, there are lots to explore and tackle in the healthcare administration field. Think beyond the doctors and nurses that you see for your office visit: there are others behind the scenes, working to do good for the sake of public health. If you want to help patients, focus on today's critical health issues, and improve the delivery of public health, a healthcare administrator career may be the best option for you.
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