Healthcare administrators—also known by a variety of other job titles (e.g. healthcare managers, health services managers, healthcare executives)—are professionals who manage the business operations of medical organizations such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and community health centers. If you're thinking of pursuing a career in this field, the good news is that there has never been a better time to go into healthcare management. Due to a predicted 22 percent rise in the demand for healthcare administrators over the next decade, there are lots of potential job opportunities.
So what qualifications will you need to become a healthcare administrator? Well, for starters, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree. However, note that this is usually only acceptable for entry-level positions, in smaller organizations such as clinics. Pivotal to the health service management career path is the master's degree (usually a two-year program). Healthcare executives typically hold degrees such as Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), Master of Business Administration (MBA), or Master of Public Health (MPH).
The quality of the master's program will factor into your competitiveness in landing that first job, so it's important to lay the groundwork for acceptance onto a good program by maintaining an excellent scholastic record at the bachelor's degree level. In addition, you should select the program from the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education's (CAHME's) searchable database of accredited programs available on its website.
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Typical master's programs in healthcare administration include courses such as healthcare management, organizational behavior, healthcare policy, healthcare law, health economics, healthcare financing, and human resources. And if you're interested in combining healthcare administration with business administration, or another relevant subject, a growing number of universities are offering joint degrees (e.g. healthcare and business administration, healthcare and law, business administration with a health services concentration). One example is the University of Minnesota's Dual MHA/MBA Degree.
In addition to didactic courses, master's programs may include a supervised internship, fellowship, or residency, which are great for getting relevant work experience (covered in more detail below). For instance, the MHA program at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health consists of a one-year didactic curriculum in the first year, with a 11-month administrative residency in the second year.
While qualifications are important, relevant experience is also essential. Previous healthcare administration work (general or clinical) adds considerable clout to your resume, and should not be taken lightly. A job in a real entry-level position (e.g. Assistant Healthcare Administrator) is one way of getting the experience necessary for the higher-level jobs. Experience is also often gained through internships, fellowships and residencies. The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) provides an online directory of fellowships which can be found here. The bottom line is, work experience is important; if necessary, you should be prepared to gain this through volunteering/working for free.
While gaining work experience, you should also aim to develop your skills in the areas of expertise that are particularly important for health administration careers, such as communication, problem-solving, decision-making, negotiation, delegation of authority, goal-setting, data analysis, policy development, managing staff, and leadership.
If you're interested in becoming a healthcare administrator you will need to do the following:
- Obtain a bachelor's degree, and focus on maintaining a good scholastic record;
- Earn a master's degree in one of the following (or similar) areas: healthcare administration, business administration, public health;
- Gain relevant work experience;
- Develop the core skills required to become a successful healthcare administrator.
Follow these tips, and you should be on your way to the health management career of your dreams!
Clare Xanthos is a writer, editor and researcher residing in Marietta, GA. She holds a PhD in Social Policy from the London School of Economics, and is the author of numerous articles in the field of public health. She recently served as an editor for a groundbreaking book relating to social determinants of health.