Choosing a Career Path in Healthcare Administration

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the healthcare industry currently employs over 16 million people across the wide range of health-related occupations, and this total is expected to exceed 22 million by 2020. Additionally, the health-related employment opportunities are in no way restricted only to individuals interested in the art of medicine itself. In fact, given the enormous size of the industry and its expected future growth, the field is currently experiencing a demand for capable health care administrators, who help ensure that medical facilities – from small clinics to world-renowned teaching hospitals – operate in an efficient way.


Health Care Administration: Career Overview

The healthcare industry is so vast and so important to the well-being of the U.S. economy that it should not come as a surprise that it requires competent administrators able to manage the day-to-day operations of a medical facility, as well as provide leadership to the staff. In fact, healthcare administration shares many similarities with other large-scale business structures that require their mid-level managers and executives to lead, and make difficult decisions when such needs to be done. However, in addition to knowledge of accounting, budgeting, and leadership principles, healthcare administrators also need to have an understanding of the healthcare industry as a whole, and their own role in the complex process of providing medical services to patients.

Prospective health care administrators can find themselves employed at various positions in the sector. Experienced health managers will easily find employment at large hospitals, smaller clinics, group medical practices, nursing homes, medical research labs, and other organizations specializing in providing medical services. In addition, state and federal health agencies – including, but in no way limited to the United States Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Veterans Affairs – are in demand for skilled health care managers, offering a wide range of fellowship and internship opportunities to attract candidates. Finally, they are also sought by various healthcare-related businesses like life and health insurance companies, or international pharmaceutical corporations. Ultimately, the employment possibilities are endless, and individuals that decide to pursue a career in health management will find plenty of room for career advancement.

Health Care Administration: Educational Requirements and Available Programs

Over the last several decades, healthcare administration has developed from an addendum to curriculums required for business degrees, into its own unique field of study. As a result, individuals interested in this career path, who may be in the process of applying to institutions of higher learning, can now select healthcare administration as their undergraduate major at many colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

While the bachelor's degree in the field is the perfect first step and may result in an employment offer by itself, the sector offers far more opportunities to individuals willing to obtain a post-graduate degree, typically at master's level. There are several different graduate programs in healthcare management accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) – the accrediting organization for master's level degrees in healthcare administration in both the United States and Canada. These programs may grant such diverse degrees as the Master of Public Health(MPH), the similar-but-different Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA), and Master of Science in Health Policy and Management.

While the above degrees will offer similar opportunities in the field, Master of Health Administration programs tend to concentrate more on the economic and numerical aspects of healthcare management, placing special emphasis on such subjects as accounting, budgeting, cost analysis, and financial planning, how they pertain to individual healthcare facilities. On the other hand, Master of Public Health and Master of Science in Health Policy and Management programs tend to promote a broader approach to the healthcare industry, examining healthcare management not from the point of view of individual medical facilities, but that of entire districts, states, or even countries. However, the majority of the curriculum will overlap, and choosing an MPH instead of an MHA will not disqualify individuals from any employment positions in healthcare administration, but different programs may better prepare them for their future work responsibilities.

Health Care Administration: Required Certifications

In addition to the above education requirements, many jurisdictions require certain health care administrators to receive a state license. Currently, all states have this requirement for administrators of nursing homes and nursing care facilities, and some extend this requirement to assisted-living facilities. However, the majority of graduate programs in health management offer help to their current students and alumni in obtaining the required licenses.

Health Care Administration: Salaries

Individuals interested in pursuing a graduate degree in healthcare administration, will be happy to find out that the majority of jobs in the field come with high salaries and excellent benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2010 median pay of medical and health services managers was $84,270. However, the above rate takes into account individuals working in the field with only a bachelor's degree, as well as entry-level public health administrators bound by the federal and state pay schedules. The median salary of experienced healthcare administrators with graduate degrees was calculated to be $98,000, with those in senior positions earning over $400K. Finally, those who select a U.S. civil service position and have a master's-level degree, do not fare any worse earning around$70,000 after five years, plus locality adjustment as high as 25% for metropolitan areas like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Health Care Administration: Job Outlook

The current and future employment opportunities for individuals trained in healthcare management and administration are presently well above market average, and this trend has been continuing for quite a while now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the timeframe between January 2011, and January 2012 alone, over 300,000 healthcare jobs were added to the economy, representing a sixth of all new jobs. This has sharply increased the need for more healthcare administrators. The most recent statistics predict growth rate of 22% over the 2010-2020 decade, translating into almost 70,000 new positions. The above figures do not include additional positions in sectors that have an economic relationship with the healthcare industry.

Health Care Administration: Getting Started and Moving Forward

For most individuals, their best route to a successful career in health care administration path will begin with higher education. As already emphasized, applicants with master-level degrees will find more entry-level opportunities, as well as more room for future career advancement. Given the current demand, many applicants will find themselves presented with several open employment positions to choose from. The selection process will often be influenced by personal beliefs regarding healthcare management, and some candidates may seek positions at large hospitals, while others may join one of the public health agencies. The field offers numerous paths for individuals looking to specialize, as it does for those that believe in a more general approach to health care.

However, jobs in health care administration require sacrifice and commitment, and the ability to make tough choices that may not be in the best interest of certain patients, but allow the medical facility under their management to continue providing medical care. Many health care administrators strongly identify with their occupations, spending countless hours working on budget projections, new staff schedules, responding to patients' requests and complaints, and addressing many other issues commonly brought to their attention. Efficient health care administrators will possess strong analytical and communication skills, have knowledge of current health regulations, and be able to organize and lead the staff.

Final Remarks

Health care administration is without question an excellent career path, given the current demand for healthcare managers, and the above-average job outlook for the next decade. The wide range of employment positions all come with reasonably high salaries and great benefits, and the field offers enormous potential for advancement to motivated and over-achieving individuals.

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