Healthcare Administrator Programs and Careers

What is a Healthcare Administrator?

A healthcare administrator is exactly what it sounds like – a person that works in an administrative or oversight capacity in a healthcare setting. These individuals are often trained in areas pertaining to business, marketing, management, and so forth, as opposed to being healthcare professionals.

That’s because healthcare administrators serve in a similar capacity to executives or people in management positions. That is, they are in a leadership position in the healthcare organization – be that a small health clinic, a local hospital, a large HMO, or otherwise – and are tasked with ensuring that the organization runs smoothly.

More specifically, healthcare administrators often work to ensure that the organization that employs them is fiscally responsible, offers high-quality care and health services, and ensures compliance with relevant regulatory requirements.  Healthcare administrators also often provide oversight of employees as well as oversee the hiring and firing process, moderation of conflicts, and creating work schedules for employees.

What Does a Healthcare Administrator Do?

As noted above, a healthcare administrator is not typically a healthcare provider, like a doctor or a nurse. Instead, they are trained professionals that utilize their knowledge and skills in business and management to help healthcare facilities provide the best services to their patients.

A primary duty of a healthcare administrator is to ensure that the healthcare organization is compliant with the rules and regulations by which it is governed. For example, a person employed in this position would likely be tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the healthcare organization is compliant with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) standards for maintaining private and secure medical records.

Another key duty of a healthcare administrator is to manage the day-to-day operations of the healthcare facility. A healthcare administrator in a hospital, for example, might be responsible for creating employee work schedules such that there is a full compliment of staff working at the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Furthermore, healthcare administrators are often the go-to person to resolve conflicts between employees, or even to try to resolve conflicts or concerns raised by patients. For example, if the family of a patient in the intensive care unit expresses concerns about the attention the nursing staff is providing their loved one, a healthcare administrator might meet with the family to determine their concerns, and then take necessary action to rectify the problem.

Many healthcare administrators spend much of their time on business-related tasks. That includes developing and proposing budgets for various departments within the facility, working to streamline the patient admissions process, or working with finance personnel to pay bills, work on employee payroll, and ordering needed supplies or machinery.

In some cases, healthcare administrators have a much smaller focus on a specific department, like the radiology department or the physical therapy department. In these cases, healthcare administrators often serve in similar roles as described above, but they often have a background in that specific area as well. Therefore, a healthcare administrator that oversees the nursing department might be trained as a nurse and have worked as a nurse for a number of years before moving into an administrative position.

Where Does a Healthcare Administrator Work?

Healthcare administrators work in a wide variety of settings.

Most people in this field of work are employed by hospitals, where there is a large staff and a large budget to manage. In fact, larger hospitals might have a number of healthcare administrators on staff, with each specializing in a certain department. Depending on one’s area of expertise, a healthcare administrator might oversee accounting, nursing, radiology, or another specific area of the hospital.

However, smaller healthcare institutions often have a healthcare administrator on staff, though they are more likely to oversee more aspects of the daily operation of the facility. For example, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and outpatient health centers are common places of employment for health administrators.

Less commonly you’ll find healthcare administrators in public health clinics, individual physician’s offices, healthcare groups, and companies that provide home health services. In these settings, a healthcare administrator is most likely to be in charge of a wide spectrum of tasks related to the smooth operation of the healthcare facility.

Why Do We Need Healthcare Administrators?

When you visit a health clinic, hospital, or another healthcare facility, the chances are good that you won’t have any contact with a healthcare administrator. In fact, you likely won’t even think about the people working behind the scenes to ensure you get the care you need. However, healthcare administrators are there, working hard for your benefit.

As healthcare becomes a more and more complex industry, and as the healthcare needs of the general public continue to expand, the need for people in management positions within healthcare organizations has never been more important.

From an organizational standpoint, healthcare administrators keep the facility running like a well-oiled machine, keeping track of everything from patient records to employee schedules to assets and debts of the healthcare facility. That job in and of itself demonstrates why healthcare administrators are so important.

But as the general population struggles with healthcare issues like obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, and mental health issues, and as more and more Baby Boomers retire and enter old age, the pressure on healthcare providers is continually increasing. Healthcare administrators play an important role in helping their employers accommodate this ever-increasing demand for services such that people in need of care get what they need, when they need it.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Healthcare Administrator?

There are actually numerous different paths to becoming a healthcare administrator.

Perhaps the most common route to working as a healthcare administrator is to study healthcare and business as a first step, and then get on-the-job experience in an entry-level position.

To do so, the first step is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, public health, nursing, or business administration. Each of these programs typically lasts four years, though they could be completed in a shorter amount of time if a student takes summer classes.

Once a bachelor’s degree is conferred, students can seek low-level positions in large hospitals or perhaps higher positions in smaller facilities as a healthcare administrator. To obtain employment, some healthcare facilities might require certification from the American College of Healthcare Administrators, though for the most part, this certification is a voluntary step.

Depending on the specific field in which one works, licensure as a healthcare administrator might be required. For example, a healthcare administrator that works in a nursing home facility is required to pass the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards exam and become licensed by the state in which they work. Other healthcare administration fields do not require this step, though.

After working for a few years in healthcare administration, many workers choose to go back to school to get a graduate degree as an additional step to being more qualified for better administrative positions. Like undergraduate studies, graduate studies can be in a variety of healthcare and business-related areas.

Nevertheless, graduate programs often take just one or two years to complete, though some might require three years, four years, or more, depending on the number of credit hours that are required and the extent of internship requirements placed on students.

Another common pathway to becoming a healthcare administrator is to enter the healthcare field as a nurse or a related position and work in that role for several years to get practical experience working in the healthcare industry on the patient side rather than the administrative side.

From there, nurses and other healthcare workers might simply transition into an administrative role (i.e., working as a nursing administrator) or they might take the step to get a second bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree that focuses more on healthcare administration.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Healthcare Administrator?

At a minimum, healthcare administrators need a bachelor’s degree in a field like nursing, hospital administration, or public health. These degrees typically take four years to complete if a student attends school full-time. However, a master’s degree is typically preferred, which can take an additional two or three years to complete.

What is it Like to be a Healthcare Administrator?

Healthcare administration is a highly rewarding job, but one that can also be highly stressful. On any given day, a job as a healthcare administrator could be:

  • Fast-paced – Because healthcare administrators are tasked with overseeing the day-to-day operations of a department, if not an entire healthcare facility, they often have many different responsibilities that must be addressed in rapid fashion.
  • High-stress – Workers in this field often face very difficult circumstances that can lead to a lot of stress. This includes resolving conflicts between employees, addressing patient and family concerns, dealing with budgetary restrictions or shortfalls, and maintaining a healthy and safe work environment, among other tasks.
  • Detail-oriented – Healthcare administrators must keep an eye on the bigger picture, but must also be able to address smaller details and short-term goals to ensure that the department or facility for which they are responsible runs as smoothly as possible and provides the best experience for patients.
  • Research-oriented – Administrators in healthcare settings are often tasked with being up-to-date on current healthcare policies and laws, as well as being aware of upcoming changes to policies and laws that will impact the functioning of the facility. As a result, healthcare administrators must have their finger on the pulse of changes in the healthcare industry, which occur often and sometimes rapidly.
  • People-oriented – Whether it’s interacting with their subordinates, working with family members of patients, conversing with patients themselves, or meeting with other administrators, CEOs, and Boards of Directors, work as a healthcare administrator is a people-oriented business.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Healthcare Administrator?

Like any job, healthcare administration has its benefits and detriments. Among the most common are:

  • Job satisfaction – Because healthcare administrators work for the benefit of others, there is often very high job satisfaction knowing that the work one does day in and day out helps improve someone else’s life.
  • Opportunities for leadership – Healthcare administrators are often on the forefront when it comes to making positive changes in healthcare settings. Leading the way to make healthcare more effective, affordable, and so forth only contributes to positive feelings about one’s occupation.
  • Vast career options – Not only are healthcare administrators able to work in a wide variety of settings, but there are plenty of opportunities for healthcare administrators to advance to better positions with additional education and work experiences.
  • Easy entry – Becoming a healthcare administrator is an easy road when compared to many other careers in the healthcare sector. Often, a bachelor’s degree is all that’s needed to start working in an entry-level healthcare administration position.
  • Excellent income potential – The median annual salary, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for a healthcare administrator was just over $96,500 in 2016. The highest 10 percent of workers in this field in 2016 had an average salary of more than $172,000 per year.
  • High stress – Healthcare is one of the most stressful industries in which to work, and since healthcare administrators have many responsibilities that impact everyone from patients to employees to investors, there are many high-stress moments.
  • Long hours – Though many healthcare administrators enjoy a much more traditional work schedule than, say, a doctor, there are nevertheless many long days and working nights and weekends when the work piles up.
  • Mundane activities – Much of a healthcare administrator’s day is taken up with activities that aren’t necessarily the most exciting, like analyzing financial data, researching healthcare industry news, ensuring compliance with policies, procedures, laws, and regulations, and other administrative tasks.

How Much Does a Healthcare Administrator Make?

Like any occupation, there is wide variability in the average annual salary that a healthcare administrator can expect to make. As of February 2018, according to PayScale, the pay range for healthcare administrators runs from a low of just over $39,000 per year to a high of $101,603 per year, on average. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a healthcare administrator in 2016 was just over $96,500.

The wide range of salaries for people employed as healthcare administrators is due to a variety of factors. Naturally, one’s level of experience in the field determines in large part the salary that’s conferred – people with less experience earn less money and people with more experience earn more money.

Likewise, the extent of one’s duties might impact how much compensation is offered. For example, a healthcare administrator that oversees a single department in a large facility – like radiology – might expect to earn less than a healthcare administrator whose duties are much larger in scope, like a Chief Financial Officer.

Additionally, the place of employment can impact the salary earned. For example, if employed in a very large healthcare facility, a healthcare administrator might make more money than a colleague performing the same duties and functions in a very small healthcare facility, simply because a large facility will have a similarly large budget.

What is the Job Outlook for Healthcare Administrators?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for healthcare administrators is quite strong, and is predicted to remain strong for the foreseeable future. In fact, employment in this career area is expected to grow at a rate of 20 percent through 2026.

As noted earlier, the healthcare concerns and needs of the general public is putting greater emphasis on the need for healthcare services. With more and more people seeking treatment for physical and psychological ailments, and with more and more of the population getting older, healthcare facilities will continue to see an uptick in the number of patients seeking services.

That’s good news for healthcare administrators (and other workers in this field) as it points towards continued job security in the future. The expanding market for health administration jobs is across the board, at facilities large and small, in rural and urban areas, and at public and private facilities alike.

What are the Future Career Options for a Healthcare Administrator?

As mentioned above, the job outlook for healthcare administration is quite strong, so there are plentiful opportunities for advancement at various stages of one’s career.

After working in a position for a number of years, there are often more opportunities for healthcare administrators to move up to a higher position of responsibility. For example, an administrator that works in a small public health clinic for five years might find that a position with more responsibilities and higher pay becomes more likely at a local hospital.

Likewise, healthcare administrators that have experience in a specific field, like finance or business administration, can find him or herself flush with opportunities for advancement after five to ten years on the job. For example, a healthcare administrator that oversees the financial growth of a mid-size hospital could very easily move into a similar position at a larger hospital or HMO and work with much larger budgets and staffs.

Because healthcare administrators have so much to do with the day-to-day functioning of the facility in which they work, after ten to fifteen years, there could be opportunities to move into an even higher administrative role, like hospital administrator, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and so forth. These positions often require advanced and specific education (i.e., a master’s degree in finance for a Chief Financial Officer) as well as a wealth of experience working “in the trenches” as a healthcare administrator for many years.

What Professions are Similar to Healthcare Administrator?

There are many careers both inside and outside of healthcare that are similar to healthcare administration. These include:

Administrative services manager – Much like healthcare administrators, workers in this field spend the bulk of their time managing the day-to-day operations of organizations. This includes planning short and long-term goals, directing subordinates, coordination of support services, record keeping, and other administrative tasks. Many administrative services managers also examine company policies and procedures to ensure they are current and being adhered to by staff members. There is much oversight of an organization’s facilities, machinery, equipment, and other tangible assets as well.

Human resource managers – Like administrative services managers and healthcare administrators, human resource managers serve in an administrative capacity in organizations large and small to ensure smooth operation of the organization. However, human resource managers tend to be more specialized in working with fellow employees of a company or business. That is, they are responsible for recruiting workers, interviewing potential employees, hiring and firing staff, resolving conflicts between employees, and addressing problems that arise with specific employees, such as reprimanding an employee that is constantly late to work. Additionally, human resources managers are often tasked with overseeing employee benefit programs and serving as a liaison between workers and those in management positions.

Social and community services managers – Workers in this field are similar to the others listed here, but are more program and community oriented in carrying out their job duties. For example, instead of working in a hospital as a healthcare administrator might, a social and community services manager might instead work for a private non-profit group that engages with community members to identify areas of concern and develop programs and services to address those concerns. Programs and services that are developed as a result would be overseen by the social and community services manager to ensure that the objectives of the program are being met. Additionally, someone in this position would be asked to analyze program data to determine their effectiveness on the community in question.

Financial manager – Where most healthcare administrators might have only cursory involvement in the financial workings of an organization or business, a financial manager works specifically to ensure the financial health of the organization. In addition to determining the bottom line, analyzing profits and debts, and monitoring the overall financial health of an organization, someone in this position would also be asked to help other members of management make sound decisions for the organization based on the current financial numbers and the forecasted financials as well.

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