A GUIDE TO CAREERS IN HEALTH ADMINISTRATION

Exploring Growth, Salaries and Career Paths for Healthcare Administration Students and Professionals

Public health professionals focus on the health of individuals, families and communities. They do this by analyzing and developing healthcare programs with the goal of reaching as many people as possible. Health administration professionals work to administer, lead and manage healthcare systems, such as hospitals, hospital networks or large healthcare systems. These dedicated individuals work closely with other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients receive the best possible care. They also administer programs that teach healthy lifestyle habits and prevention of disease and illness, in the hopes of promoting a healthier overall community.

This guide is designed for those who are interested in a career in health administration. What skills are necessary to make the grade? What kind of salary is typically offered to a health administrator? Where are the best places to work? What will be expected of day-to-day life on the job? We answer all these questions and more in this comprehensive, in-depth guide.

Being a Health Administrator

The day-to-day work of a health administrator varies by the organization for which they work, but the essential core of the job remains the same: Health administrators are responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of a hospital, hospital system or healthcare organization. Job duties may include the following:

Wide-range planning and coordination and implementation of medical and health services

Deep understanding of healthcare policy and laws, as well as current and upcoming issues that require administrators to stay ahead of the curve

Attending and contributing to high-level meetings with investors or governing boards

Supervising assistant administrators

Keeping open communication with medical staff and heads of departments

Working to improve overall efficiency and financial effectiveness

Paying attention to smaller details such as staff scheduling, hiring and salary issues, patient fees and billing, and even keeping records of supplies.

A health administrator might work for an enormous health company or hospital system, overseeing several facilities at once. Or they might work on a smaller scale, such as managing a group of medical practices, a particular department in a hospital system, or a single medical practice.

The bachelor’s degree in health administration or a closely related field is typically minimum requirement for entry level positions. However, it is important to note that those who hold a bachelor’s degree might not be qualified for higher positions, and thus their chances for advancement could be limited.

A master’s degree in health administration is a more common educational path for those who wish to reach upper management, and can open doors to positions with much more responsibility. Some choose to earn their doctorate in a management-related field in order to reach for even higher levels of employment in the healthcare system. Regardless of the degree level, most employers prefer to hire someone who has a strong background of experience in administration in a healthcare setting, or those with specialized experience in one particular area of healthcare.

Interview with a Health Administration Professional

In order to truly appreciate what a healthcare administrator does, it is important to speak with those who are already deep in the trenches. The interview below with CEO Bryan Ayars offers unique, first-person insight into the day-to-day work of a healthcare administrator. He currently runs Community Health Program, Inc., based in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Tell us a bit about your career path. How did you wind up the CEO of a network of health centers?

I took a rather indirect path to my current position, starting as a volunteer on a local ambulance when I was a teenager and becoming active in various leadership positions as a way to become more involved and to understand the “how and why” of how people got sick and hurt, and how to both prevent or minimize the suffering. I went on to work as a paramedic for many years, and then went back to school to get a degree in healthcare administration, and then a master’s degree in healthcare administration, minoring in public health.

From there I jumped into actual healthcare administration as the administrator of a small rural hospital struggling to survive managed care. The hospital was sold, and I became an administrator for a state department of health and human services, working closely with rural hospitals, community health centers, and other state and federal agencies to improve access to services and assure the continuation of services at the local level. After several years, I went to work for a healthcare consultant, focusing mostly on small community hospitals and health centers.

The myriad experiences in healthcare lead me to where I am now. I have been the CEO of Community Health Programs, a federally qualified health center, for more than five years and have been part of the tremendous growth of the organization and witness to the enormous disruption in the healthcare industry that promises to be in flux for years to come.

What does your day-to-day role entail?

As CEO, I need to balance priorities of our many employees and programs with the priorities and abilities of the organization as a whole. This entails one-on-one meetings, internal group meetings, meetings or conversations with local health and human services providers (hospitals, office on aging, community coalition) as well as regional and state agencies and programs. I see my role as one that should be helping the many mission-driven employees get to our shared vision by removing the obstacles in the way of that success. The days are long, the work is never done, but there are always opportunities to improve what we do to benefit those we serve.

What drew you to health administration?

I kind of fell into it, starting as a teenager, but found I really enjoyed the opportunity to have a positive influence on the lives of others, and most people in healthcare are very passionate about helping others.

Healthcare Administration Careers are Growing

The healthcare system is booming, and health administration careers are keeping pace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those in healthcare administration can expect job growth of 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is much higher than the average for all occupations. Much of this growth is expected to stem from a healthcare system that will see increased demand from an aging baby boomer population, as well as technology that allows patients to live longer lives. This demand will mean more hospitals, clinics, physicians and other healthcare professionals are needed, and that means more health administrators will be called upon to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Those who choose to specialize in nursing home administration might see better opportunities in the future, as an aging population places a demand on the need for those services. Another growth area for health administrators is physician office management. As medical practices become larger and more complex, someone with the skills to keep it all under control will become very valuable to those organizations.

Those who choose healthcare administration careers can find work in areas other than the hospital or healthcare organization setting. These related careers show high growth rates and the potential for worthwhile employment:

  • Human Resource Managers 13%
  • Social and Community Service Managers 21%
  • Training and Development Managers 11%
  • Administrative Services Managers 12%
  • Practice Manager 23%
  • Health Insurance Specialist 22%

Specific high-growth healthcare administration careers include the following:

Health Insurance Specialist

These specialists work with medical records, coding and billing professionals, and insurance companies to ensure plan benefits are properly applied. They might also work with insurance companies to develop new benefit plans.

Growth: 22%

Salary: $37,710

Social and Community Service Managers

These managers work closely with other healthcare professionals, social workers, community organizers and the like to create and coordinate programs for the betterment of communities, families and individuals.

Growth: 21%

Salary: $65,750

Practice Manager

This health administration career involves managing healthcare practices, including large medical groups or physician organizations.

Growth: 23%

Salary: $87,862

While health administrator job growth varies depending on specific careers, it also varies depending on location. That’s why it’s a good idea to understand the job market in a certain area before jumping into the search for a health administration position.

Choosing a Career in Health Administration

Health administration jobs are as varied as the people who work in them. When deciding on a healthcare administration career path and the type of degree you should earn, there are several factors you should take into consideration, including your skills, interests, strengths, weaknesses and even your personality traits.

Do you enjoy working closely with others? noyes

Are you interested in a career in which you help people ?noyes

Would you prefer a quieter pace versus a more lively environment ?noyes

Nursing home management

Responsibilities: Managing the day-to-day running of nursing homes and extended elderly care facilities.

Salary: $80k

Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Responsibilities: Running inpatient or outpatient mental health facilities and keeping staff well-trained and ready to handle the unique situations that may happen at these types of facilities.

Salary: $93k

Do you want to work in a high volume, large-scale facility ?noyes

Hospital management / CEO

Responsibilities: Managing all aspects of running a hospital, from high level personnel to financial to areas such as surgical management and equipment.

Salary: $100k

Diagnostics/ Laboratory management

Responsibilities: Inventory management and personnel safety; ensuring compliance with WHO standards in regard to bio-waste disposal

Salary: $100k

Careers in Health Administration: Beyond the Hospital

The phrase “health administration” often brings to mind a busy executive sitting behind a desk, fielding calls and going over paperwork before the board meeting behind closed doors. But in reality, that vision of what a health administrator does is definitely not the whole story. Though working in a hospital setting is quite common, there are numerous other paths a healthcare administration professional can take, and the responsibilities of each vary widely.

The education and experience required for a health administration position also lends itself well to other areas of the healthcare field. Administrators could choose to move into private practice, managing large groups of physicians. They could do the same with ambulatory services, including groups of clinics. Some find work in laboratories, where the put their skills to work behind the scenes, making sure the laboratories and diagnostic areas are safe, secure and well-stocked. The same can be said for those who find their way into pharmaceutical services.

varied career

Another important area for health administration is nursing homes. Though this usually takes a more specific education or experience, nursing home administration is growing rapidly, and is expected to grow even more in the coming years. Home health care is another area that needs strong candidates to oversee both the long-term and day-to-day activities of these organizations.

The graph below helps illustrate how varied the careers are for healthcare administrators beyond working in a hospital.

Career Spotlight: Nursing Home Administration

The golden years are likely to last much longer than they did for previous generations, thanks to exciting new medical technology that has assured we can live longer, healthier lives. In the future, there will be a greater demand for home health services, assisted living centers and nursing home care. As a result, more nursing home administrators will be needed to ensure that the population of older adults will be well-cared for in the coming years.

In addition to working to manage the staff, finances and admissions at a nursing home facility, nursing home administrators are also responsible for maintaining a regular maintenance schedule of the building and facilities. Top-notch care for nursing home patients is always a consideration, so hiring and salary become a top priority as well. A nursing home administrator might work for a single facility or could run a system that has several nursing homes and assisted living facilities spread across a large regional area.

In all states, nursing home administrators must be licensed; though the requirements vary, most states require the proper education, a certain amount of experience in a healthcare setting, passing an examination and completing a training program that has been approved by the state. In most states, a bachelor’s degree is required, but those who attain this position typically hold a master’s degree.

Health Administrator’s Toolbox

A nurse would not start an IV line without specific training in how to do so; a surgeon would not step into the operating room without confident skill in using a scalpel. The skills needed by a hospital administrator are equally as specific and entirely necessary to make the most out of the position and include:

Management skills

Healthcare administrators must be able to manage operations, budgets, staffing issues and much more. Being able to juggle all of those at once is a skill that takes time to hone, but one that is definitely worthwhile for potential employers.

Being able to work closely with a variety of strong personalities and keep the peace among all of them is vitally important for anyone who is working with an organization or business, and those in the world of healthcare are not different.

Peacemaking skills, the ability to listen, and being able to make decisions with the best interests of the team in mind are crucial.

Detail-oriented, have strong analytical skills, and be able to sum up a situation very quickly in order to make a smart decision.

Top-notch communication skills, the ability to find creative solutions and a general willingness to think outside the box.

The ability to lead those who are looking to them for guidance, and motivate and inspire the team to do more for the patient, the system and each other

How do these skills translate into more salary for the seasoned health administration professional? According to Payscale.com, the most important skill by far is the ability to manage operations, followed by a prowess for managing budgets and human resources. While important, people and customer service skills may don’t apply as strongly to the bottom line, perhaps because healthcare administrators rarely work with patients or consumers directly, but instead work from within the organization to ensure everything is as smooth and easy as it can be.

Popular Skills for Healthcare Administrator

Popular Skills for Healthcare Administrator

What to Expect from Health Administration Salary

Those who enter health administration typically have a great deal of experience in a clinical setting before moving up the ranks. For instance, many health administrators begin as nurses who moved into leadership positions, then chose to expand their work by earning a higher degree or taking advantage of openings in administration. Due to this extensive experience and higher degree status, salaries in healthcare administration tend to be above average, depending on the position.

According to Payscale.com, the median income for health administrators is $65,471 per year. But that is just the beginning of the story. Pay tends to be commensurate with experience, which is why those in the later years of their career might make 52 percent more than the national average, those who have some serious experience might make 24 percent more, and those who are in the middle of their career might make 10 percent more. On the other hand, those who are just moving into an entry-level position are likely to make about 16 percent below the national average.

Out of 171 votes from health administrators on Payscale.com, all rated their contentment level as “extremely satisfied.”

Health administrator salaries vary widely depending on numerous factors including education level, geographical location, industry, company size, years of experience, and more. Below, the February 2015 salaries reported by Salary.com illustrate this fact:

Career Median Top 10% Lowest 10%
Provider Network Executive $299,275 $422,473 $188,975
Ambulatory Services Executive $210,280 $336,276 $131,599
Provider Network Director $134,244 $161,459 $101, 407
Behavioral Health Director $108,445 $139,652 $80,293
Hospice Supervisor $75,735 $96,435 $62,900
Clinic Manager $66,270 $86,686 $47,916
Home Care Case Manager $61,206 $74,834 $51,560
Outpatient Care Supervisor $59,742 $74,869 $44,300
Wellness Program Administrator $55,871 $74,631 $40,188
Discharge Coordinator $49,909 $70,977 $30,548

The Health Administration Job Search

When searching for a job in health administration, there are many routes one can take to find the best fit. Those who have been in the field for a great deal of time have likely built up a substantial network and can use that to look for promotions to better positions, but what about those who have just graduated from a health administration program? They need a bit more help in finding the right place to begin their work.

Fortunately, there are many ways that a graduate can evaluate the job market and look for the right fit. In some cases, the faculty and staff of the school they just graduated from can make for great references, and might even have some networking opportunities that can help former students land a great job. Don’t underestimate the career services department, either – they are there to help graduates move into the job market and be successful in their search.

There are other job resources that health administration professionals can tackle on their own. Job boards that are specifically dedicated to health careers are a good place to begin, as they list new openings on a regular basis. Another good place is a professional organization specifically for those in health administration, where job boards are filled with very specific opportunities.

Those who have earned real-world experience might see the best job opportunities in healthcare administration.

Those who have already worked in the world of healthcare or in management already have some experience that will make a difference to potential employers.

Those who are fresh out of college with a degree in hand can start gaining that valuable experience through internships at local healthcare facilities. Preparation for the interviews with potential employers should also be a priority; now is the time to prepare a list of important skills, credentials and advantages that a person can bring to the table.

Keep in mind that health administration careers can be very competitive, and experience matters a great deal. Many applicants might start out as a manager of a specific department, or work for a time as an assistant administrator. These learning experiences in the early years are very important, as they offer a hands-on understanding of how the job works, exactly what is expected, and even things to avoid during the course of a person’s career. After some time gaining this valuable experience, administration professionals can strike out on their own in the hopes of finding a job that puts their skills to a greater test.

Bryan Ayars, CEO of Community Health Systems Inc, has a few strong points to share with health administration graduates looking for the best job opportunities: “Be open to the ideas and experiences of others, be prepared to learn constantly, and share the wealth of knowledge and experiences you acquire.” Any career in health administration relies heavily on the knowledge and experience gained while moving up the career ladder; embracing the changes as they come can be one of the best lessons a health administrator can learn throughout the course of their career.

Resources

  • American College of Healthcare Executives Job Center
  • American College of Health Care Administrators Career Center
  • Medical Group Management Association Job Seekers Career Center
  • American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management Jobline (open to members)
  • Health Care Administrators Association Job Postings
  • American Hospital Association Career Center
  • Professional Association of Health Care Office Management Career Center