Understanding the Roles of Hospital Administration Generalists and Specialists

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The healthcare industry is an evolving, expanding business that requires the expertise and knowledge of health administrators to plan, direct, coordinate, and supervise the delivery of healthcare. Today’s health administration professionals address such complexities as integrated healthcare delivery systems, technological innovations, and an increasingly complex regulatory environment due, in part, to the adoption of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The sheer size and intricacy of the modern healthcare system requires healthcare executives at many levels working in distinctly different roles, all of whom work to improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery and the quality of care provided to the patients they serve. Therefore, many healthcare delivery systems—usually larger hospitals, healthcare systems, and managed care organizations—employ both generalist and specialist healthcare administrators.

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Although both health administration generalists and specialists work to ensure the seamless integration of healthcare services, they each have unique roles and responsibilities within the healthcare delivery system:

Health Administration Generalists

Health administration generalists manage (or help to manage) an entire healthcare facility or system. These healthcare administration professionals oversee many aspects of planning, coordination, and care; therefore, their work requires them to possess a broad base of knowledge of health administration. Health administration generalists are skilled multitaskers, yet they may not possess expert-level skills in any specific area of health administration.

Thanks to their generalist knowledge and broad skillset, they can offer multiple solutions to healthcare administration problems. In smaller operations, health administration generalists often manage an entire facility, while in larger operations they provide general oversight and direction to hospital administration specialists within different departments or clinical areas.

The following job descriptions for health administration generalists provide a clear picture of their role within the healthcare system:

Chief Administrative Officer, University Medical Center

  • Develops and maintains a productive working relationship with the leader of the hospital center
  • Leads operations, providing day-to-day oversight and management of staff and standards
  • Provides direction to administrative functions and operations
  • Works with all levels to achieve consistent operational and financial goals
  • Must possess a bachelor’s degree in business management or a related field, at least 10 years of related experience, and at least 5 years of experience in healthcare management; advanced degree highly preferred, with an emphasis on public health, hospital administration, and/or business

Executive Director and Administrator, Cancer Institute

  • Provides leadership and overall administrative direction
  • Serves as executive director of the joint planning committee
  • Sets the agenda to resolve issues and secure policy decisions
  • Direct all operational activities, including: systems and budgets, philanthropy, management of the staff, and recruitment
  • Must have a master’s degree in business, heath administration, or a related field
  • Must possess a solid foundation in general management

Assistant Director, Hospital

  • Serves as the eyes and ears of the executive director and the administrative staff
  • Acts as the customers relations arm for the hospital
  • Investigates incidents or potential incidents that occur in the hospital
  • Makes rounds to assess the conditions of the hospital
  • Requires a master’s degree with a specialization in hospital administration, health care administration, administrative medicine, or public health; preferred qualifications include at least five years of high-level responsible experience in hospital administration, business administration, public administration, or an equivalent field and a master’s degree

Director of Practice Plan Operations, Medical Center Business Operations

  • Oversees the financial and operational performance to ensure budget targets are established and practice goals are achieved
  • Coordinates activities with a wide array of contacts, including business administrators, practice administrators and managers, physicians, and billing vendor representatives
  • Identifies areas for improvement across all areas
  • Identifies operational and workflow changes
  • Monitors and reports overall performance
  • Must possess a bachelor’s degree and at least six years of experience in healthcare operations; master’s degree preferred

Health Administration Specialists

Health administration specialists, unlike their generalist counterparts, oversee specific clinical departments or services within a healthcare system. It is common for large facilities to employ a multitude of health administration specialists to oversee departments like human resources, information technology, patient services, finance, and public relations, as well as clinical areas, such as nursing, surgery, cardiology, internal medicine, gynecology, and pediatrics.

Specialists have specific responsibilities, which often times include ensuring the efficient operations of departments or clinical areas. Therefore, they typically possess specific training and/or education unique to their specialty. For example, an administrator of a hospital’s finance department likely possesses a background in accounting, finance, or business administration, while an administrator of nursing likely has a background in nursing.

The following job descriptions provide insight into the many opportunities for specialists in hospital administration:

Finance and Operations Administrator, Environmental Health and Safety

  • Responsible for the oversight of all administrative functions, including strategic planning and daily operations of the department
  • Oversees budgeting and financial forecasting, facility management, and enforcement of policy and procedure
  • Supervises and mentors an administrative and technical staff
  • Requires a bachelor’s degree and a background in financial management, budget preparation, and facilities management

Director, Care Coordination

  • Responsible for the overall direction and management of clinical services
  • Guides care coordination activities according to the needs, requirements, and policies of the medical center, affiliated medical groups, and health plans
  • Consults and collaborates with other managers, physicians, administration, and community-based healthcare workers regarding care management issues
  • Works closely with all departments to streamline the patient transition through the healthcare system
  • Requires an RN license, BSN degree, and at least three years of progressive supervisory or management experience in an acute hospital setting; master’s degree or the equivalent is preferred

Director, Patient Care Services

  • Assumes the 24-hour responsibility for multiple units for the overall assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation of patient care
  • Carries out the mission, vision, and values for the overall strategic plan for growth and business development, clinical management, patient care, budgeting, financial management, and quality management
  • Must have experience in standards compliance, operational performance, clinical practice/patient care, management, and human resource development/management
  • Requires a master’s degree in nursing or a related field and at least 10 years of experience

Educational Options for Hospital Administration Generalists and Specialists

The vast majority of health administration jobs today require candidates to possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in health administration. Many institutions offering bachelor or master degrees in health administration provide students with the option of either pursuing a general management degree or specialist training in a specific discipline through a program specialization or focus.

Hospital administration specialists usually possess a background either in a specific business or clinical discipline, along with a master’s degree in health administration, or a master’s degree in health administration with a specialization or concentration in a specific area of healthcare, such as:

  • Finance
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Human resources management
  • Information systems
  • Global health administration
  • Project management
  • Long-term care management
  • Public administration
  • Public health

Health administration generalists often find that improving their skills in one or more areas allows them to match the needs of the job market and market themselves as health administration specialists. Post-graduate certificates in health administration often provide students with the opportunity to achieve an added skillset in areas such as strategic planning, budgeting and finance, and healthcare economics and policy.

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