Healthcare researchers examine the issues and factors that influence the provision of high quality, affordable healthcare in an increasingly complex environment. The overreaching goal of healthcare research is to inform and evaluate innovations in health policy in order to improve healthcare delivery.
Although most associate health administrators with settings like managed care organizations, hospitals, healthcare systems, and assisted living facilities, health administrators are also a vital component of scientific investigation in health care, overseeing the design and implementation of research projects and the coordination of research teams.
Health administrators involved in contemporary health services research manage projects that investigate and interpret the use, quality, costs, accessibility, organization, financing, delivery, and outcomes associated with healthcare. Clients include providers, insurers, government entities, consumers, and others who make decisions about everything from access to care to healthcare costs to the outcomes of health services for individuals and populations.
Job Responsibilities of Health Administrators in Research
Health administration is a multidisciplinary field that draws on a vast array of academic disciplines, including medicine, nursing, psychology, sociology, biostatistics, and epidemiology. Therefore, health administrators must often manage groups of professionals from an array of academic backgrounds.
The extraordinary scope of healthcare, innovations in healthcare technology, and a constantly changing healthcare environment produce a number of challenges for healthcare researchers. As the senior-level health professionals who manage research projects and the clinicians working on them, health administrators may be required to manage research projects of nearly any size and scope, for a number of reasons:
- Healthcare research may focus on several geographic levels (e.g., national, state, county, international, etc.).
- Healthcare research may focus on broad populations or specific population subgroups.
- Healthcare research is conducted in any number of settings (e.g., academic government, clinical care settings, etc.)
- Healthcare research may have number of purposes (e.g. in operational decision making, for the development of research instruments and methodologies, for empirical data collection, etc.).
- Healthcare research draws from a wide array of concepts, theories, statistics, and instruments from various disciplines.
- Healthcare research draws from a wide range of time frames for data collection and analysis purposes.
Health administrators in research institutions and academia are often required to:
- Apply alternative theoretical and conceptual models from a number of relevant disciplines to health services research
- Utilize the knowledge of the structure, performance, policy, quality, and environmental context of health and healthcare to formulate solutions for health policy problems
- Critically evaluate evidence, analyze findings, and draw inferences from literature relevant to health services research
- Pose innovative research questions taken from theoretical and conceptual models, reviews of literature, and stakeholder needs
- Collect primary health and health data obtained by qualitative, survey, or mixed methods
- Interpret the results of data analysis and discuss the implications for policy and practice and to support public health decision-making
- Implement research protocols as to ensure the ethical and responsible conduct of research in the design, implementation, and dissemination of health services research
- Effectively communicate the findings of health services research through multiple modalities to both technical and lay audiences
- Collaborate with policymakers, organizations, and communities to translate health services research into policy and practice
Health administrators in research also provide administrative support to key research committees by ensuring:
- Excellence in conduct by members of the research team
- Practices comply with the rules and guidelines set forth by all relevant regulatory agencies
- The highest level of services to internal and external research customers
- The oversight of contract and budget development and negotiation
- Business requirements are met, including financial accountability with research sponsors
- The provision of financial information, guidance, and training to the research community
How to Become a Health Administrator in Research and Academia
Health administrators in research, like their colleagues in healthcare systems, organized care organizations, and hospitals, among many others, pursue graduate-level education to meet the demand of today’s employers and the dynamic healthcare system. Specifically, today’s health administrators often possess a master’s degree in health administration, designed to provide students with an in-depth study in the healthcare sector and the management issues within it.
Master’s Degrees in Health Administration
Master’s degrees in health administration have become popular graduate degrees, offered through a variety of colleges or schools, such as:
- Master of Science (MS)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
While the structure of many master’s degrees in health administration accommodates traditional students seeking on-campus study, many institutions now offer executive master’s programs, many of which have online or hybrid models to accommodate working professionals.
Although all master’s degrees in health administration require students to possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, usually with a minimum GPA, undergraduate degrees among students tend to vary.
While some students enter these programs with an undergraduate degree in health administration, perhaps just as many possess undergraduate degrees in any number of disciplines, such as business management, finance, sociology, public health, and human resources. Many medical professionals with a desire to move from a clinical career to an administrative one also choose to pursue master’s degrees in health administration.
The core curriculum of these programs prepares students to take on senior-level administrative research jobs in settings like government agencies, private/nonprofit research organizations, insurance companies, private corporations, and colleges and universities:
- Healthcare finance
- Strategic management of healthcare organizations
- Population-based healthcare services
- Managerial health economics
- Health information and decision support system
- Quantitative methods for healthcare managers
- Marketing health programs
Doctorate Programs in Health Administration
Many health administrators in research choose to pursue their PhD. A popular PhD program for today’s health leaders is the PhD in Health Services Research, designed for students seeking to become health services researchers and scholars.
These programs focus on the methods and applications of health services research, health administration, and health policy. Many programs provide students with the opportunity to study a specific area of research, such as:
- Health economies
- Healthcare finance
- Organizational behavior
- Medical geography
- Public policy analysis
- Program and policy evaluation
- Health outcomes research
- Public health informatics
- Public health services research
- Underserved populations
Many students of doctoral programs in health administration receive graduate assistantships based on a competitive selection process. It is commonplace for students of doctoral programs in health administration to be required to take and pass a comprehensive examination before they enter the dissertation research stage of the program.
Health Administrators in Health Services Research: Salary Expectations
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical and health services managers in scientific research and development services earned an average, annual salary of $136,120, as of May 2014, well above the national average of $103,680 for medical and health services managers.
Resources for Health Administrators in Research
- Health Research Alliance
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
- Health Research and Educational Trust
- National Center for Health Research
- Association of Clinical Research Professionals
- Public Health Institute
- Academy Health
- American College of Health Care Administrators
- Health Care Administrators Association
- American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management