It’s common knowledge in the medical community that even the most accomplished, genius neurosurgeon can barely find a light switch around a medical office without professional administrative help.
It’s usually up to bachelor’s educated mid-level managers and professional assistants to make the trains run on time in medical practices and hospitals. In an industry that is projected to expand over the next decade providing a service that everyone will use at some point, these are reliable, well-paying jobs that come with a feel-good bonus at the end of every day. You can make good money and improve patient’s lives all at the same time.
Health care is definitely about saving lives and dealing with medical issues, but in the United States it’s also a business. Striking the right balance between keeping hospitals and practices solvent and conducting business with the right elements of sensitivity and compassion falls to professionals in healthcare administration.
A bachelor’s degree is also a must-have credential if you plan to go on to earn a master’s degree in the field at some point. Although most master’s programs do not require that your bachelors be in the same field, it is useful preparation to stick with healthcare administration as your major if you intend to go on to a graduate program. Selecting a reputable, accredited, well-respected university is also very important if a master’s degree is your ultimate goal.
Career Options for Bachelor’s Educated Professionals in Healthcare Administration
Although you don’t see much of them in the average hospital visit, there are thousands of staff behind closed doors that enable every successful medical procedure at hospital’s and clinics. Many of those positions are only open to staff with bachelor’s degrees or better.
According to Robert Half’s 2018 Salary Guide for Administrative Professionals, you can expect the following pay ranges for jobs that usually require a bachelor’s degree or better in healthcare administration:
|Job Title||Salary Range|
|Medical Coding Manager||$58,500 – $97,000|
|Enrollment Manager||$48,750 – $80,500|
|Medical Executive Assistant||$46,000 – $76,250|
Rates also vary by region. Since healthcare is a universal need, you can find these positions anywhere in the country. They usually have adjustments for prevailing cost-of-living requirements in the local area, however, as seen in the following breakdown.
Medical Coding Manager
- New York : $82,192 – $136,285
- Los Angeles : $76,635 – $127,070
- Chicago : $72,248 – $119,795
- Dallas : $64,350 – $106,700
- Miami : $62,302 – $103,305
- Saint Louis : $58,208 – $96,515
- Atlanta : $62,010 – $102,820
- Seattle : $70,785 – $117,370
- New York : $68,494 – $113,102
- Los Angeles : $63,862 – $105,455
- Chicago : $60,206 – $99,418
- Dallas : $53,625 – $88,550
- Miami : $51,919 – $85,732
- Saint Louis : $48,506 – $80,098
- Atlanta : $51,675 – $85,330
- Seattle : $58,988 – $97,405
Medical Executive Assistant
- New York : $64,630 – $107,131
- Los Angeles : $60,260 – $99,888
- Chicago : $56,810 – $94,169
- Dallas : $50,600 – $83,875
- Miami : $48,990 – $81,206
- Saint Louis : $45,770 – $75,869
- Atlanta : $48,760 – $80,825
- Seattle : $55,660 – $92,262
Selecting a Bachelor’s Degree Program in Healthcare Administration
The first thing you’re likely to notice about healthcare administration degrees is that they are available as bachelors of either arts or sciences. Although your career prospects and job qualifications will be essentially identical with either a BA or BS, it’s important to note the differences:
- Bachelor of Arts degrees – These degrees have a more liberal arts and humanities focus, producing more well-rounded graduates with broader knowledge and critical thinking skills.
- Bachelor of Science degrees – These degrees have a more technical and professional focus, adding core subject matter courses at the expense of arts and humanities. They are considered more position-oriented degrees and may be better preparation for immediate entry into the healthcare workforce.
Other program titles you might find (in either arts or sciences) that have essentially identical curriculum include:
- Bachelor’s in Health Administration
- Bachelor’s in Health Management
- Bachelor’s in Health Services Administration
And related degrees that have a somewhat different focus include:
- Bachelor of Science in Business Administration – Healthcare Concentration
This is primarily a business degree but also includes a ground-level introduction to healthcare administration topics. It could be viewed as roughly equivalent to a post-bachelor’s certificate in healthcare administration.
Some programs also offer further specializations within the field of healthcare administration. These can include:
- Human Resources
- Information Systems/Healthcare Informatics
- Public Administration
- Long-term Care Management
- International Management
Each of these will have the same core curriculum subset as any bachelor’s program, but will have additional required courses focusing on the specialization. Each of these specialties represent a niche market with varying demands. If any of them align with your career goals, they can offer a powerful way to distinguish yourself in the job market.
Bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration Core Curriculum and Electives
A bachelor’s degree requires completion of 120 semester credits worth of courses. This is typically accomplished in four straight years of attendance, but you can also accumulate the required credits by first earning an associate’s degree (60 credits) and later transferring to a bachelor’s program. You’ll need to make sure that your associate’s degree will be accepted by the college you apply to for the bachelor’s degree.
This is usually governed by in-state agreements between colleges that provide for automatic transfers. If either of your colleges does not participate in such an agreement, then the bachelor’s institution will typically evaluate each course of your associate’s program individually. You may receive full or partial credit on the basis of the associates school’s accreditation and whether the class curriculum is judged comparable to that offered by the bachelor’s program.
There are also 5-year programs that combine bachelor’s and master’s degrees in an accelerated format. These combined programs offer the same exposure to concepts and classes as you would have in the bachelor’s-only program, but in your fourth year you begin taking master’s level coursework instead of baccalaureate-level classes. It’s a faster and less expensive route to a master’s degree than the traditional way, but you have to make sure you find a school that meets your needs at both levels.
Like other bachelor’s degrees, a degree in healthcare administration also has many other required courses in general studies (less so in a BS degree). You’ll take classes in social studies, math, history, English, and other liberal arts. Some schools require courses in foreign languages.
The core courses in the healthcare administration curriculum will usually include the following subjects:
Business, Finance, and Marketing
The critical components of every types of business are covered in great detail in healthcare administration programs. Having professional administrators who understand finances and accounting is as critical to a healthcare organization as having doctors who know how to set a broken bone. You’ll learn principles of economics and how to perform financial analyses on organizations and departments. Strategic planning aspects of business as they relate to healthcare systems will also be covered.
Legal and Ethical Studies
Ethical leadership in healthcare is important for building healthcare organizations that earn and keep the trust of patients and providers. Having a sound moral basis for decision making will also assist you in following the many complicated state and national laws governing the health care systems. Studying those laws, and the law-making process, will also help you become familiar with how and why healthcare systems function as they do in the United States.
Operations and Risk Management in Healthcare
Healthcare is a heavily regulated field, and one that is frequently involved in litigation and enforcement actions. As a professional administrator, you will need to understand the correct methods for organizing your practice to minimize the risk of adverse actions and poor patient outcomes. These courses help you understand the regulatory issues and best practices for managing risk in the healthcare field.
Human Resources, Management and Leadership
Healthcare is heavily dependent on staff at every level, from delivering patient care to coding procedures and billing insurers. As a healthcare administrator, much of your job will involve managing human resources and providing leadership to various teams in your practice. The principles of management and leadership are covered in depth in any good bachelor’s program.
Information and Healthcare Technology
Information technology is as revolutionary in healthcare as it is anywhere else today, so you can expect to spend plenty of time understanding how computers are being used in medicine today. Electronic medical records, electronic billing systems, and analytical software and ways the information in them can be used to support your decisions will be covered. The use of technology in care itself will also be taught, as new developments in treatments require consideration by administrators from both ethical and compensation standpoints.
Biology and Science
Surprisingly, a high proportion of healthcare administration degrees completely skip or only lightly describe the sciences behind healthcare. Although it’s possible to work in the field without much exposure to the nuts and bolts aspects of patient treatment and aftercare, it’s not a good idea. Understanding what medical staff are faced with can be an important aspect of managing and leading a healthcare organization. Some knowledge of the physical sciences and biological processes is critical to earning the trust and respect of healthcare professionals.
Health Care Systems
The American health care system is a complicated game with a lot of players at the table: doctors, hospitals, government, insurers. Understanding the way these participants interact and how that has shaped the way that care is provided and paid for is key to your success as a healthcare administrator. Most programs devote one or more classes to explaining this complex system, and other courses in business, finance, or operations may also have components of explaining healthcare systems.
Capstone or Internship
Some programs have internship opportunities to allow you to get real, hands-on experience working with a healthcare provider for college credit. But more and more bachelor’s programs are offering a capstone course as the culmination of your studies.
These courses involve a final project, which often involves other students, that brings together your knowledge and training through the course of the program to deliver an original study or report that can be used to assess your achievements and understanding.
Capstones often involve real-world data or challenges and sometimes require working with outside partners on a genuine business problem to be solved. As such, they are excellent demonstrations of your skill level and sure to be looked at closely by employers.
Accreditation Standards for Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Healthcare Administration
Accreditation should be a primary concern for you when selecting a bachelor’s degree program. Briefly, accreditation ensures that the courses offered by the school for your program will be conducted by competent instructors following a legitimate pedagogical theory.
This assurance is offered by one of six regional accrediting bodies, depending on the location of the university. Each of them is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Accrediting Commission for Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (North Central)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Although the processes and standards are slightly different for each, in general they ensure that accredited colleges maintain solid processes and procedures for determining program curricula, hiring instructors, and managing students.
If you’re looking at five-year combined baccalaureate/master’s programs, you’ll also want to consider CAHME accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education only accredits institutions offering master’s programs, but ensures that they maintain standards valuing flexibility, student-orientation, results-oriented programs, and multiple models of education.