Healthcare is a rapidly changing sector that demands experts skilled in managing the delivery of care—where it’s delivered, how it’s delivered who is delivering it, and how that care is financed.
Advances in technology, drastic changes in managed care, and an increased emphasis on disease prevention and wellness promotion are just a few of the reasons why healthcare administration is a dynamic, ever-changing component of the healthcare system—a component that requires skilled professionals with the insight necessary to tackle some of the most pressing issues affecting healthcare in the 21st century.
The insight to provide solutions to the unique challenges and opportunities that face our nation’s healthcare system comes with education and experience. It’s no surprise that healthcare administration is a career field that requires professionals who possess both.
Step 1. Complete Undergraduate Studies
One of the unique aspects of healthcare administration is that professionals in the field come from a wide variety of backgrounds. For example, it is common for healthcare administrators to be physicians, nurses, human resources specialists, or business professionals, among others.
For some, the first step to becoming a healthcare administrator involves completing a nursing degree or other medical professional education, while for others it involves pursuing undergraduate studies in healthcare administration, business administration, marketing, human resources, accounting, public health, or public policy.
If you have your sights set on pursuing an education in healthcare administration, a number of bachelor’s degrees in health administration exist to accommodate your career goal. These programs prepare students to enter the field by providing them with a solid framework in the core disciplines of the profession.
As a graduate of a healthcare administration bachelor’s degree program, you will be prepared to enter the field as an entry-level administrator or mid-level manager. You will also be prepared to enter a master’s degree program in healthcare administration, by and large considered the minimum education level required for achieving executive-level positions in hospital administration.
Bachelor degree programs may be structured as Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) programs, and their titles may include healthcare administration, health services administration, and hospital administration, to name a few.
Many programs also allow students to focus their education on a specific area of healthcare administration, such as public administration, public policy, long-term care management, and healthcare informatics systems.
Core courses in healthcare administration often include:
- Healthcare policy
- Healthcare delivery systems
- Fundamentals of managed care
- Marketing and public relations in healthcare settings
- Legal aspects of health services
- Quality improvement in healthcare settings
- Healthcare economics
- Leadership and management in healthcare settings
- Health care information systems
- Health statistics and research methods
Step 2. Gain Valuable Work Experience
Once you have successfully completed your undergraduate studies, it is important to begin gaining valuable experience in the healthcare field. If you have completed a medical-related degree program, it’s time to begin working as a healthcare provider and setting your sights on team leader and unit manager positions. Many of today’s healthcare workers go on to become healthcare administrators because of their unique understanding of the healthcare system.
If you have completed your undergraduate degree in healthcare administration or a related field, it’s time to get your feet wet by taking on an entry-level healthcare administration position. Although a hospital system may seem like an obvious choice, don’t forget that healthcare administration positions in other settings might actually be the ideal fit for you.
Just a few of the settings in which you may find professional opportunities in healthcare administration include:
- Insurance companies
- Long-term care facilities
- Public health agencies
- Outpatient facilities
- Doctors’ offices
You may find a wealth of job opportunities in areas like human resources, patient care services, medical staff relations, marketing, information systems, and nursing administration.
Step 3. Complete a Master’s Degree Program in Healthcare Administration
The first thing you will want to know about master’s degrees in healthcare administration is that the only agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit master’s degree programs in healthcare administration is the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). The CAHME has a search engine on its website that allows you to easily search for accredited master’s degree programs.
The second thing you will want to keep in mind is that master’s degree programs in healthcare administration vary according to the school or program that houses them. For example, Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees are generally located within schools of business, while Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees tend to be located in schools of public health. You may find that your undergraduate degree choice dictates which type of master’s degree program is best for you.
It is typical to find master’s degree programs in healthcare administration designed as:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Science (MS)
They may also be part of a dual degree:
Admission into these programs tends to be competitive; therefore, institutions will likely take into consideration your:
- Undergraduate GPA
- GRE scores
- Admission essay
- Professional references
- Work experience
Because many students in hospital administration master’s degree programs are working professionals, executive programs in an online format are commonplace among CAHME-accredited programs.
Many schools also allow students to focus their graduate degree in healthcare administration on a specific topic of interest, such as:
- Managed care
- Health policy and finance
- Human resource management
- Medical group management
Although the overall curriculum design of your graduate program will depend on the type of program and the program concentration you choose, core courses in healthcare administration are often quite similar. Just some of the core courses you can expect in a master’s degree in healthcare administration include:
- Legal and ethical principles in healthcare
- Health care policies and economics
- Human resource management
- Organizational dynamics and effectiveness
- Healthcare research methods
- Healthcare business analysis
Step 4. Consider Completing a Post-Graduate Fellowship
The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) recommends the completion of a post-graduate administrative fellowship for graduates of master’s degree programs in healthcare administration and similar programs.
These preceptor-directed programs provide students with experiential learning after earning a master’s degree. The purpose of a post-graduate fellowship is to provide you with assistance as your transition into the management of healthcare organizations.
According to the ACHE, most fellowships:
- Are structured programs
- Last from one to two years
- Include a combination of rotations in specific departments and general assignments that expose you to senior leadership and strategic thinking
- Offer a competitive salary similar to master’s-prepared entry-level professionals in healthcare management (An ACHE survey in 2010 reported a median, annual salary of $49,800, with top salaries of $60,000.)
You can search for fellowships by state and organization type through the ACHE’s directory of post-graduate administrative fellowships.
Step 5. Pursue a Job in Healthcare Administration
As a graduate of a master’s degree program in healthcare administration, you will find professional opportunities in settings that include:
- Home health agencies
- Hospitals and hospital systems
- Long-term care facilities
- Consulting firms
- Medical group practices
- Integrated delivery systems
- Ambulatory care facilities
- Mental health organizations
- Managed care organizations
- University or research institutions
- Public health departments
Executive titles associated with this level of healthcare administration include:
- Chief executive officer (CEO)
- Chief operating officer (COO)
- Chief financial officer (CFO)
- Patient care executive
- Nursing executive
- Managed care executive
There are also many executive titles unique to healthcare that you may be eligible for:
- Chief population health manager
- Vice president of cost containment
- Chief clinical transformation officer
- Chief experience officer/patient engagement officer
- Head of technology innovation
- Chief medical informatics officer
- Vice president of clinical transformation
- Vice president of medical management
- Vice president of clinical informatics
Step 6. Consider the Value of Board Certification
The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) offers the ACHE Fellow (FACHE), which signifies that you have achieved board certification in healthcare management. Board certification signifies your expertise, experience, and commitment to professional development and continuing education.
Becoming board certified in healthcare management involves submitting an application, taking and passing the Board of Governors examination, and meeting the minimum requirements for certification, which include:
- Being a member of ACHE for at least three years
- Holding a master’s degree or other advanced degree
- Holding a healthcare management position and possessing at least two years of healthcare management experience
- Submitting three references from current Fellows
- Completing at least 36 hours of healthcare management continuing education during the three years immediately before becoming a fellow; 12 hours of which must be face-to-face participation in two healthcare related and two community/civic activities within the past three years
You do not have to meet all of the requirements for board certification to be eligible to apply for the certification. Instead, you can expect to advance to FACHE status once you pass the examination and meet all the requirements.
Your board certification renews every three years, provided you have met specific continuing education requirements.