Unlocking Upward Mobility with a Master’s Degree in Health Administration

There are a lot of differences between managing a small clinic versus a large hospital. As a healthcare facility gets bigger, management responsibilities become more complex, and at the same time more specialized. Instead of managing all aspects of the business as you would in a smaller clinic, an administrative position at a larger facility is more likely to involve managing the intricacies of a single department.

And while many things become more complicated, others stay the same. You’ll always have to ensure you’re complying with government regulations…You’ll always have to think about patient satisfaction… And you’ll always have to work within a budget.

To do well in this field you need a combination of education, experience, and the ability to balance your natural knack for leadership and decisiveness with teamwork and group participation. Nobody starts out big and works their way down. Most healthcare administrators start out at smaller facilities and move their way up. This allows experience to mature and temper you as you go.

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We sat down for a conversation with James Doyle who earned his MS in Healthcare Administration and Management at Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago before going on to earn Six Sigma Green Belt Certification and American Board of Opticianry Certification in preparation for his most current venture as independent owner and operator of an ophthalmic business. He spoke with us about how upward mobility in the field of healthcare administration is heavily dependent on the education you have and the experience you gain at smaller facilities before graduating on to manage bigger ones. He’s been there and done that. James helps us understand how a master’s in healthcare administration and management made it possible for him to take his career exactly where he wanted to go.

One Man’s Story of How a Master’s in Health Administration Began Opening Doors

The upward trajectory of Doyle’s career in the healthcare management field all started when he was an enlistee in the Navy. He went from being a field medic to working in ophthalmic support, where he gradually took on more responsibilities like coordinating schedules and improving efficiency at clinics. When his term was up with the Navy he took the skills he learned there to the private sector, managing operations, budgets and employees at two different optometric businesses over the course of the next seven years. During this time Doyle gained valuable management experience and learned important lessons.

Doyle observed that without a degree many doors for advancement remain closed. That made him take a closer look at how he could change his reality through education, starting first with a bachelor’s degree in business management, followed by a master’s in healthcare administration and management. With his newly minted master’s degree in hand, Doyle immediately saw new career doors swing open.

You could say Doyle wrote the book on how to advance by way of education. When he started his master’s he was working at a business worth $100k. By the time he finished the program he was managing a business worth $1 million….Within two years of completing his master’s he was managing at a business worth $6.5 million, and half a year later he was the owner and manager of his own optometric business.

A Graduate Degree is More than a Gateway to Gaining the Experience You Need to Advance

Of course, experience played a role in Doyle’s rapid ascent, but his education was the gateway to gaining that experience, but there’s more to it than that. Granted, many of the skills you need to advance in healthcare management come from your time in the trenches, but graduate-level education is critical for gaining the theoretical knowledge you need to make that experience productive and valuable. The healthcare industry recognizes this and is quick to snatch up the most qualified talent.

In Doyle’s experience he observed that as he moved up the management ladder to bigger companies, the workload and responsibility increased, with time management and efficiency also becoming more important. Financial demands and how those tie in with things like advertising and patient satisfaction also came more into focus as he progressed. He credits his master’s education with helping him to be cognizant of the bigger picture on all these fronts, think long term, and plan strategically.

 “There’s a direct correlation between patient satisfaction and the number of patients. Obviously in this day and age everybody’s competing to survive and to have as many patients as they need to see. And that’s kind of really where the master’s degree has helped me out; gaining more patients through marketing and patient satisfaction. Really just keeping an eye on the numbers and monitoring that.”

He additionally singles out his education for helping to improve his general time management and efficiency in all sorts of managerial tasks, “I think the master’s degree really helped me.”

He interestingly notes how his degree reshaped how he thinks about things, using government regulations as an example. “A hospital, for instance, will have to go out and buy all new computers to make sure that they’re up to code with the privacy setting,” Doyle says, “talk about a financial setback.”

Where he might have previously viewed challenges like this as problems prior to school, now he’s learned to envision them more constructively. “That’s another way the master’s and this line of business has sort of trained my brain to work. They’re not problems, they’re opportunities.”

Another unique thing that education can give you is an opportunity to apply new principles you’re studying in a live setting. Doyle’s master’s program included the possibility for an internship, which he credits with providing important insight. “That sort of helped bring everything home; to understand the big picture. It wasn’t paid but it paid for itself.”

Doyle was able to combine his experience with education to maximize his skill set and advance rapidly. He was able to see how bigger pieces fit together, while also being able to pinpoint important details for improvement that he wouldn’t have seen without his education. He recognizes this, and so does the healthcare industry.

The Healthcare Industry Leans Heavily on Master’s-Educated Administrators

Industry experts confirm what Doyle has observed in his first-hand experience. In 2015 John Toussaint, former CEO of healthcare system in Wisconsin, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that, “Leaders at good hospitals around the country are working hard on cutting waste, reducing costs, and improving the quality of care and patient satisfaction.” That same year a new study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that, indeed, as management became more skilled, the efficiency of doctors and nurses improved.

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In 2018 Toussaint published another article proclaiming thathealthcare processes under the direct influence of management is currently the helathcare industry’s number one problem.

The consensus around quality management and how a combination of experience and education is the best equation for advancement leaves Doyle in a good place. He is optimistic about his future in this field. “This is a really interesting time for healthcare administration,” he explains. “It’s going to be interesting to see what sort of things will come along and the decisions that will have to be made by healthcare administrators. I think that we’re finding that the need is just going to increase. The demand for healthcare administrators is just going to keep going up.”

That’s another one of Doyle’s observations that’s confirmed by the experts. According to the US Department of Labor, the number of healthcare administrator positions is projected to increase much faster than average over the coming decade, with 20 percent growth anticipated. The iron is still very hot, and is just waiting to be struck by anybody with the right education.