A Matter of Heart
As the health care field grows, the need for skilled administrators who can manage hospitals, long-term health facilities, and provider offices grows as well. Health care administration career professionals deal with finances and regulations, but successful administrators say their passion for making a difference in people's lives is central to their work.
Bob Siebel, the president of Carriage Health Care Companies, says that although he deals with the typical business issues, his goal is "to improve the quality of life for people who are in need of assistance." Working in long-term health care requires business acumen, but it's "ultimately a matter of heart."
What You'll Do in Health Care Administration Careers
Health care managers work in different types of facilities and perform a variety of tasks.
As a health care administrator you may work for one of the following:
- Physician's office
- Long-term health care facility
- Insurance company or HMO
- Medical equipment supplier
- State or federal agency
Some of the tasks you'll perform may include the following:
- Oversee hospital departments
- Direct planning
- Manage finances
- Meet regulatory requirements
- Help the facility adapt to changing technology
- Support and encourage employees
- Providing compassionate care to patients
Paths to Health Care Administration Careers
Health care administrators come from a wide variety of backgrounds. While direct patient care experience is a definite asset, health care managers may specialize in business, administration, public health or a specific area of health care.
A background in direct patient care can be a tremendous asset for a manager or administrator, and many academic programs prefer to enroll students who have health care or experience. At the same time, a health care administration career requires management skills similar to any business:
- The ability to handle finances
- Capable of hiring effective staff
- Able to respond to a challenging regulatory environment
Because the field is so diverse, people from a wide variety of backgrounds can find a niche that uses their unique skills.
A health care administration master's degree is usually required for high-level positions, and a wide range of degrees are available in specialty areas. Managers in specific clinical areas usually have a background in that field: physical therapy directors are trained physical therapists, and nursing directors come from the ranks of RNs.
Health Care Administration Career Mission
"My three favorite things are quality improvement, leadership and healthy aging," says Sara Sinclair, CEO of the Sunshine Terrace Foundation. "I look for people who have servant leadership skills. People who do this job not for themselves, but to fulfill the mission of the organization," says Sinclair.
David Klanderman, administrator of Wild Rose Manor, echoes the importance of service. "If you've got an ego, that won’t work very well in this job," he says. Like many health care administrators in small facilities, Klanderman's days include not only paperwork and official meetings, but helping patients, driving blood samples to be tested, and helping his staff get to work on the snowy Wisconsin highways.
Charlene Boyd, Administrator of Providence Mount Saint Vincent in Seattle, is passionate about a resident-directed philosophy that puts the needs of residents above the convenience of the institution. "We need to build health care models in the needs of the folks we serve, not the routines of the staff."
Challenges of Health Care Administration Careers
Detailed rules and regulations are part of every health care setting, but none more so than long-term care, often termed "the most regulated business in America." Complying with detailed and complex regulations, maintaining positive relationships with regulatory agencies, and handling problems that arise are significant challenges for health administrators at all levels. Sara Sinclair says she aims to create a transparent, non-defensive relationship with state surveyors, and to work with them as professional peers.
Balancing the need to put patients first with the financial demands of an industry where up to 80 percent of costs are labor based is another huge challenge, says Charlene Boyd. Creating an environment that supports staff members and makes them feel good about their jobs reduces turnover and increases patient satisfaction.