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Education You’ll Need for a Career as a Healthcare Manager

If you’re interested in becoming a healthcare manager, there are many degrees that can start you on the path.

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There are many educational paths that lead to a career in healthcare management. Whether you’re pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree, a healthcare management degree focuses on the knowledge you need to succeed in positions that involve the intersection of business and healthcare.

Education Overview

Healthcare managers are responsible for planning, directing, and coordinating medical and healthcare services. While a clinical background may be helpful in the management of a healthcare facility, a healthcare management degree provides knowledge related to the organizational and financial aspects of healthcare, which is critical for managers addressing the business-related challenges of the industry.

Depending on your interests and professional goals, you can pursue a general degree in healthcare management or a specialty such as informatics, public health, or policy and regulation. The wide range of educational options reflects the many types of positions and work environments available in this growing field.

Depending on your interests and professional goals, you can pursue a general degree in healthcare management or a specialty such as informatics, public health, or policy and regulation.

No matter what direction you choose, a career in healthcare management requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

“Usually, with a bachelor’s degree, you would find a person as an assistant manager, administrative manager, or team lead, especially if they don’t have practical experience,” says Coley Bennett, CMM, CHA, CMDP, COCAS, and chairwoman of the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM) National Advisory Board. “Being in those assistant-level positions will give them the practical experience they will need to be effective at the next level.”

In many organizations, rising to the next level typically requires a master’s degree.

“The distinguishing factor in healthcare management between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree depends on how far you want to rise in the organization,” says Cathy Bartell, MHA, associate director of the Sloan Program in Health Administration in the Cornell University School of Public Policy and chair of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL) Career Trajectory Group. “People at the top levels at hospital administration—COOs, presidents, and vice presidents of the organization—are highly likely to have an MHA, or even sometimes an MBA.”

Many Programs and Degrees to Choose From

Whether you’re seeking a bachelor’s or master’s degree, finding the right healthcare management program requires considering your career goals and interests. An admissions counselor or program director can help you determine the best educational pathway.

No matter which program you choose, education becomes invaluable for the knowledge you obtain as well as the experience you gain in learning how to find crucial information. “It’s not enough just to know things, but you need to know where you can go to get new information,” Bennett says.

Degrees in healthcare administration and healthcare management are similar, but specific curriculum can differ due to the departments in which they’re offered. A healthcare administration degree in a business department may have a different emphasis than a healthcare management degree offered in a health services department.

However, a degree in any aspect of healthcare management is likely to require the same educational foundation.

“I would encourage students to focus on three courses that will always help you if you’re going to go into the business side of healthcare,” Bartell says. “Take an accounting course, take a finance course, and take a statistics course, because our curriculum is very top-heavy in the business and management of healthcare.”

Here are some typical degrees for a career in health management. Check with individual programs for specific prerequisites, time to complete, and curriculum.

While a degree in healthcare management can prepare you to take on these duties, work experience can help you fine-tune your knowledge for a specific workplace or specialty.

“Healthcare is one of those industries that you can’t lead unless you’ve actually been in it,” says Coley Bennett, CMM, CHA, CMDP, COCAS, and chairwoman of the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM) National Advisory Board. “It’s hard to discern where you are clinically if you have no clinical background.”

Bachelor’s Degrees

Healthcare Management


Prerequisites:
Graduation from high school or a GED and an official transcript that includes:

  • English
  • Algebra and geometry
  • Social studies
  • Science

Time to complete:

  • 4 years full time
  • 4-7 years part time, though time limits may apply

Curriculum:

  • Financial management in healthcare
  • Healthcare compliance and quality
  • Revenue cycle management
  • Medical law and risk management
  • Healthcare technology and information management
  • Healthcare operations
  • Applied research methods
  • Healthcare ethics

Public Health


Prerequisites:
Graduation from high school or a GED and an official transcript that includes:

  • English
  • Algebra and geometry
  • Social studies
  • Science

Time to complete:

  • 4 years full time
  • 4-plus years part time, though time limits may apply

Curriculum:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Biostatistics
  • Disease prevention and control
  • Environmental health
  • Nutrition and health
  • Health communication
  • Community-based health program planning

Healthcare Administration


Prerequisites:
Graduation from high school or a GED and an official transcript that includes:

  • English
  • Algebra and geometry
  • Social studies
  • Science

Time to complete:

  • 4 years full time
  • 4-7 years part time, though time limits may apply

Curriculum:

  • Financial accounting
  • Healthcare economics
  • Healthcare law and policy
  • Quality and performance improvement
  • Project management in healthcare
  • Healthcare operations
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Healthcare research methods

Health Services Administration


Prerequisites:
Graduation from high school or a GED and an official transcript that includes:

  • English
  • Algebra and geometry
  • Social studies
  • Science

Time to complete:

  • 4 years full time
  • 4-7 years part time, though time limits may apply

Curriculum:

  • Principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics
  • Statistics for health sciences
  • Accounting for professionals
  • Healthcare law and ethics
  • Leadership in health services administration
  • Computer science principles
  • Financial management in healthcare
  • Capstone and/or internship

Master’s Degrees

Healthcare Management


Prerequisites:

  • Undergraduate degree in any major from an accredited college/university
  • 3.0 GPA in an undergraduate degree (some options exist for lower GPAs)
  • Completion of prerequisite accounting, statistics, economics, and/or other courses if not completed in an undergraduate degree
  • Work experience in healthcare management, clinical role, or other related area preferred, sometimes required
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Professional statement of purpose

Time to complete:

  • 1-2 years full time
  • 2-plus years part time

Curriculum:

  • Healthcare management and administration
  • Healthcare policy, law, and ethics
  • Human resources development in healthcare
  • Organizational behavior in healthcare
  • Healthcare finance
  • Patient satisfaction and quality improvement
  • Project management in healthcare
  • Capstone project and/or internship

Healthcare Administration (MHA)


Prerequisites:

  • Undergraduate degree in any major from an accredited college/university
  • 3.0 GPA in an undergraduate degree (some options exist for lower GPAs)
  • Completion of prerequisite accounting, statistics, economics, and/or other courses if not completed in an undergraduate degree
  • Work experience in healthcare management, clinical role, or other related area preferred, sometimes required
  • Letters of recommendation

Time to complete:

  • 1-2 years full time
  • 2-plus years part time

Curriculum:

  • Health systems management
  • Healthcare finance
  • Healthcare policy and regulation
  • Strategic management and organizational design of healthcare systems
  • Healthcare quality management
  • Evidence-based decision making for healthcare managers
  • Regression analysis and managerial forecasting
  • Capstone project and/or internship

Business Administration–Healthcare Focus (MBA)


Prerequisites:

  • Undergraduate degree in any major from an accredited college/university
  • 3.0 GPA in an undergraduate degree (some options exist for lower GPAs)
  • Completion of prerequisite accounting, statistics, economics, and/or other courses if not completed in an undergraduate degree
  • Work experience in healthcare management, clinical role, or other related area preferred, sometimes required
  • Letters of recommendation

Time to complete:

  • 1-2 years full time
  • 2-plus years part time

Curriculum:

  • Health systems management
  • Health operations
  • Health systems marketing
  • Statistical methods for data analytics
  • Structural dynamics in healthcare
  • Healthcare finance
  • Health policy and managerial epidemiology
  • Capstone project and/or internship

Public Health (MPH)


Prerequisites:

  • Undergraduate degree in any major from an accredited college/university
  • 3.0 GPA in an undergraduate degree (some options exist for lower GPAs)
  • Completion of prerequisite accounting, statistics, economics, and/or other courses if not completed in an undergraduate degree
  • Work experience in healthcare management, clinical role, or other related area preferred, sometimes required
  • Letters of recommendation

Time to complete:

  • 1-2 years full time
  • 2-plus years part time

Curriculum:

  • Foundations of the U.S. healthcare system
  • Policy and advocacy
  • Health research methods
  • Program planning, implementation, and evaluation
  • Society, behavior, and the environment
  • Fundamentals of epidemiology
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Capstone project and/or internship

Faster Pathways to a Degree

Whether you’re pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you may qualify for programs that reduce the amount of time and money required to earn your degree.

Your school may offer one or more of the following programs that can help you earn a degree faster:

Five-year accelerated bachelor’s/MHA program

Self-paced degree programs that allow you to progress as you master competencies rather than working within traditional semesters

Transfer of credits from another accredited institution toward degree requirements

Advanced Placement (AP) exams

College Level Examination Program (CLEP), which lets you gain college credit by proving mastery of your subject

Credit for military experience

Credit for work or life experience

Credit for professional certifications

Internships

Many master’s degrees and some bachelor’s degrees require a healthcare administration internship. This may or may not be in combination with a requirement for a capstone project.

An internship typically lasts for a semester with a minimum number of weekly hours. If your school or university is associated with a hospital or medical center, it may have an established program with that organization. Some degree programs require you to find an approved internship on your own.

An internship can help you become familiar with the healthcare industry and expose you to different environments. This can help you determine your career direction and get work experience that can be applied toward certifications.

Whether required or not by your program, an internship in healthcare administration is worthwhile.

“Gain as much experience as possible during school,” says career and leadership coach Christina G. Hall, MHA, ACC, LSSGB, improvement manager at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and founder of CGH Careers, LLC. “Intern for different organizations in the healthcare sector (nursing homes, home care, academic medical centers, pharmaceutical, insurance companies, etc.). The internship experience will help navigate your career path forward.”

An internship can help you become familiar with the healthcare industry, expose you to different environments, and help you determine your career direction.

Online Programs

An online healthcare management degree program may be an attractive option if you must work or maintain family responsibilities while you’re in school. These programs can benefit students who have the technical skills and learning style necessary to thrive in a virtual environment.

While the coursework is the same whether you learn online or in the classroom, virtual programs can include some or all of these elements:

  • Taped lectures that you can listen to at your convenience
  • Classes delivered in real time that you may be required to attend
  • A specific number of hours onsite for periodic group activities or seminars

If you choose an online program, an internship will still be in person. Healthcare administration degrees that don’t require an internship may provide a degree that is entirely online with a final project rather than an internship.

What to Look for In a School

The best healthcare management degree for you is one that will help you meet your professional goals. Here are some tips to evaluate a program:

Review the curriculum to see if it covers topics that interest you.

Look at admission requirements. Do you meet them, or will extra work be required?

Find out if the program helps graduates with job placement or career counseling.

Talk to recent graduates about their experiences finding jobs after graduation. 

Accreditation Is Crucial


You can ensure you’re receiving a quality education by checking school and program accreditation, which is an independent verification that your school or program meets educational standards.

Attending an accredited school is important for three reasons:

  • Without it, you won’t be able to apply for federal financial aid and loans and some scholarships.
  • You can’t apply credits from an unaccredited school toward a second or higher degree at an accredited school.
  • Future employers may look for accreditation when they review your educational background.

Costs and Financial Aid

Costs vary widely for a healthcare management degree. Most schools publish tuition fees on their websites for comparison, along with calculators that can help you determine whether you qualify for federal or school-based financial aid.

If you’ll be working while you go to school, find out whether you’re eligible for employer tuition assistance. Companies with these programs provide free or reduced tuition for college courses.

Scholarships can also help you close the gap between tuition costs and your ability to pay. Look for scholarships tied to academic merit or criteria not related to financial need.

Potential scholarship sources include:

  • Nontraditional student scholarships
  • Financial awards from your school or program
  • National and local chapters of professional associations
  • Military or other government service scholarships

If your final bottom line is still out of reach, consider using student loans to make up the difference.

Licensing and Certifications

Unlike clinical positions in healthcare, most roles in healthcare management don’t require state licensing. One exception is administrators of nursing homes and residential care and assisted living facilities. Licensure typically requires passing competency-based exams by the National Association of Long-Term Care Administrators Boards (NAB) and meeting other criteria established by state licensing boards.

Professional certifications usually aren’t required for healthcare managers, though earning one or more of these credentials can help you position yourself as a lifelong learner to prospective employers. In addition to your education, certification serves as proof that you have demonstrated your competency and received independent affirmation of what you can do, Bartell says.

There is a wide range of certifications related to general healthcare management as well as specific areas of expertise. Here are a few common certifications.

Here are three common certifications and the roles they can enhance.

Professional OrganizationCertification
American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE)
The American Hospital Association’s Certification Center (AHA-CC)Certified Professional in Healthcare Risk Management (CPHRM)
Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM)Certified Medical Manager (CMM)

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for health and medical services managers, a category that includes healthcare managers, is $104,280. With so many positions included in this occupation, the salary range is just as broad. Annual median salaries range from $59,980 for the lowest-paying positions to $195,630 for the top 10% of earners.

The salary you earn can vary by factors such as your:

  • Education
  • Certification
  • Experience
  • Workplace
  • Position
  • Geographic location

Choosing to pursue roles in growing and in-demand areas can be a pathway to increasing your earning potential. Hall says healthcare managers are in demand in informatics and digital health to manage telehealth services, as well as in nursing home administration to run facilities that care for the growing aging population.

Job Growth

Qualified healthcare managers can expect to find an increasing demand for their skills. The BLS projects the employment of medical and health services managers to grow 32% through 2030.

Ever-evolving changes in information technology, patient data management, and risk and compliance make these areas in-demand specialties for healthcare managers with related expertise.

The growing need for healthcare managers is partially related to the increasing number of senior citizens in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10,000 baby boomers will reach retirement age every day through 2030. This will increase the need for qualified healthcare managers who can manage the growth and demand for services.

Ever-evolving changes in information technology, patient data management, and risk and compliance make these areas in-demand specialties for healthcare managers with related expertise.

“It really is a full-time job being a compliance officer, whether that practice is a smaller solo practice or even in a healthcare setting at one of the bigger hospitals, so it is definitely a lucrative job if you’re so interested in that type of regulation,” Bennett says.

anna giorgi

Written and reported by:
Anna Giorgi
Contributing writer

coley bennett

With professional insight from:
Coley Bennett, CMM, CHA, CMDP, COCAS
Chairwoman, Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM) National Advisory Board

cathy bartell

With professional insight from:
Cathy Bartell, MHA
Associate Director, Sloan Program in Health Administration in the Cornell University School of Public Policy and Chair, National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL) Career Trajectory Group

christina hall

With professional insight from:
Christina G. Hall, MHA, ACC, LSSGB
Career and Leadership Coach, Founder of CGH Careers, LLC, and Improvement Manager at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia