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Many Degrees Can Lead to a Career as a Healthcare Administrator

If you’re interested in this field, there are many roles to choose from and many places to work.

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Home » Specialties » Healthcare Administration

The Basics

  • What you’ll do: A healthcare administrator works behind the scenes in a healthcare setting to make sure it runs smoothly and efficiently in service to patients and staff.
  • Where you’ll work: In any number of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and outpatient centers. Healthcare administrators also work at insurance companies and in other nonpatient settings.
  • Degree you’ll need: A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for some roles, but most healthcare administrators have a master’s degree.
  • Median annual salary: $104,280

Healthcare administrators are responsible for planning and managing the administrative side of a healthcare facility, but they can have a wide range of responsibilities. They know they’re successful if they can make a difference in patients’ lives by shaping workplace policy and making sure a facility runs smoothly and efficiently.

What Does a Healthcare Administrator Do?

“Healthcare administrators are a critical link between care providers, payers, and patients,” says Keith Olenik, MA, RHIA, CHP, chief member relations and service officer of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). “They have exciting careers, as they have a number of work options available.”

Healthcare administrators don’t usually interact with patients. Some of their most common job responsibilities include:

  • Managing facility operations and maximizing the efficient use of resources
  • Participating in administrative committees
  • Preparing budgets
  • Collecting and analyzing patient data
  • Managing patient health information and medical records
  • Ensuring compliance with all healthcare laws and regulations
  • Communicating with all levels of an organization

While healthcare administrators and healthcare managers can share similar responsibilities, they are two separate roles. Managers focus more on overseeing the staff of a specific department within a healthcare facility. Administrators focus more on the entire facility and its day-to-day operations.

How to Become a Healthcare Administrator

1. Decide on Your Career Goals

What job do you want in five years? This can affect which degree you choose and whether you focus on a specific area of administration, such as organizational development, population health, systems operations, and policy.

When setting career goals, think of potential day-to-day job duties, what role you would excel at, and how to get there.

For example, maybe you want to work with seniors in nursing homes, a job that could include advocacy and interpersonal communications with loved ones. Or maybe you want to work in public health policy, which may involve sharp research skills.

When setting career goals, think of potential day-to-day job duties, what role you would excel at, and how to get there.

Another potential factor to consider is where you want to work. Olenik cites a slew of possible settings, including hospitals, multispecialty clinics, physician practices, long-term care and mental health facilities.

He also notes that healthcare administrators can work in a number of non-patient settings, such as:

  • Insurance companies
  • Health-related software companies
  • Consulting services
  • Government agencies
  • Education
  • Pharmaceutical companies

2. Determine What Education You’ll Need

Healthcare administrators will need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the field. This is usually adequate for some entry-level positions.

Some healthcare organizations may require a master’s degree to fully demonstrate that a candidate is capable of handling large-scale management.

Depending on your career goals, your degree and coursework can vary. Here are some examples.

Bachelor’s Degrees

Healthcare Administration

Core coursework can include:

  • Medical law and ethics
  • Operations management
  • Healthcare financial management
  • Health information systems
  • Business communication

Internships are usually optional, but it’s highly recommended to gain real-world experience. You’re more likely to complete a capstone project. These projects usually are a final assignment that combines your studies with research or fieldwork to solve a real-world problem in your field.

This degree usually requires 120-180 credits and takes four years to complete. However, there are some fast-track programs that allow you to graduate in as little as 15 months. These are best for students who already have experience in the field and/or previous credits toward a bachelor’s degree.

Health Services Administration

Core coursework can include:

  • Introduction to research methods
  • Health information technology
  • Healthcare economics and financial management
  • Organizational development and planning
  • Legal issues in healthcare

Internships are an elective credit for this degree. You’re more likely to complete a capstone project.

Most programs require 120 credits and take four years to complete.

Master’s Degrees

Master of Health Administration

Admission requirements include at least a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. If a school requires a GRE or GMAT score, it’s best to score above the 50th percentile. Work experience is not required, but at least two years is ideal.

Core coursework can include:

  • Healthcare economics and policy
  • Healthcare accounting and finance
  • Data analysis and decision making
  • Leadership in healthcare
  • Quality management
  • An internship or fellowship program

A master’s degree usually takes two to three years to complete.

Master of Public Health

This degree is highly competitive and requires a strong academic background. Applicants must either have at least two years of work experience with a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree. You’ll also need letters of recommendation.

Core coursework can include:

  • Introduction to epidemiology
  • Biostatistics
  • Public health administration and policy
  • Social and behavioral science
  • Environmental health

A fellowship and possibly a capstone project are common.

Most students take two to three years to complete the coursework.

Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Administration

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree to get into this program. You may not need a GRE or GMAT score unless you’re applying to highly competitive schools. There are many online degree options, so this is a flexible choice for working professionals.

Core coursework can include:

  • Marketing and communications
  • Accounting
  • Operations management
  • Ethical leadership
  • Financial management
  • Capstone project

Most graduates complete this degree in two to three years.

3. Gain Practical Experience

Not all healthcare administrator jobs require previous medical experience like nursing.  However, some employers do want to know that you understand healthcare.

Since many master’s programs include an internship or fellowship, you’ll gain real-world experience and graduate with a competitive resume.

Some require recent graduates to have completed a fellowship. Since many master’s programs include an internship or fellowship, this allows you to gain real-world experience and graduate with a competitive resume.

If a student already has relevant administrative work experience, they may choose a degree program that allows them to progress through the curriculum faster. Some programs have an accelerated track for students who have work experience and can demonstrate competency in the degree subject.

4. Get Licensed

Most healthcare administrators don’t need a license to hold a job. The one exception is nursing home administrators.

Requirements can vary by state, so you’ll want to check with your state health department for information on how to qualify for a nursing home administrator license.

5. Consider Earning Professional Certification

Certification isn’t required to be a healthcare administrator, but employers may look for them, depending on the role.

Professional certifications can help prove to employers that you have absorbed knowledge from your degree and can apply it to the profession. You can also pursue specialty certifications that showcase your competence in a specific field.

Here are some common certifications for healthcare administrators:

  • Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE)  
  • Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (cHAP)
  • Certified Professional in Healthcare Risk Management (CPHRM)

Where Do Health Administrators Work?

Here’s a closer look at five places where health administrators work and their roles.

Hospitals

A hospital administrator may oversee the operations of a department or the entire facility. If they oversee a department, they may specialize in areas like finance or health information.

Public health department or agency

A public health administrator may create public health policies and oversee community outreach campaigns that improve public health.

Group medical practices

A practice administrator may be in charge of the daily operation of a clinic, physicians’ office, or outpatient center. 

Nursing home

A nursing home administrator supervises and manages nursing homes while advocating for residents and communicating with relatives.

Home healthcare agencies

A home healthcare administrator oversees staff and operations of an agency that cares for patients in their homes.

Skills of a Successful Healthcare Administrator

While hard skills are important for success, soft skills like communication are invaluable for healthcare administrators.

Competency in core subject matter:

It’s critical to have an understanding of science, management, law, and technology to fulfill job responsibilities.

Interpersonal skills:

Effective communication is necessary because you’ll work with a wide range of professionals, including physicians, lawyers, and executives.

Attention to detail:

Thoroughly and effectively completing tasks is crucial to a range from responsibilities from planning to budgeting.

What to Look for In a Health Administrator Program

There are many factors to consider when choosing a healthcare administrator program. These are a few key factors:

Accreditation:

If your program and school aren’t accredited, you won’t be eligible for federal financial aid, and you won’t be able to transfer credits to an accredited program. You also may find yourself at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a job and earning credentials.

Flexible start dates:

When does the program start? If you’re a working professional, you may want a program that has flexible start dates and allows you to begin coursework as soon as you’re ready. An online program may have flexible start dates.

Career counseling/job placement help:

While a degree can help you qualify for your dream job, career counseling or job placement help can aid in your search for that job.

Programs for busy working adults:

If you’re working full time, you’ll want to choose a program that can accommodate your schedule. Some options to consider include going to school part time, enrolling in a hybrid program that’s a mix of online and in-person work, and taking evening or weekend classes.

Faculty with work experience:

Courses taught by working professionals help ensure that you are learning the latest concepts and policies. You should do your research to determine if the faculty can teach you the skills you’ll need.


Salary and Career Outlook

The median annual wage for healthcare administrators is $104,280, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Your experience, education, and certification can play a role in your salary. Another factor is your location.

However, salaries for healthcare administrators are wide-ranging. For example, the top 10% earn more than $195,630 while the bottom 10% earn less than $59,980. This is partly because the BLS classifies healthcare administrators as medical and health services managers, which includes a broad range of jobs.

Your experience, education, and certification can also play a role in your salary. Another factor is your location. Take a look at the median pay in each state:

StateAnnual Median Salary
District of Columbia$140,600
New York$134,310
California$130,640
Hawaii$124,850
Washington$119,380
Massachusetts$118,520
Maryland$118,520
New Jersey$116,020
Oregon$116,060
Rhode Island$116,020
Delaware$111,930
Nevada$111,690
North Dakota$110,940
Connecticut$110,260
Virginia$109,790
Colorado$109,100
New Mexico$108,870
Alaska$108,740
Nebraska$107,440
Illinois$106,880
Wisconsin$106,020
Arizona$105,970
North Carolina$103,940
New Hampshire$103,310
Minnesota$101,560
South Dakota$101,320
Texas$100,320
Missouri$99,840
West Virginia$97,420
Vermont$96,420
Pennsylvania$96,110
Wyoming$95,980
Florida$95,810
Michigan$95,640
Louisiana$94,800
South Carolina$94,600
Ohio$94,350
Tennessee$93,270
Georgia$92,780
Maine$92,630
Indiana$92,220
Idaho$91,280
Utah$90,950
Montana$90,370
Kansas$89,090
Mississippi$87,960
Kentucky$84,390
Oklahoma$83,040
Alabama$82,610
Iowa$80,980
Arkansas$78,810

Professional Resources

Professional associations are a great place for students to start building healthcare administration careers. Many associations offer certifications, networking, and conferences. These opportunities can help you build your resume and learn from people already working in the field. Here are some associations to consider joining:

  • American College of Healthcare Executives
  • American Public Health Association
  • American Hospital Association
  • American Health Information Management Association
sara nguyen

Written and reported by:
Sara J. Nguyen
Contributing writer

keith olenik

With professional insight from:
Keith Olenik, MA, RHIA, CHP
Chief Member Relations and Service Officer, American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)