Adopting new public health laws, overseeing hospital mergers, and managing shifting reimbursement rates—these are just a few of the responsibilities that that fall to hospital administrators. Demand for hospital administrators is soaring as baby boomers age, making it one of the fastest growing occupations in the nation.
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The role of a hospital administrator focuses on coordinating the interests of a hospital’s most important stakeholders.
“In a nutshell, hospital administrators balance the needs of patients, the job of doctors, and the corporation’s goals—then mitigate the risks of it all,” explains Joy Minaya, MPH, administrative director of internal medicine and pediatric practice at Montefiore, an 11-hospital health system in New York City.
Ultimately, a hospital administrator helps improve a facility’s delivery of care, outcomes for patients, adherence to regulations, and financial success.
What Do Hospital Administrators Do?
Hospital administrators tend rank high in a hospital’s hierarchy and may be among the top executives. Their duties can vary by title and where they work, but typical responsibilities include:
“Depending on the day of the week, I’m a lawyer, clerk, medical records person, administrator, CFO, and doctor representative,” Minaya says. “I mitigate risk, come up with creative ways to increase revenue, optimize what happens during a doctor’s visit, understand medical records, stay aware of recently updated laws, and educate my staff. It’s always changing—and always rewarding.”
A Role with Many Possible Titles
There isn’t a definitive career path for hospital administrators because they come from a variety of backgrounds. They may work their way up from being nurses, doctors, HR professionals, and even management positions outside of healthcare.
Hospital administrators are just one type of healthcare administrator. Other healthcare administrators work in rehabilitation facilities, long-term care facilities, outpatient medical centers, and home healthcare settings.
As you search for hospital administration positions, keep an eye out for a variety of titles. For instance, hospital administrators might also be called hospital operations administrators or directors of population health.
Titles can be confusing when it comes to a hospital administrator’s role. They are not, in fact, admins or office managers.
Traits of a Successful Hospital Administrator
As with all healthcare roles, a hospital administrator should be absolutely committed to helping others and promoting a community’s “overall physical, mental, and social wellbeing,” Minaya says. That said, certain skills and traits help some people excel in this field.
“You have to be a people person and have the skills to relate and talk to any group or type of people,” Minaya adds. She notes that “crystal clear conversations” are one of the most important parts of her job, as she navigates discussions with stakeholders—each of whom has different priorities.
Mediator and Compromiser
Minaya also thinks of herself as a referee. Hospital administrators are committed to the financial bottom line of the company but also to what providers and patients need. Being able to see the situation from each of these perspectives, and to find compromise, is critical for hospital administrators.
Minimum Education Requirements
In the past, advanced degrees were not required of hospital administrators, but that’s changing. “A master’s degree has become more prevalent in this field; it’s becoming the standard level of education,” Minaya says.
However, the type of master’s degree is flexible. Hospital administrators may earn a master’s in hospital administration (MHA), a master’s in public health (MPH), or even a master’s in business administration (MBA).
Master’s degree programs require a bachelor’s degree first and typically take two years to complete. Many programs also require solid scores on the standardized Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and/or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT).
What Career Paths Lead to a Hospital Administrator Role?
When you visit the doctor’s office, you can get to your appointment by going through a front or side door, by taking the stairs or the elevator, or even a more meandering route. Similarly, multiple routes can lead to a career as a hospital administrator. Here are some common ones.
“I would highly encourage (graduates) to really look widely for opportunities,” advises Pursley, who stresses that jobs can be found not only in hospitals and healthcare facilities, but also in social service agencies and community-based organizations. “While the comfortable thing to do would be to come out of school and try to find a position in coding or in release of information, there are so many other opportunities. So, don’t limit your investigation. The beauty of being a health information manager is that there are so many different opportunities.”
Healthcare Provider to Administrator:
- Healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses can leverage their deep understanding of healthcare settings to move into a hospital administrator role. They typically earn a bachelor’s in health administration or a master’s degree in a related field to supplement their professional health expertise.
Manager to Administrator:
- Many other hospital administrators don’t start out as healthcare providers. This career path typically runs from a bachelor’s degree to years of work in healthcare settings, then a transition to a relevant master’s degree. People who work in HR, clinical support, and administrative roles can use this route to change careers.
Master’s Degree to Administrator:
- Finally, some hospital administrators go from a bachelor’s degree straight into a master’s program related to healthcare administration. A postgraduate fellowship and/or certifications, such as in billing/coding or clinical documentation, can speed your journey to becoming a hospital administrator.
No matter which track you follow—or if your career path is a combination of these—certain jobs and backgrounds may help you reach your goals. “Entry-level supervisory positions in healthcare, such as front desk operations or supervisor of medical records, are good segues to eventually become a hospital administrator,” Minaya says.
That said, any management experience is a big plus. “Management is management, no matter where you are,” she says. “Once you learn to manage human resources, learning the details of a specific department—a dentist office, oncology practice, or hospital-wide administration—comes with time.”
Here’s a look at the bachelor’s and master’s degrees that can help you become a hospital administrator.
BA/BS in Healthcare Administration
A bachelor’s degree—Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science—in healthcare administration typically takes four years to complete. Core coursework includes:
Bachelor’s Degree Healthcare Management
Healthcare management combines business expertise with deep knowledge of healthcare and patient services. Core coursework can include:
Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health
Public health focuses on improving the well-being of people and communities. Core coursework can include:
Master of Healthcare Administration
The most common route to becoming a hospital administrator is by earning a Master of Hospital Administration (MHA). This degree prepares graduates for healthcare leadership roles, including hospital administrator, healthcare executive, and health information manager.
Master of Healthcare Management
A Master of Healthcare Management is similar to an MHA, but with a focus on broad issues and initiatives rather than facility operations. MHM programs generally require an undergraduate degree in public health, business, public administration, or healthcare administration.
Coursework typically includes:
Master of Public Health
This degree provides insight into how implementing healthcare policies—such as vaccine programs or prenatal care for women without health insurance—affect people’s health.
Most MPH program admissions require undergraduate coursework in math and the sciences. Some also require healthcare experience such as nursing, a pharmacy background, or even covering healthcare as a journalist.
Coursework typically includes:
Many MPH programs culminate in fieldwork and a final project to present your findings.
Master of Business Administration
An MBA is another educational option, since this track provides training in management, how to run a business (a category healthcare institutions fall into), and human resources—all critical in a career as hospital administrator. Admissions offices typically look for a resume filled with work and leadership experience, strong academics, and coursework in economics, finance, or business.
Coursework typically includes:
Admission to all these advanced programs is competitive. Successful applicants tend to have strong GPAs and scores on the GRE/GMAT. They may also have healthcare work experience, whether in paid, volunteer, or internship positions.
Post-graduate administrative fellowships are optional—and very competitive—opportunities to accelerate the career of recent graduates.
Some hospitals and healthcare systems seek top graduates from related master’s programs to join an administrative fellowship. Fellowships typically include:
Fellowships may last one or two years, and they sometimes include rotations among different hospital departments.
Post-graduate administrative fellowships can lead to jobs where fellows have worked and learned, though this is not always the case. The training, experience, and opportunities of completing a fellowship can fast-track careers and give job seekers an edge over other applicants.
If you want to become a hospital administrator, it’s possible to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree online. Many universities offer BA and BS programs online, and top-tier universities offer MPH and MBA degrees online as well.
Remote learning can be an attractive option to students who want to work on their education at their own pace or work full time while going to school. These students can expect to take longer to graduate, but it could be worth it if an online program is the key to success.
Some online programs have evening and weekend classes, or recorded classes that students can watch or listen to when they have time. Nontraditional students, working professionals, and people who need flexible schedules may opt for online programs because they are easier to sync with responsibilities outside school.
Remote learning can be an attractive option to students who want to work on their education at their own pace or work full time while going to school.
Accreditation is formal recognition that a school has been evaluated for excellence and met educational standards for academic rigor.
A school’s educational programs are also often accredited. Attending an accredited school and program is important for several reasons:
Accreditation tells employers that graduates have received the education and training needed to competently do their job. Some employers don’t hire students with degrees from unaccredited schools.
The federal government provides student loans and grants only to students attending accredited institutions.
If you don’t attend an accredited program, you won’t be able to transfer class credits to an accredited school if you decide to change schools at some point.
So, before enrolling in a program, check to make sure it’s accredited. These organizations accredit master’s programs related the hospital administration:
Certifications and Licensure
Most clinical jobs in healthcare, such as a certified nurse practitioner or physical therapist, require licensure and professional certifications. In contrast, hospital administrators typically only need “a degree that is commensurate with the role they fill,” Minaya says.
Some healthcare administrators, such as those working in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, may need a state-specific license to work. These licenses typically require you to pass an exam about state laws and regulations.
While certifications are optional for hospital administrators, they “are extremely helpful,” Minaya says. Certifications show expertise in a specific niche, such finance or regulatory matters.
“These certifications help paint a picture of who you are and what you can bring to the role,” Minaya says.
Certifications are awarded by independent professional associations, not the university or program where you earn your degree. They typically require work experience, continuing education credits, and passing an exam that demonstrates your expertise in the subject.
Here’s a sample of the many certifications hospital administrators can chose from:
Hospital Administrator Salaries
Hospital administrators fall into the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics category for medical and health services managers, who earn a median salary of $104,280 per year—far beyond the overall average salary of all workers in the U.S. of just under $42,000.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the field of medical and health service managers—including hospital administrators—will grow a whopping 32% by 2029.
Within this category, salaries vary widely. Hospital administrators in the bottom 10% earn a median $59,980 a year, while the highest 10% earn a median $195,630.
Where you work can influence your pay. For example, in a hospital the median salary is $112,870, significantly higher than in a nursing and residential care facility, where the median salary is $89,880.
Your geographic location can also be a factor in how much you earn. Major metropolitan areas in California dominate the top 20 cities for median salaries for medical and health services managers, including hospital administrators.
|Metropolitan Area||Annual Median Salary|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California||$155,200|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California||$154,070|
|Santa Rosa, California||$146,670|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California||$133,420|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-Pennsylvania||$132,640|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California||$130,050|
|Urban Honolulu, Hawaii||$126,780|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California||$125,380|
|Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina||$125,040|
As the healthcare field has undergone seismic shifts in recent decades, the role of hospital administrators has changed, too.
“Our job is so multifaceted now,” Minaya says. “It’s no longer about making sure payroll is done correctly. You now have to understand and educate staff on public health initiatives and laws. You have to mitigate risk in your organization. You have to be creative to find ways for your organization to make money while meeting the needs of patients and doctors. It’s so much more than it used to be.”
That’s not the only thing changing in this field.
Soaring Demand for Hospital Administrators
The demand for hospital administrators is skyrocketing. The BLS estimates that the field of medical and health service managers—including hospital administrators—will grow 32% by 2029. That far outpaces average job growth of 3.7%. In fact, this field is the eighth fastest growing occupation in the U.S.
Why? Healthcare as a whole is booming as people live longer and therefore need extended care. At the same time, more and more people are living with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. These factors mean there is greater demand for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers—so there is also more need for administrators to manage them and the healthcare organizations where they work.
As in any field, hospital administrators can advance their careers through professional organizations and resources. Some organizations have job listings—a terrific place for recent graduates to hunt for openings. Even if you’re not a hospital administrator yet, these resources are a fantastic place to better understand the field, spot trends, and set yourself up for long-term success.