Health administrators are leaders. They head up hospitals, physician group practices, nursing homes and home health agencies.
Healthcare managers, also known as health services managers and health administrators, direct the operation of hospitals, health systems and other types of organizations. They have responsibility for facilities, services, programs, staff, budgets, relations with other organizations and other management functions, depending on the type and size of the organization.
They also work in the public sector, for example in health departments, or in the private sector, such as with pharmaceutical companies, health insurance providers, consulting firms or companies that make medical supplies and equipment.
The career opportunities with a health care management degree are expansive and invigorating. The health care management community and program alumni provide those starting out in the field with advancement opportunities and a network of contacts that is invaluable throughout the time spent in the career.
To launch a career in health care management, select the approach that provides specialized skills and knowledge essential to managing health-related organizations—something not always available in traditional management programs.
Many graduates help to shape health care policy by pursuing careers with local, state or federal agencies (such as the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) or health-related national associations, such as the Red Cross or the American Hospital Association.
Today, an estimated 300,000 people serve in health administration, from middle management to CEO positions -- at organizations of only one or two staff members to major international companies employing hundreds of thousands of employees.
Health administrators are either specialists or generalists. Specialists head up specific clinical departments or services, while generalists manage (or help to manage) entire facilities or systems.
The Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) offers a brochure that describes seven reasons to pursue a career in health care management.
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Unlike clinicians, health administrators or managers do not deal directly with patients on a day-to-day basis. Instead, they help to shape policy, make needed changes and lead our nation's health-related organizations in a way that serves individual patients by helping to improve the healthcare system.
Most health administrators work long hours. Since the facilities they manage (nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, etc.) operate around the clock, a manager may be called at all hours to deal with issues. Some travel also is involved in this field, since managers may need to inspect satellite facilities, attend meetings, etc.
Healthcare managers work in a variety of settings, including hospital and health systems management, medical groups, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, care management organizations, health information technology firms, supply chain companies, government/policy organizations, investment banks, health insurers and health care management consulting firms. Some graduates may also work with large corporations directing their health and other benefits programs.
For profiles of real-life people working in health administration -- including a managed care director, a health services project administrator and an assistant administrator, as well as professionals in business development and quality and accountability initiatives --- see the American College of Healthcare Executives website.
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Degrees in health management/administration are available at the baccalaureate, master's and doctoral levels.
College graduates can apply for a graduate program, no matter what their undergraduate degree is in, from healthcare management and business, to biology, sociology, policy, public health, government, social work or allied health professions. Some coursework in economics and statistics is helpful, but not generally a requirement.
In the past, most students chose the traditional route of a master’s degree in health administration or public health. Today, however, students are investigating other options, including degrees in business with course concentration in health services management. Some schools offer a joint degree--a master’s degree in both business administration and public health, or in both healthcare management and law, for example.
Master's degree programs in this field generally last two years and include coursework in healthcare policy and law, marketing, organizational behavior, healthcare financing, human resources and other healthcare management topics. They also may include a supervised internship, residency or fellowship.
Sometimes physicians, nurses or other practicing health professionals decide to add this credential to become more involved in leadership roles. In certain cases, students will complete the master's prior to going to medical, nursing or other academic programs.
The Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) maintains a very useful site for students. The American College of Healthcare Executives website includes a Career Services section for graduates looking for a job.
The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) provides a list of accredited healthcare management programs.
The pre-professional curriculum should include appropriate general education credit predicated on the requirements of the academic institution. Professional curricula can include coursework in healthcare policy and law, marketing, organizational behavior, healthcare financing, human resources, health information management and other healthcare management topics. Academic programs may also include a supervised internship, residency or fellowship. For specifics on curricula, visit the AUPHA Online Healthcare Management Education Directory.
Medical and health services managers must be familiar with management principles and practices. A master's degree in health services administration, long-term care administration, health sciences, public health, public administration or business administration is the standard credential for most generalist positions in this field. However, a bachelor's degree is adequate for some entry-level positions in smaller facilities, at the departmental level within healthcare organizations and in health information management.
How to Apply
The Healthcare Administration, Management & Policy Centralized Application Service (HAMPCAS) is a centralized application service designed for students applying to graduate programs in health administration, healthcare management and health policy. The service enables applicants to apply to these programs across different colleges and universities throughout the United States by way of a single, web-based application.
For the most current list of programs you can apply to in one application, visit the HAMPCAS Directory of Programs.
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Last updated: March 7, 2014
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