Health care administrators, also known as health services managers and health care managers, 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.
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 health care system.
An estimated 300,000 people serve in health administration, from middle management to CEO positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this career will grow 17% between 2014 and 2024, much faster than average. You can find administrator/managers in hospitals, physician group practices, nursing homes and home health agencies. 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.
Some 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.
Careers in this field require professionalism and leadership skills, in-depth knowledge of health care delivery and financial structure, an understanding of medical language and how patient care organizations are structured and operate.
Recent graduates can find entry-level jobs in either line management, such as director of admissions or marketing or vice president of human resources, or in staff positions, like managed care analyst, risk management analyst or sales consultant. Opportunities are available across the country, in large cities as well as in small rural communities.
Most health administrators work 40 hours a week, though there may be times that longer hours are necessary. 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 may also be involved, since managers may need to inspect satellite facilities, attend meetings, etc.
Salary Range and Outlook
The median salary (half of all salaries fall above this number and half below) for medical and health services managers as reported by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics was $94,500 in May 2015. Salaries will vary according to type of organization, location and experience, among other factors.
Generally, health care administrators work in offices. Most work full-time and some are called upon to work more than 40 hours a week. Depending on the position and organization, health care administrators may need to be on call in the evenings and weekends in case of emergencies.
Degrees in health management/administration are available at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels:
- An undergraduate program provides the basic knowledge, skills and applied studies needed for entry-level positions. Some students may also get an undergraduate degree to qualify to apply to a graduate program.
- Graduate programs offer students a lot of flexibility, from a master’s degree in health administration, health management, or public health, degrees in business with course concentration in health services management or joint degrees–a master’s degree in both business administration and public health, for example. You can search for a certified undergraduate program on the Association of University Programs in Health Adminstration’s website. You can search for an accredited program on the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education’s website.
College graduates can apply for a graduate program, no matter what their undergraduate degree is in, from health care 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. The Health Administration, Management and Policy Centralized Application Service is a centralized application service designed for students applying to graduate programs in health administration, health care management and health policy.
Programs generally last two years and include coursework in health care policy and law, marketing, organizational behavior, health care financing, human resources, and other health care management topics. This program may also include a supervised internship, residency, or fellowship.
Health care practitioners may also opt to get an undergraduate or graduate degree in health management/administration in order to prepare for leadership positions within their clinical specialty.
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 health care organizations and in health information management.
Learn More About a Career as a Health Administrator
- Read a brochure (PDF) that describes seven reasons to pursue a career in health care management.
- Learn more about the career and the education required to pursue it.
- Watch a video profile of medical and health services managers (in the Business and Administration section).
- American College of Healthcare Executives
- American Public Health Association
- Association of University Programs in Health Administration
- American Hospital Association
- Commission on Accreditation Healthcare Management Education