What Does it Mean to Study Healthcare Administration?
When thinking about a career in healthcare, images of doctors or nurses might be the first to come to mind. In reality, there are hundreds of different healthcare careers, from the people who administer the healing to the people who manage the industry. Doctors and nurses do not function on their own, and many people work behind the scenes in rewarding jobs to make the healthcare system function as efficiently as possible.
Like any good business, the healthcare industry needs quality managers to maintain the smooth operation of its organizations. A healthcare administration degree helps train future administrators for the variety of responsibilities they will need to fulfill. In the most general sense, healthcare administrators plan and supervise the delivery of services by doctors, nurses, and technicians. They may work in small health clinics or major medical centers. Every organization needs someone to track trends in an ever-changing industry and keep their business on the cutting edge. Healthcare administrators play an important role in keeping the community healthy.
Types of Healthcare Administration Degrees
When evaluating candidates for entry-level management positions, employers seek applicants with the appropriate educational and work experience. Healthcare administration majors should exhibit excellent communication skills, understand basic management concepts, and possess the leadership qualities needed for the position. For healthcare administration graduates, business planning skills and the ability to perform quantitative analysis is also a must. Students are encouraged to look for volunteer or internship positions with healthcare providers to supplement their coursework.
Before committing to a program, healthcare administration majors should first decide which type of degree fits best with their career goals and objectives. A wide variety of degree types can be found online, ranging from associate degrees to doctoral programs. Many current healthcare managers and administrators choose to further their career by pursing online degrees in healthcare administration, especially at the graduate level. Since they require little to no clinical practice, these programs are ideal for online study, particularly for working healthcare professionals who want to advance further in their profession.
Associate Degrees in Healthcare Administration
Associate degrees in healthcare administration provide an excellent primer for entry into the healthcare management field. These degrees are great preparation for further study at the bachelor's degree level. Healthcare administration majors usually study curriculum that covers management theory, concepts, and skills, providing a basic overview of the health care industry. These programs are designed to teach students the essentials of leadership, financial management, economics, law, organizational behavior, quantitative analysis methods, and planning. Core courses generally include:
- Introduction to Healthcare Delivery Systems
- Ethics for Healthcare Professionals
- Medical Terminology
- Introduction to Healthcare Software and Technology
- Fundamentals of Healthcare Reimbursement
Bachelor's Degrees in Healthcare Administration
Bachelor's degree programs provide students with an understanding of the general concepts behind healthcare administration. These programs help teach healthcare administration majors the analytical tools they need to succeed in both their own work environment and the healthcare system as a whole. At this level, students typically develop skills in financial management, statistical and economic analysis, and decision-making. Special emphasis is often placed on ethical concepts and understanding the healthcare organizational structure. Graduates should also grasp how health concerns affect individual communities. Courses may include:
- Principles of Leadership
- Fundamentals of Private Sector Finance
- Health Law and Policy
- Risk Management for Healthcare
- Management for Healthcare Operations
Master's Degrees in Healthcare Administration
Earning a master's degree in healthcare administration can help prepare you for senior-level administrative positions. Master's degrees are especially helpful for professionals already working in health provider jobs who want to move into management positions. These programs usually have a number of different concentrations available. Some programs even have concentrations that are specifically tailored to practitioners seeking to improve their management skills. Before enrolling, you should consider which program best suits your needs and long-term career goals. Core courses at the master's level might include:
- Health Policy and Regulation
- Global Health Systems
- Analytical Decision Making for Healthcare
- Economics of Healthcare
- Emerging Issues in Healthcare Management
Ph.D. in Healthcare Administration
A Ph.D. or Doctor of Health Administration degree allows you to pursue critical studies of advanced problems in healthcare administration. Typically, Ph.D. holders research, teach, and write about high-level medical and policy-related topics throughout the field. Since advancement to senior-level positions usually requires only a master's degree, a Ph.D. is rarely needed for non-academic or non-research positions. However, a Ph.D. can provide the necessary background for those looking to affect healthcare administration policy on a broader level. In addition to completing a dissertation, core courses may include:
- Economics of Public Management
- Managed Care and Market Structure
- Financial Management of Healthcare Institutions
- Advanced Healthcare Policy Analysis
- Economics of the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industry
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Healthcare Administration?
Healthcare administration covers such a broad area that it can be difficult to describe the field. What administrators do depends on the type and size of facility at which they are working. Large facilities, such as medical centers, have several layers of administrators, with one officer at the top responsible for setting the direction and making the final decisions. That person typically reports to a board of directors. Smaller facilities often require generalists to oversee all aspects of the operation.
That being said, earning a healthcare administration degree presents you with an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the health of your community. Options for healthcare administrators have never been more diverse. You might accept leadership roles in provider services such as hospitals, physician or dental group practices, nursing homes and home health agencies; in insurance companies and HMOs; or for companies that sell the supplies and equipment for healthcare providers. Some specialized areas for entry- and mid-level administrators are in finance, government relations, and human resources. Graduates may also choose to work for local, state, and federal agencies, or with private foundations such as the Red Cross or the American Hospital Association.
As noted previously, healthcare administrators work in numerous types of healthcare facilities and at a variety of levels within each organization. Managers in the healthcare sector have varying responsibilities, qualifications, salary ranges, and work hours. Basic duties include supervision of staff, solving problems, and making business decisions for the facility.
Healthcare administrators have regular contact with patients, community members, physicians, nurses, vendors, trustees, and organizational staff. Entry-level administrative positions include marketing assistant, operating assistant, project manager, health provider representative, or accountant. Mid-level administrators include marketing directors, department managers, case managers, managers of ancillary services (such as laboratory and radiology departments), and ambulatory care managers. Senior-level healthcare administrators may work as chief executive officers, chief operating officers, chief financial officers, senior vice presidents, or vice presidents for various sections and services.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: Healthcare administrators typically need at least a bachelor's degree, although master's degrees may be preferred or required for some positions.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Certain certifications or licensures may be required for healthcare administrators and are largely dependent upon the type of facility they manage. For example, nursing home administrators often must be registered nurses themselves.
Social and Community Service Managers
After earning a healthcare administration degree, graduates might seek employment at a non-profit organization that provides social services or healthcare to the public. Examples of these organizations include large charitable organizations (like the American Red Cross), research organizations (such as the American Cancer Society), or even locally based organizations and networks. In this capacity, social and community service managers recruit and train volunteers and staff, manage organizational budgets, write funding proposals, and gather data to analyze the performance of their organization's programs.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: Most positions require candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree in social work, public health, business administration, or a related field. For some positions, a master's degree is preferred.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Certifications and licensures vary by organizational type and required duties.
Management Analysts and Consultants
Healthcare administration majors can also go on to join healthcare consulting firms. As a management analyst or consultant, they will be asked to analyze a healthcare facility's efficiency and propose ways to improve the organization. This might include giving procedural, structural, or financial recommendations. These types of positions require gathering data, analyzing financial reports, and conducting interviews with management and employees.
- Minimum Educational Requirements: Entry-level consultants must have at least a bachelor's degree, although a master's in healthcare administration or business may be preferred. Previous work experience in healthcare might also be required.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Special certifications and licensures are not generally required. Voluntary designations, such as the Certified Management Consultant (CMC), may provide increased job opportunities.
Healthcare Administration Associations and Organizations
There are a number of association and organizations that provide support and resources for healthcare administrators. Some of these include:
- American College of Health Care Administrators -- This organization focuses on providing support and educational opportunities for healthcare administrators in nursing home and long-term care fields.
- American College of Healthcare Executives -- This international professional society boasts more than 40,000 members working as healthcare executives in numerous fields. Additionally, they offer board certification in healthcare management through the Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) designation. The ACHE also publishes several text books used at colleges and universities.
- American Public Health Association -- The American Public Health Association advocates for the "health of all people and all communities." This organization uses scientific research to influence federal health policy. They also publish the American Journal of Public Health.
- Management Analysts, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm
- Medical and Health Services Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
- Social and Community Service Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm