Guide to College Majors in Long Term Care

What is Long Term Care?

A long-term care degree prepares you to manage the business and administrative aspects of residential care for the elderly and chronically ill. As the population ages, the need for quality long-term care increases so that employment opportunities are expected to grow much faster than many other areas of management. And as health care takes on a more business like approach -- think of terms such as "health management organization" (HMO) or "managed care facility" -- business degrees have become a professional necessity. Business-oriented reforms in patient care handle the new demands of increased costs, human resource logistics, diverse economic considerations for patients, and insurance regulations.

Managing nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement communities, hospices, or institutions require professionals who possess a sound understanding of business theory and can apply and supervise its delivery in the dynamic environment of health care. Your degree will help you develop the leadership and critical thinking skills to succeed in this unique business environment, while also focusing on the practical aspects of managed care.

Future health services managers must be prepared to deal with evolving integrated healthcare delivery systems, technological innovations, and an increasingly complex regulatory environment. Like a regular degree in management, a long term care degree can focus on organizational governance, finance, and administration.

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, but a bachelor's degree is adequate for some entry-level positions in smaller facilities.

Your career could involve responsibility for millions of dollars' worth of facilities and equipment and supervision of hundreds of employees. In order to make effective decisions, you need to be open to different opinions and good at analyzing contradictory information. Long term care managers must be familiar with management principles and practices, overseeing finances and information systems, and be able to interpret data. Motivating others to implement your decisions requires strong leadership abilities as well as tact, diplomacy, flexibility, and great communication skills.

Career Education in Long-Term Care

A major in long-term care prepares graduates to manage nursing homes, assisted living facilities, retirement communities and other residential settings for older persons and is suitable for individuals with an interest in both caring for the elderly and in business, administration, and leadership. Completing this program allows you to move from a clinical position to management in a variety of positions across the health care continuum with the educational background in planning, organizing, leading and controlling functions. Your curriculum may include foundations of management principles, human relations, and operational experience in long term care facilities. You'll also learn how to interact with both your in house staff and with the external community you serve.

Most States require a bachelor's degree for licensure at a local level. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Long Term Care or Healthcare Management, you'll also have the educational credentials you need to work toward your master's degree and move into higher levels of healthcare administration.

An associate degree is generally required for bachelor of long-term care degree programs, but can be from a variety of fields such as liberal arts, sciences, or business. Graduates with bachelor's degrees in health administration usually begin as administrative assistants or assistant department heads. They also may begin as department heads or assistant administrators in small nursing care facilities.

The degrees come under names such as Associate in Healthcare Administration, major in Administration or Long-term Care and Retirement Facilities, Bachelor of Science degree in Healthcare Management, and Master of Public Administration.

For practicing administrators, certificate programs can serve as a refresher course, meet state licensure regulations and meet continuing education requirements for licensing.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Long Term Care?

Long-term care administrators and managers make sure their facilities are running efficiently -- balancing the compassionate need to provide health care with the need to maintain a healthy operating budget. University training can include instruction in business office operations, business and financial record-keeping, personnel supervision, policy administration, conference planning, scheduling and coordination, public relations, and applicable law and regulations.

Job prospects are very good as the demand for long term care increases and the value of business trained administrators is recognized. An undergrad can work with in health care to gain experience before pursuing his or her master's of business, public administration, or health services administration - which is preferred at this level. A master's degree is recognized in the healthcare field as an important and, in some cases, a necessary degree to assume a position of significant authority.

Most health services managers work long hours. Long term care facilities operate around the clock, and administrators and managers may be called at all hours to deal with problems. In smaller facilities, top administrators handle more of the details of daily operations. For example, many nursing home administrators manage personnel, finance, facility operations, and admissions, and have a larger role in resident care. Despite the long hours, earnings are higher than many occupations.

Long term care and health services managers advance by moving into more responsible and higher paying positions, such as assistant or associate administrator, or by moving to larger facilities.

Certification and Licensure

All States and the District of Columbia require nursing care facility administrators to have a bachelor's degree, pass the national licensing examination, complete a State-approved training program, and pursue continuing education. The National Association of Boards of Examiners of Long Term Care Administrators (NAB) develops the national exam and sets the passing scores. Every nursing home in the country that provides Medicare and Medicaid services must operate under the supervision of a state licensed administrator. The state licensing boards set the eligibility requirements for the national exam and most require that an administrator take the state licensing exam as well.

Many states' licensure requirements include the completion of an Administrator-in-Training (AIT) program. AIT programs are usually 6 months or 1,000 hours long. The re-licensure requirements in most states include obtaining 20-50 continuing education credits per year.

The American College of Health Care Administrators offers a voluntary Certification Program which designates excellence in the profession for either Nursing Home Administration or Assisted Living Administration. The certification recognizes administrators and managers who are performing at an advanced level of skill and knowledge. Certified Nursing Home Administrators may receive licensure reciprocity in participating states. Certification reflects a commitment to residents, families and staff and demonstrates a commitment to gaining new knowledge and, ultimately, applying it within the facilities.

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