Five Emerging Careers in Healthcare Administration (2020)


Healthcare is a rapidly changing industry. Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, emerging issues surrounding big data, complications arising through healthcare regulations, and new integrations between healthcare and business are all transforming the way care is delivered. But many of these innovations aren’t being implemented by doctors and providers themselves; they’re being implemented by healthcare administrators.

Healthcare administration is one of the fastest growing careers in the US, but in an increasingly complex and fragmented landscape, healthcare administration is becoming more of an umbrella term than a specific career. New innovations in healthcare aren’t simply upgrading the old, they’re entirely reinventing the new, and there are new job titles and career opportunities emerging as a result. And while hospital administrators are, in general, still largely in demand, there’s also a renewed call for specialists in the increasingly complex and separate areas of healthcare innovation.

Read on to get a look at the top five emerging careers in healthcare administration.

Please note that unless otherwise specified, all salary data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Emerging Healthcare Administration Careers: 2020

Health Insurance Specialist

With Americans spending more than ever on healthcare services, insurance is critical. It can reduce out of pocket costs and make essential medical treatments affordable. However, getting insurance to pay for treatments can be cumbersome and complicated. Many clinics now hire health insurance specialists to assist with medical coding, billing, and managing the claims process. While this job has been done by entry-level professionals, increasingly the role is becoming more complicated and employers are requiring the expertise learned while earning an MHA.

While this job is frequently performed in the back office, these professionals also interface with clients in person, via email, or over the phone. Excellent customer service skills are a must as is a problem solving attitude. Professionals in this field are required to strictly adhere to state and federal insurance laws in addition to insurance policies and clinic procedures. Attention to detail and ability to adhere to rules are very important. Often this role can also be referred to as a claims adjuster or insurance adjuster.

Responsibilities of health insurance specialist include:

  • Access patient medical records
  • Code medical procedures
  • Communicate with insurance companies and clients
  • Analyze claims
  • Verify medical coverage
  • File registration forms with insurance providers
  • Record charges and payments on patient records

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), insurance and claims adjusters earn $67,540 per year on average. An MHA degree can help prospective professionals in the field be competitive when seeking work. Many MHA programs offer courses such as healthcare management and policy, healthcare reimbursement, and healthcare economics, which provide the necessary background to excel in the field.

Professionals seeking to set themselves apart can also pursue medical coding certifications such as the one offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC)

Social Welfare Administrator

Social welfare administrators, often also called community service managers, are integral to any social service program. These programs work with specific populations, for example children, seniors, low-income citizens, to provide them access to resources they may need including housing, healthcare, or education. While this career can be very demanding and challenging because of the lack of resources, many professionals find it to be very rewarding.

Programs that employ social welfare administrators include government agencies, nonprofits, and religious organizations. Within these programs, administrators are the link that ensures things run smoothly by providing direct services to clients and also managing the program as a whole. Leadership skills are essential as these professionals are responsible for the direction and course of an agency. Other necessary skills include the ability to manage staff effectively, good problem-solving abilities, skilled networker, and ability to analyze data and performance.

Typical job duties of a social welfare administration include:

  • Establish and oversee procedures and policies for the department or program
  • Apply for and administer grants
  • Meet with clients to assist them with accessing services
  • Train and supervise staff and volunteers
  • Plan and manage outreach activities
  • Participate in advocacy activities with the local and national government
  • Analyze data to determine the effectiveness of the program

Social and community service managers earn $65,320 per year on average according to the BLS. Professionals in this field have work experience in social services and have obtained an MHA or related degree such as a master’s in social work. Sometimes significant work experience can be substituted for a degree. Those who have already obtained a graduate degree can earn a certificate in social work administration at San Diego State to further hone leadership and management skills and be more competitive in the job market.

Social Media Director

While marketing may not be the first job that comes to mind when thinking of working in healthcare, it is increasingly important for clinics, hospitals, and care centers to manage their social media. As more and more patients and their families utilize Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, they can be leveraged as powerful tools. While some clinics hire this service out, many are not creating dedicated marketing roles such as social media directors.

Social media directors in healthcare utilize social media tools to communicate with patients, share information on new research, and engage the public. As directors, professionals in this field are responsible for charting the course for their company’s social media strategy including establishing policies for posting and determining how to handle complaints or disagreements. Creativity, quick decision making, flexibility, strong communication skills, and good organization are all critical to being successful in this role.

Job duties for social media directors include:

  • Write posts for social media channels
  • Manage advertising budget
  • Respond to posts on social media
  • Meet with senior-level staff
  • Develop the social media strategy
  • Craft and implement campaigns for events, awareness, or other activities to meet goals
  • Analyze data to measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns
  • Hire and oversee staff

While salary can vary widely depending on the size of the clinic and job duties required, advertising and marketing directors—including those in social media—earn an average of $132,620 per year according to the BLS. While many professionals in this role have earned at least a bachelor’s degree in advertising, marketing or a related field, a master’s is required for more senior roles. An MHA can give professionals the unique advantage of not only understanding how to leverage social media but also having a strong background in healthcare. Those wishing to enter this field should concentrate on taking courses in marketing, public relations, and advertising while pursuing their degree.

Pharmaceutical Project Manager

Many conditions and diseases can be treated with medicines, but there are many more that still do not have treatments. Pharmaceutical companies and scientists are researching these conditions in order to develop new drugs to help patients recover from an illness or manage chronic conditions. The development process of these new drugs is overseen by pharmaceutical project managers.

Pharmaceutical project managers’ roles are varied and require individuals who are flexible and creative. A background in clinical research helps significantly as does previous experience in healthcare settings. Strong leadership skills are a must as these project managers are tasked with managing a team of researchers and other staff. They also must be astute at managing budgets, timelines, and expectations as developing a new pharmaceutical product have many moving parts and targets.

The role of pharmaceutical project managers include:

  • Manage a team of engineers, researchers, and doctors to develop a new product
  • Specify project steps
  • Set measurable, incremental goals and measure outcome towards goals
  • Oversee clinical trials
  • Set and manage a budget
  • Hire staff as needed
  • Create status reports to communicate progress with senior staff

Working as a pharmaceutical project manager can be lucrative as they earn on average $91,017, according to PayScale (2020). Education requirements for this career vary but most professionals have earned at least an MHA or related degree. A certificate in project management, such as the one offered at California Southern University, can provide targeted education to make an applicant more competitive in the job application process.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) also offers certifications that, when obtained, demonstrate knowledge and expertise in the field.

Healthcare Brand Manager

Managing the perception of a brand in the market is a full time job that requires expertise and craft. Initially, brand managers position emerged in product companies, retail or marketing firms but as markets have grown and adapted, it has become critical for hospitals, clinics, and even physicians to hire brand managers. Good brand managers set companies apart by building customer devotion through images and key messaging. In healthcare, this is seen as patients and clients feeling confident that they will receive quality care if they chose a given facility, retention of patients, or trusting a practitioner to provide excellent service.

Healthcare brand managers are responsible for charting the course for the brand of a healthcare entity. They are creative, driven, and well versed in the newest brand strategies. As communication is essential to this role, professionals who hold these positions are adept at conveying difficult concepts in simple terms that are accessible to everyone.

Healthcare brand manager responsibilities and duties include:

  • Defining the brand
  • Develop and manage a brand strategy
  • Utilize the strategy to guide marketing efforts
  • Report to senior staff on trends utilizing data gathered from customer and the industry
  • Set strategic goals for the brand such as engagement, perception, or status
  • Coach staff, volunteers, and senior staff on how to communicate using the brand strategy
  • Work with designers, writers, and advertisers to craft collateral materials and ads that are on brand
  • Direct research to provide data for brand decision making

Depending on education and expertise brand managers can anticipate earning $70,600 per year, according to PayScale (2020). Healthcare employers are looking for professionals who have experience in marketing, clinic management, and strategy. Most professionals in this field have earned at least a master’s degree. An MHA, with courses in marketing and advertising, can be very valuable as it provides the necessary education with the necessary emphasis on healthcare.

Emerging Healthcare Administration Careers: 2019

Healthcare Data Scientist

Healthcare is poised to be one of the largest beneficiaries of the AI revolution, with applications in disease detection, drug discovery, and care delivery. It’s already being used to optimize facility workflow, image analysis, and clinical diagnostics. But that artificial intelligence requires some very keen data science in order to develop effective learning algorithms. And with billions of investment dollars flowing in, healthcare data scientists are already in high demand.

Using mathematics, programming, and visualization, healthcare data scientists mine raw data for trends, and then find applications for those trends, putting them to work in learning algorithms. Their roles are often client-facing, meaning that they must communicate with their customer on a consistent basis to define the pertinent questions they face, so to best design an applicable solution using a rigorous set of hypotheses. On a technical level, data scientists need to have comfortability with extracting raw data and manipulating it into actionable insights, often through a programming language such as Python or R. Analytic skills based in machine learning require a working knowledge of statistics, logistic regression, and neural networks.

Typical responsibilities for healthcare data scientists includes:

  • Extracting data from primary sources
  • Utilizing data visualization software to deduce trends
  • Communicating with colleagues and customers to determine pertinent issues
  • Writing and testing software in a variety of platforms
  • Applying statistical models and machine learning to draw scientific conclusions
  • Comparing and synthesizing multiple data sets to reach a peak accuracy

According to Indeed (2020), an employment data aggregator, the average salary for healthcare data scientists is just under $128,000 a year, based on a pool of nearly 7,000 survey respondents. The educational requirements for this position can be steep, though they do vary from employer to employer. While some positions may require only a bachelor’s degree, a master’s or PhD in data science is generally preferred, and specialized programs in health data science have already sprouted up, like the MS program at Harvard.

Prospective and current healthcare data scientists can look to the Healthcare Data and Analytics Association (HDAA) as a resource for collaboration and professional development,

Healthcare Information Administrator

Healthcare’s going increasingly digital, and healthcare facilities are facing a data tsunami. According to IDC (2019), a research firm, the amount of healthcare data in 2013 was 153 exabytes, and, at projected rates, it will grow to 2,314 exabytes by 2020. If all that data were to be stored on tablet computers and stacked vertically, it would be nearly 82,000 miles tall, and reach over a third of the way to the moon. While data scientists sift through that data and work it into actionable insights, healthcare information administrators are in charge of securing, managing, and optimizing the systems which collect and hold that data.

Healthcare information administrators can be parsed into several job titles. Their primary responsibilities will vary based upon the particular needs of the facility for which they work. Some administrators may specialize in the implementation of new IT and data collection infrastructures, while others may focus on management and operations of those infrastructures. Further sub-specialties exist within that split as well, with compliance, education, and revenue cycle all being areas of expertise for healthcare information administrators.

Some key responsibilities of healthcare information administrators include:

  • Analyzing health records for accuracy
  • Ensuring compliance with HIPAA regulations
  • Securing sensitive health data against privacy breaches
  • Creating a standard language for data interoperability
  • Improving data literacy among a medical facility’s staff and patients

The average salary for healthcare information administrators, according to Indeed (2020), is just under $70,000 a year, based on over 5,200 survey respondents. A bachelor’s degree, preferably in health information management, is the bare minimum for many employers, although there is a strong trend pushing for master’s level education, such as an MHA with an informatics focus.

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is the go-to professional resource for health information administrators, and their certifications are well recognized in the industry, often leading to a significant boost in salary.

Healthcare Policy Specialist

Even as President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) saw a sizeable increase in the number of newly insured Americans, debate has persisted over who exactly has been helped by what. The ambition of this massive healthcare legislation has come with an equally massive dose of complexity: some 10,000 pages of policy.

The introduction of the American Health Care Act (ACA), which repeals and replaces parts of the ACA, has only increased the complexity and confusion further. And while healthcare policy specialist is by no means a new career title, it has taken on new foci and renewed importance in the national landscape.

Healthcare policy specialists can work for government organizations, charities, think tanks, insurance companies, medical facilities, and elsewhere in the private sector. A great deal of specialization exists, and a healthcare policy specialist my focus in a specific area such as Medicaid, lobbying, education, or community outreach. Healthcare policy specialists will need a solid understanding of legislation as it applies to their area of specialty, along with sound research, analysis, and communication skills.

Typical responsibilities of a healthcare policy specialist may include:

  • Researching updates to existing healthcare policy
  • Analyzing impacts of new legislation upon a company or community
  • Advocating for policy adjustment at a state or federal level
  • Developing strategies for compliance with existing legislation
  • Conducting site visits to assess the operations of a healthcare facility
  • Collaborating with healthcare administrators to implement policy changes

According to PayScale (2019), an employment data aggregator, health policy analysts earn an average of just over $60,000 a year. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for some entry-level positions, but graduate-level education is increasingly preferred. An MHA with relevant specialization, an MPH, or even a law degree may be required for certain positions.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) houses a Center for Public Health Policy, where healthcare policy specialists can network, share resources, and collectively advocate for policy changes and implementation that better serve the wider population’s collective health.

On-Site Clinic Administrator

An increasing trend of concern for employee health has resulted in the rise of onsite clinics, where a wide variety of medical and wellness services are provided directly at a place of work.

In 2017, a third of large employers (those with 5,000 or more employees) offered general medicine worksite clinics, an increase of almost 10 percent from 2012. Customized to meet the needs of a very specific population, on-site clinics can range in scope of services, from acute care, to primary care, to general wellness services, and everything in between. But the need for healthcare administrators is doubly important in an on-site clinic, where one must stand up a medical facility within the walls of a non-medical environment.

On-site clinic administrators work in much the same capacity that off-site clinic administrators do, working to ensure the day-to-day operations of a healthcare facility. But on-site administrators are also working with a very specific population of working-age adults, and need to coordinate their care to match the needs of a particular parent corporation. Integrating health and wellness within the culture of the workplace is a top priority, and close coordination with the management of the business as a whole is a critical function of on-site clinic administrators.

Typical responsibilities for an on-site clinic administrators include:

  • Instituting a culture of health and wellness within the employee community
  • Designing and maintaining an on-site clinic’s budget
  • Managing the staffing and scheduling of clinical staff
  • Coordinating with company directors to procure and distribute clinical resources
  • Squaring a clinic’s care offerings with the parent company’s health plans
  • Optimizing wellness services for the employee population

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), the average salary or medical and health services managers was $98,350 per year. The bare minimum for entry level positions is a bachelor’s degree in a related field, but the trend for healthcare administrators is pushing for master’s level education, either through an MHA or an MBA with a healthcare focus.

Professional resources include the National Association of Worksite Health Centers (NAWHC), the Health Care Administrators Association (HCAA) and the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM), the latter of which offers certification in compliance and revenue cycle specialties. Additionally, the American Hospital Association (AHA) offers certification as a healthcare facility manager (CHFM).

Healthcare Consultant

Healthcare is one of the fastest changing industries in the world, but it’s also a disaggregated one, where a state-of-the-art hospital and a paper-based medical clinic may exist on the same street. And while healthcare administration is one of the more in-demand careers of the moment, many facilities are still looking to bring someone in part-time to help them manage the transition from the 20th to 21st century, enough so that healthcare consultancy is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Healthcare consultants shepherd medical facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies through transitions and updates to their practices. While their exact roles and responsibilities will vary based upon the client they are contracted with, it is largely up to a consultant to determine what a client needs, and thereby come up with what needs to be done to improve it. A consultant may specialize in a specific subcategory, such as IT or finance, but they will almost certainly work with a wide variety of clients in the course of their career.

Some typical responsibilities for a healthcare consultant may include:

  • Developing a needs assessment with the client
  • Streamlining a client’s management structure and staffing
  • Upgrading a client’s IT and data-sharing capabilities
  • Introducing cost-effective and efficient new business models
  • Adapting modern, industry-wide best practices in isolated settings
  • Educating staff and execs throughout the course of a transition period

According to PayScale (2019), healthcare consultants earn over $75,000 a year, on average. However, a report by George Washington University’s School of Public Health found the average base salary to be over $131,000 a year. There are many educational pathways to becoming a healthcare consultant, but most will have graduate-level education in the form of an MBA with a healthcare focus, and MHA, or an MPH. Work experience in related fields is at a premium for healthcare consultants, who are often primarily managing other managers in the course of their work.

Certain specialized certifications with particular hardware and software clients (such as Epic, a healthcare software service) may be at a premium, depending upon a consultant’s focus. The National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants (NSCHBC) is a professional organization that allows for networking, collaboration, and continuing education amongst healthcare consultants. It also offers pathways to professional certification.

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.

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