What Can You Do with a Health Services Management Degree?

Healthcare spending costs more than $4 trillion a year in the United States and accounts for almost 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). So while doctors need to see patients, someone needs to steer the finances, personnel, policies, and increasingly complex day-to-day operations of the facilities in which they work. And that’s part of the reason why the need for health services managers is forecast to grow almost four times faster than the average for all jobs in the U.S.

Health services management has a lot of overlap with healthcare administration, dealing with the non-medical operations of a healthcare facility. Therefore, core undergraduate coursework focuses on providing a solid foundation of business and healthcare knowledge.

Typical classes include healthcare financing, human resources, healthcare policy, communications, healthcare informatics, long-term care, and introductory pharmacology. Further topics include subjects like medical technology and health systems delivery. Most programs can be completed within four years, and a bachelor’s in health services management is often enough to start working in the industry.

Graduate-level education is becoming an increasingly popular choice for those with degrees in health services management. While many entry-level jobs in the industry only require a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in healthcare administration, public policy, or even business administration with a healthcare focus can provide the specialized skill set necessary to tackle the more complex and higher responsibility positions in the sector. In addition to learning about management, accounting, and personnel, students of graduate-level programs can go in-depth on healthcare informatics, gerontology, public policy, or compliance issues that are increasingly integrated with high-level health services management positions.

Health services management is an in-demand sector, and an undergraduate degree can open the doors to a variety of lucrative and fulfilling job opportunities. But the doors that open will depend on who you want to serve and how.

Read on to learn about 13 careers you can pursue with a degree in health services management.

Become an Assisted Living Administrator

Similar to administrators of hospitals and private clinics, assisted living administrators are in charge of the day-to-day operations of their facility. This includes managing personnel, finances, compliance, and patient services. And just like nursing home administrators, they deal primarily with an older population, where knowledge around gerontology and end-of-life care can play a part.

In addition, assisted living facilities are often living facilities first and medical facilities second. As such, their administrators need to be shrewd managers of the community setting, seeking ways to empower residents and make their lives simpler. This requires a regular and ongoing dialogue with community members and constant advocacy for their needs.

A bachelor’s degree in health services management is typically sufficient to begin in this career, but the trend toward graduate-level education is increasing. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but a separate, professional certification as a Certified Assisted Living Administrator (CALA) is available through the American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA).

Become a Clinical Manager

Clinical managers are responsible for the business side of clinical practice. They make staffing and scheduling decisions, design and monitor a budget, and develop and implement new practice-wide policies and directives. Whether the practice is part of a larger medical group or not, clinical managers often need to interface with social services, regulatory agencies, and the community at large.

Small practices may only require their clinical managers to have a bachelor’s degree, but graduate-level education is increasingly in demand. Professional certification is available as a Certified Medical Practice Executive (CMPE) through the American College of Medical Practice Executives (ACMPE) or in certified medical management (CMM) through the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM).

Become a Health Information Manager

Enormous amounts of data flow through healthcare facilities, and health information managers are primarily responsible for overseeing the proper collection, securitization, and application of that data. In addition, they manage the implementation of new health information systems, develop and maintain a facility’s policy for the storage and safekeeping of the data, or train staff on data-related processes.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree, health information managers usually have some background in information technology. As a result, the professional certification for this role is increasingly in demand, and six different certificates are available for health information managers through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).

Become a Healthcare Compliance Manager

A healthcare compliance manager works on behalf of a healthcare facility to meet the contractual and legal expectations of many funding sources and regulatory agencies. They do this through monitoring updates to healthcare policies, laws, contracts, and regulations—and then implementing those updates into the healthcare facility through staff training sessions and process adjustments. Regular audits must also be performed to ensure compliance is maintained.

In addition to a bachelor’s or master’s degree in health services management, prospective healthcare compliance managers may pursue non-degree certificate programs, such as the one at Drexel University, which focuses specifically on the legal aspects of healthcare compliance. As more employers demand it, healthcare compliance managers seek professional certification. Five separate compliance certification programs are available through the Compliance Certification Board (CCB), a partner of the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA).

Become a Healthcare Consultant

Healthcare consultants can be seen as freelancing healthcare administrators. Often working on short-term contracts or on a part-time basis, they move from facility to facility, analyzing workflows and processes to propose ways of improving efficiencies to the more permanent administrative leaders. For example, healthcare consultants may conduct interviews, analyze data, run simulations, solicit new IT vendors, or guide a facility through an organizational transition or tech implementation processes.

A consultant’s specific purview will vary from facility to facility and contract to contract, but having a broad knowledge of the industry and landscape and sharp communications skills is a must. Many consultants pair their bachelor’s degree with a graduate degree with a business or healthcare management focus. Professional certification as a healthcare business consultant (CHBC) is available through the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants (NSCHBC).

Become a Healthcare Financial Manager

Healthcare financial managers are in charge of the financial operations for a healthcare facility. This can include financial reporting and analysis, budgeting and compensation evaluation, directing investment activities and cash management strategies, and upholding compliance related to funding and taxation.

In addition to a bachelor’s or graduate-level degree, healthcare financial managers need a strong background or specialization in finance and accounting. More extensive healthcare facilities may ask that their financial managers be licensed as certified public accountants (CPA).

The American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM) offers healthcare-focused professional certifications relating to revenue cycle, revenue integrity, and compliance. At the same time, the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) has healthcare-specific professional certifications similarly for revenue cycle representatives and healthcare financial professionals.

Become a Healthcare Management Researcher

Researchers in healthcare management push the field forward through advanced theory, empirical study, and publication in professional and academic journals. Researchers can work for think tanks, government agencies, universities, or consultancies.

However, this is not necessarily a full-time or permanent position, and many researchers will also work in academia as professors or deans of healthcare-related programs. Healthcare management research tackles the biggest questions in healthcare, and the results can shape school curricula, credentialing requirements, corporate and governmental policies, and even population health.

Advanced doctoral programs in health services management and policy, like the one at Ohio State University, prepare students for positions as researchers and academics by focusing on a multifaceted approach that imparts expert-level knowledge across a vast array of disciplines.

Become a Hospital Administrator

Hospital administrators are at the top of the food chain for those with degrees in health services management. As head of a hospital’s daily and overall operations, they oversee personnel, finances, technology, compliance, and policy. They are also the face of the hospital, collaborating with the board, investors, patients, and the broader community. What separates hospital administrators from other facility managers is the sheer difference in the scale of operations—hospitals employ and treat thousands of people. As such, the role of a hospital administrator can be seen almost as a mayor, in practice.

Although a bachelor’s degree is the bare minimum for this position, it is unlikely to be enough to interest hospitals outside of remote and rural locations. Hospitals are flagship medical facilities, and those who lead them have advanced degrees, significant experience, and a vast professional network upon which to draw. Credentialing options are narrow, but hospital administrators can become board-certified as fellows of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE).

Become a Health Insurance Underwriter

Health insurance underwriters make final decisions on health insurance coverage. They work between insurance companies and agents to provide healthcare coverage for customers and providers. They use computer software to measure risk and determine premiums. A bachelor’s degree in business or a related field is required.

The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) offers the Registered Employee Benefits Consultant (REBC) designation for health insurance underwriters. This certification focuses on providing health insurance benefits to employers. It covers topics related to ever-changing regulations related to the Affordable Health Care Act, marketing, underwriting, plan design, and alternative funding methods. To shed more light on this career, MHAOnline provides a Day in the Life of a Health Insurance Underwriter.

Become a Health Information Systems Manager

Health information managers oversee information technology systems in a hospital or clinical system in a healthcare environment. Also called Health IT Managers, specialists in this career field are tasked with managing IT professionals in charge of designing, securing, and coordinating an organization’s computer systems, including patient portal databases, email, and employee management services. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree, although some employers seek candidates with an MBA, a master of science in health information management (MSHI), or an MBA/MSHI dual degree.

Several certifications are available for health information systems managers depending on position requirements and specialty knowledge areas. The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) is the gold standard in healthcare IT certification. In addition to its RHIT and RHIA credentials, AHIMA offers the Certified Health Data Analyst (CHDA) designation to professionals wanting to demonstrate knowledge in data acquisition, analysis, management, interpretation and reporting, and governance.

Become a Hospital Human Resources Manager

Because careers in healthcare are skyrocketing in numbers, hospital human resources managers are needed to hire the most qualified professionals. Human resources managers in healthcare are tasked with recruiting, onboarding, training, and supporting teams of HR employees that are searching for the most talented employees to meet the clinical and administrative needs of a hospital or clinic.

Most positions require a bachelor’s degree in human resources, business, communications, or psychology. Some positions may require an MBA or a master’s degree in human resources or a related field.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) provides a Human Resources Management Certificate program. This seven-hour program covers three modules, provides a learning experience, and awards the Human Resources Management Certificate (HRMC) credential. Members of the American College of Medical Practice Executives (ACMPE) and American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) can also invest in this program and earn continuing education credit covering staffing needs and strategic plans for staff training and retention, and company policies and procedures.

Please see MHAOnline’s Healthcare HR Week 2021: An Expert Interview & Advocacy Guide for an expert’s perspective on this career.

Become a Nursing Home Administrator

Nursing home administrators take medical facility management to a more personal level, as nursing homes are as many living communities as healthcare dispensaries. In addition to managing a facility’s finances, personnel, compliance, and processes, nursing home administrators advocate for residents and function as liaisons between patients, families, and staff. This requires communication and management skills and a wealth of compassion and sensitivity to gerontology and end-of-life care.

A bachelor’s degree in health services management may satisfy smaller nursing home facilities’ employers, but as the scale increases, so can the educational requirements. In addition, nursing home administrators need to be licensed within their state through the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards (NAB). Still, they may pursue additional professional certification through the American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA) as a certified nursing home administrator (CNHA).

Become a Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers deal with health issues that exist outside of hospitals and care facilities. For example, through nonprofit and government organizations, they may work with at-risk populations within a community, such as people who are HIV-positive, recovering from substance abuse, or suffering from debilitating chronic illnesses. Or they may lead proactive missions that promote rural nutrition, safe sex, or even nationwide initiatives in the fight against cancer.

This role requires empathy and strong communication skills, as social and community service managers need to be able to secure funding, stakeholder buy-in, and community trust.

A bachelor’s degree in health services management may be more than sufficient to run some small-scale initiatives. However, larger programs may demand graduate-level education in public health or policy. Social and community service managers do not need to be certified or licensed to practice.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging issues in healthcare administration and public health, with a particular focus on progressive policies that empower communities and reduce health disparities. His work centers around detailed interviews with researchers, professors, and practitioners, as well as with subject matter experts from professional associations such as the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) and the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHCA).