How to Become a Hospital Administrator

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Doctors and nurses deserve high praise for their role in healthcare. However, there are other professionals working very hard behind the scenes to ensure a smooth-running, efficient facility.

Hospital administrators do not always get the glory, but they hold a valuable position within the medical setting. In fact, they are the top executives in a hospital whose job is to ensure seamless daily operations, develop a strategic plan for the future, and improve services to both patients and employees.

A hospital administrator is one who, quite simply, manages hospitals. They may also manage outpatient clinics, hospice centers, nursing homes, and drug abuse treatment centers. They oversee daily operations within all departments. Their job is to ensure efficient operations and to provide top-notch medical care to patients. They have many responsibilities, often times assisted by medical and support staff. According to the Princeton Review, they:

  • Act as mediators between governing boards, medical staff, and department heads
  • Integrate department activities for overall seamless function
  • Follow policies created by a governing board of trustees
  • Plan, organize and control medical and health services
  • Recruit, hire, and possibly train doctors, nurses, interns, and assistant administrators
  • Plan budgets and determine rates for health services
  • Develop programs and services for scientific research (within research and teaching hospitals)
  • Coordinate departmental activities
  • Provide evaluations of doctors, nurses and other hospital employees
  • Create policies and procedures for medical treatments
  • Ensure quality assurance
  • Handle public relations activities
  • Attend staff meetings
  • Attend fundraisers and conventions

Hospital administrators typically have a master’s degree in health services administration or a related field. Those with a BA degree often work in a healthcare center prior to beginning a master’s program. Hospital administrators may begin their careers as administrative assistants, taking on more and more responsibilities as they move up the ranks to positions such as associate administrator or CEO.

The 2017 median pay for medical and healthcare services managers was $98,350, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furthermore, the BLS projected a 20 percent increase in openings for these healthcare professionals between 2016 and 2026, nearly triple the expected average growth among all jobs nationwide over the same time (7 percent). CNN Money ranked the position of hospital administrator eighth for the best jobs in America, with high quality of life ratings.

And, with an ever-growing senior population, hospital administrators will be in more demand than ever. They may work in large hospitals and medical centers, within specialized centers providing care for the elderly, or within hospice programs for terminally ill patients.

Hospital administrators don’t always work 9 to 5. Their long and irregular work hours are not surprising given the 24/7 operation of a hospital. Administrators could be called in at any hour to deal with any manner of issues. With such a demanding job, hospital administrators also have to stay on top of recent advances in medicine, diagnostic equipment, data-processing technology, governmental regulations, changes in health insurance, and the myriad financing options for patients.

In short, the hospital administrator has his or her finger on the pulse of a healthcare institution ensuring it stays healthy and thriving.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Hospital Administrator

There are several pathways and options students can select to reach a career in hospital management, typically finding jobs within hospitals and medical centers. Here are the main steps to becoming a hospital administrator.

Step 1: Graduate from high school (4 years).

Students who expect to pursue a career in hospital administration in college must complete four years of high school and receive a diploma. High school forms a strong foundation for college. Preparation for a career in hospital administration can and should start with courses at the high school level in science, math, computer science, and statistics. It’s also helpful to take AP courses in these core areas if offered.

Future hospital administrators must also have excellent written and oral communication skills, so classes in English, writing, history, literature, and social sciences are needed. Because healthcare administrators must be familiar with the personnel and business aspects of the facility in which they work, they are advised to take courses in business administration, if available.

Finally, electives in a foreign language, physical education, and personal wellness are also recommended to set a person up for success at this early stage.

Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, business, or a clinical discipline (4 years).

Students need an advanced degree in order to become a hospital administrator; however, they must obtain an undergraduate degree. It doesn’t necessarily have to be healthcare-related; one could have a strong background in business, for example.

Step 3: Get a master of healthcare administration (MHA) or a related graduate degree (2 years).

Students may benefit from pursuing a master of healthcare administration or a healthcare MBA in order to become a hospital administrator. Fortunately, there are several online programs available, including options which do not require work experience.

Benedictine University, for example, offers an MBA in health administration with the option to graduate in two years. Students learn skills that address real-world issues, with dual degree options available such as an MBA/MS in management and organizational behavior. Students must choose three out of four course options, including instruction in:

  • Public health systems
  • Environmental health
  • Marketing of public health
  • The business of healthcare

Ohio University offers an online master of health administration (MHA), which requires a minimum of two years of full-time work experience. Courses include research and quantitative methods for health services, health law, and ethical issues in healthcare. Students complete 12 three-credit courses that each last seven weeks.

St. Joseph’s University offers an MS in health administration (organizational development and leadership). Students learn about group dynamics, team leadership and systems thinking, as well as how to manage organizational changes in the workplace.

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online MS in healthcare administration. Students can graduate in as 15 months (or more) with two courses per term as the program is designed for entry-level to mid-level healthcare managers. Courses include biostatistics, healthcare quality and improvement, and strategic human resource management. This school features some of the lowest tuition rates in the country.

Another option is to pursue a graduate certificate. For example, the University of Scranton offers an executive certificate in healthcare administration. This is a five-course program teaching core skills that support an executive approach to the healthcare industry. All courses come from the school’s CAHME-accredited master’s in health administration. Students can complete the certificate in health administration in just ten months. They can also apply these earned credits toward a full MHA degree.

The University of Cincinnati offers a graduate certificate in healthcare administration that can be completed in 18 months. The tuition is reasonable for both in-state and out-of-state students. The program combines finance, managerial and economic courses in healthcare, with courses such as health systems administration and health economics.

Finally, for experienced professionals, there are executive-level programs available. For example, the University of Southern California (USC) offers an executive master of health administration (MHA). In order to qualify, students must have five years of experience at the mid to senior level. This program is not 100 percent online, with an on-campus residency required over two, five-day sessions. Students can graduate in two years or more. Notably, USC’s Price School was ranked fourth in health policy and management by U.S. News & World Report. Courses build leadership skills in a changing healthcare environment with focused instruction in healthcare economics, management and leadership, health IT, and quality of care.

Step 4: Pursue credentialing (timeline varies).

While hospital administrators may not require credentialing, other subfields of healthcare administration (e.g., nursing home administrators) do require state credentialing. To learn more about credentialing from specific entities, check out links to certification and licensure information below:

Helpful Resources for Aspiring Hospital Administrators

As a final note, the following listing of professional organizations is designed to help students and professionals as they pursue a career in healthcare administration.

American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM)

AAHAM is a professional organization in healthcare administrative management offering valuable resources for information, education and advocacy in the following areas:

  • Reimbursement
  • Admissions
  • Registration
  • Data management
  • Medical records
  • Patient relations

Representing the interests of healthcare administrative management professionals, AAHAM puts its members in touch with publications, conferences, seminars, benchmarking, professional certification, and networking.

Health Care Administrators Association (HCAA)

HCAA offers valuable connections for its members through networking and events. This group makes it possible for healthcare administrators to stay on top of the latest industry and business issues, and caters to anyone from hospital administrators and medical managers to pharmacy benefit managers and health care consultants.

Association for Health Care Administrative Professionals (AHCAP)

AHCAP is designed for healthcare professionals who are committed to those supporting the country’s top healthcare leaders. It provides leadership opportunities through work on committees and groups, with an annual professional development conference that is the only one of its kind to benefit healthcare administrative professionals.

American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)

ACHE is an international professional society of 40,000 healthcare executives who are leaders of hospitals, healthcare systems and other organizations. It offers FACHE® credentialing, which signifies that members are board-certified in healthcare management. It has 78 chapters in its network, giving members access to education, networking and career development on local levels.

American Hospital Association (AHA)

AHA is a national organization representing and serving a variety of hospitals and healthcare networks, as well as their patients and communities. The AHA comprises 5,000 hospitals, healthcare systems, networks, care providers, and 43,000 members. It was established in 1898 to provide education and resources for healthcare leaders.

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