How to Become a Hospital Administrator - Requirements & Steps

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

Hospital administrators only sometimes get the glory, but they hold a valuable position within the medical setting. 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 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 provide patients top-notch medical care. They have many responsibilities and are often 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 train doctors, nurses, interns, and assistant administrators in administrative matters
  • 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 before 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 median pay for medical and healthcare services managers was $104,830, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023). Furthermore, the BLS projected a 28 percent increase in openings for these healthcare professionals between 2022 and 2032, which is more than nine times the expected average growth among all jobs nationwide over the same time (3 percent). CNN Money ranked the position of hospital administrator eighth among 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 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 a myriad of 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.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Hospital Administrator

Students can select several pathways and options 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 (four 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 high school-level courses in science, math, computer science, and statistics. Taking AP courses in these core areas is also helpful 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 (four years).

Students need an advanced degree to become hospital administrators; 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 (two years).

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

Arizona State University

Arizona State University’s online master’s program in international health management is offered in partnership with the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Through this PLuS Alliance, students will be exposed to international perspectives on health systems and complete online courses from UNSW and ASU. The program also allows students to specialize in one of the following four available specializations: hospital management, health informatics, health economics, or quality improvement in healthcare.

Made up of 30 credits, the program includes courses such as healthcare management and finance; comparative healthcare systems; fundamentals of health informatics; healthcare systems and design; health economics, policy, and payment models; high-value patient-centered care; population health; and process engineering for healthcare quality or safety.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a regionally accredited university or college in a related field, a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0, a graduate admission application, a personal statement, official transcripts, a current resume, and three letters of recommendation. Proof of English proficiency is required of students whose native language is not English.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as hospital administrators, clinic managers, global health finance officers, global health project managers, healthcare auditors, healthcare consultants, medical information officers, and process improvement professionals.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 to 24 months

Ohio University

Ohio University offers an online master of health administration (MHA), which requires a minimum of two years of full-time work experience. Combining practical learning with academic theory, this fully online MHA program helps students in enhancing their decision-making skills and also helps them broaden their impact as leaders in virtually any health industry setting.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in any field from a regionally accredited institution, an overall undergraduate GPA of 3.0, professional working experience, one letter of recommendation, English writing skills, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students.

Helping students to understand the business side of healthcare, this MHA program comprises 36 credits and includes instruction in healthcare finance; information systems for health services; leadership of health organizations; evaluation and quality improvement in healthcare; epidemiology in health administration; and ethical issues in healthcare, among others. In addition to the traditional MHA, students will also have the option to pursue a concentration in healthcare leadership; business analytics; quality improvement, or project management.

The program opens up opportunities for graduates in hospitals, clinics, group physician practices, mental health organizations, educational organizations, rehabilitation centers, and more. They can take up roles such as hospital administrators, clinical managers, health information managers, healthcare administrators, operations managers, and health services managers.

  • Location: Athens, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 to 24 months

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online MS in healthcare administration, providing students with the formal healthcare education necessary to advance their skills and complement their experience in this complex field.

This program’s curriculum comprises 36 credits, developed in alignment with the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) and Healthcare Leadership Alliance (HLA). Some of the topics students will explore include healthcare informatics, global health and diversity, biostatistics, healthcare quality and improvement, health policy and law, economic principles of healthcare, and strategic human resource management.

On successful completion of the program, graduates have the opportunity to work in a wide range of health services organizations, which include home health agencies, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, nursing homes, hospitals, physician group practices, state health departments, and consulting firms, to name a few.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 15 months

University of Scranton

Another option is to pursue a graduate certificate. The University of Scranton offers an executive certificate in healthcare administration. This five-course program teaches 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.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree or international equivalent from an accredited college or university, a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0, official transcripts from all previously attended institutions, a current resume, three years of professional or supervisory work experience, with a signed affidavit to verify work experience, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation.

The curriculum of this 15-credit program includes coursework in healthcare organization and administration; healthcare financial management; health services and systems; hospital administration; and long-term care administration.

The program opens up several opportunities for graduates. They can assume roles such as case managers, hospital administrators, healthcare executives, central services representatives, quality assurance leaders, and healthcare coordinators.

  • Location: Scranton, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 10 months

University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati offers a graduate certificate in healthcare administration, ideal for those who wish to seek a diverse skill set to enable them to lead the healthcare systems of tomorrow. This program combines instruction and coursework from the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and the College of Allied Health Sciences, offering students a dynamic curriculum.

Consisting of 12 credits, the program includes courses such as health systems management: organization & delivery; health policy: health policy & regulation; health quality: total quality management; health informatics, information systems and technology; and healthcare marketplace: health economics.

The major admission requirements for the program include a bachelor’s degree program from a regionally accredited institution, official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work, a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0, a current resume, a letter of intent, and TOEFL scores for international applicants.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as hospital administrators, chief executive officers, chief operations officers, facilities managers, group practice administrators, nurse managers, operations managers, and program managers.

Notably, the University also offers an online executive master of health administration (MHA) program that comprises 40 credits.

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months

University of Southern California

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). This program is not 100 percent online, with an on-campus residency required over two, four-day sessions. Students can graduate in two years or more. USC’s Price School was ranked eighth in health policy and management by the U.S. News & World Report.

To qualify, students must have five years of experience at the mid to senior level. Consisting of 36 credits, the curriculum explores courses such as leading people and healthcare organizations; healthcare economics, financing, and reimbursement; health information systems; quality of care concepts; operations management accountability; managing the organization’s financial health; managing risk; managing and improving health; and operational efficiency processes in health care organizations.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC); Commission of Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

Step 4: Pursue credentialing (timeline varies).

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

  • National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards
  • American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
  • American Association of Healthcare Administration Management (AAHAM)
  • Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)
  • American Hospital Association (AHA)
  • Professionals Association of HealthCare Office Management (PAHCOM)

Hospital Administrator Certifications & Licensure

It is optional for hospital administrators to gain certification. However, certification demonstrates a high level of competency in the field to current or potential employers. Certification will help professionals get hired, earn higher wages, and have more advancement opportunities.

Hospital administrators currently have no state licensing requirements, although it is important to note that long-term care facility managers must be licensed in all fifty states. Aspiring hospital administrators should consult with local licensing boards in their state to ensure they have the required qualifications.

There are several specialized healthcare administration certifications in fields such as compliance, quality assurance, IT, finance, and more. Examples of some certifications include:

The Certified Professional Compliance Officer (CPCO) credential offered by the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC) is a 4-hour 100-question exam covering topics such as healthcare compliance program history; physicians and small group practices; third-party billing companies and clinical laboratories, fraud and abuse laws, and investigations processes or audits.

Applicants for this certification must be current members of the AAPC and have at least two years of experience working with compliance programs. The purchase of this exam includes two exam attempts for $499.

The FACHE (Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives) credential offered by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) is ideal for recognized leaders in the healthcare field. This 6-hour, 230-question exam is designed to test the healthcare management knowledge of students and their ability to apply it to real-world scenarios.

To be eligible, candidates need to be current members of the ACHE, have a master’s or another post-baccalaureate degree, hold an executive healthcare management position, have a minimum of five years of healthcare management experience, obtain two references, complete four volunteer activities, and have a minimum of 36 continuing education hours within the three years. The application fee is $250, and the exam fee is $225.

The Certified Medical Manager (CMM) credential offered by PAHCOM is a designation for professionals in healthcare management roles. This three-hour, 200-question exam covers topics such as revenue management; human resources; risk management; contract management; finance; technology and data management; business management; patient clinical education and practice marketing; and clinical performance reporting.

To be eligible, applicants must have two years of healthcare experience in either medical practice or a clinical environment and complete 12 college credits relevant to business or healthcare. Exam fees are $385 for PAHCOM members and $770 for non-members. This certification requires recertification every two years by completing 24 hours of continuing education.

The Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) credential is ideal for administrators wanting to demonstrate competence with management systems and healthcare information. This two-hour, 115-question exam covers areas such as healthcare and technology environments, clinical informatics, healthcare information and systems management, and management and leadership.

To be eligible, applicants must fulfill one of the following requirements: hold a bachelor’s degree along with five years of information management experience, three of which must be in a healthcare setting; hold a graduate degree along with three years of information management experience, two of which must be in a healthcare setting; have a minimum of ten years of information and management systems experience, with eight of those years in a healthcare setting.

Exam fees are $499 for HIMSS student members and $659 for non-members. Credential holders must recertify every three years by completing 45 hours of continuing education or retaking the exam.

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 allows 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 healthcare consultants.

Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHCAP)

AHCAP is designed for healthcare professionals who are committed to 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 48,000 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 76 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 nearly 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.

Farheen Gani
Farheen Gani

Farheen Gani has written many how-to career, online program, and scholarship guides related to master of healthcare administration degrees since 2018. Some guides she has written include online healthcare management programs, master's in regulatory science programs, and health administration scholarships. She writes about healthcare, technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).