How to Become a Healthcare Administrator

The heart of the medical industry lies in the hands of the healthcare administrator. These professionals can be nursing home administrators and healthcare executives or managers, and they generally lead other healthcare personnel to run an effective medical facility or department while adhering to relevant laws and regulations. As the healthcare system is continually undergoing technological updates and reform, healthcare administrators must stay up to date with the latest advances in technology and any changes to state or federal policies.

Healthcare administrators may take on more generalist or specialist roles where they might manage the medical record-keeping practices of their facility or department. Other key responsibilities include recruiting and educating staff about updated policies and procedures. Healthcare executives also focus on quality control, analyze data for strategic planning, and may deal with legal claims and financial aspects of their facility.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022), the mean annual salary for medical and health services managers was $127,980. In fact, employment within this sector is expected to grow about 28 percent from 2021 to 2031 (BLS 2022), due to the aging baby-boomer population and a general demand for healthcare services as people continue to be active as they get older. This rate of employment growth is faster than the average for most occupations.

In order to begin the journey into healthcare administration, a bachelor’s degree in health sciences or a related field is common. Prospective healthcare executives may develop their work experience as administrative assistant or a related position within a medical office. In order to become a healthcare executive, employers are coming to prefer (and in some cases, require) a master of healthcare administration (MHA), or a related field that focuses on management, medical terminology, human resources, law and ethics, and health information systems.

Some universities also offer an executive master’s of healthcare administration, which usually requires one to have mid-senior level experience in clinical management before enrolling. Master’s programs generally take up to two years and may include an internship, residency, and/or a post-graduate fellowship.

There are also specializations within a master of healthcare administration program that one might pursue, such as health information technology, financial administration, operations management, policy and systems analysis and marketing, and quality of care and patient advocacy.

In addition to general healthcare administrators, it is common for nursing home administrators to have experience as registered nurses. While requirements may vary by state, generally, all or most states require Nursing Home Administrators and Assisted Living Administrators to be licensed. The American College of Health Care Administrators offers the CNHA (Nursing Home Administrator Certification) and CALA (Assisted Living Administrator Certification). The National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards provides licensing examinations based on one’s respective state.

Additionally, healthcare administrators can invest in their careers by applying for certifications from various organizations. These include:

Certifications may require education and experience, and essentially help healthcare executives stand out amongst other healthcare leaders and connect leaders to a prestigious network for ongoing support.

Read on to learn how to become a healthcare administrator, including step-by-step details on college admissions, general coursework, certifications, and licensing.

Healthcare Administration Careers

A healthcare administrator’s mission is to create a bridge between the healthcare system and healthcare providers to inspire change and action and help realize potential opportunities that can improve healthcare delivery and access for all. See below for a few outlined careers within healthcare administration.

  • Nursing Home Administrator/Assisted Living Administrator – Manage administrative and clinical matters within the nursing facility, and supervise personnel training, recruitment, medical supply stock, and financial resources
  • Clinic Administrator – Supervise hiring decisions, train staff, manage clinic schedule, facilitate meetings, implement medical policies, oversee billing department, and assist with the development of marketing campaigns
  • Insurance Underwriter – Review and analyze insurance applications and financial data, serving as the bridge between the insurance company and the healthcare system
  • Health Information Manager – Enhance the quality of care by managing secure data and organizing medical records, working with information technology (IT) assistants to research and develop programs that comply with federal regulations for securing electronic medical information

Steps to Becoming a Healthcare Administrator

While there are many ways to begin one’s journey toward becoming a healthcare administrator, here is an example of how to proceed:

Step 1: Graduate from high school (or complete the GED test) and earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree (two to four years).

Generally, to acquire an entry-level position in healthcare administration, a bachelor of science in health sciences with a concentration in healthcare administration (or a related field) is helpful and desired by most employers. Analytical skills are highly desirable since prospective healthcare administrators will want to demonstrate their keen eye for detail and the ability to translate policies and protocols while supervising and educating staff. Volunteering with a local medical clinic or nursing facility is also advised to get a glimpse of the future of a healthcare administrator.

The general requirements to apply for a bachelor’s degree are:

  • High school transcripts or GED
  • Statement of purpose
  • Application and fee
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • Letter(s) of recommendation

Aside from general education requirements, some general coursework may include:

  • Healthcare strategic management and policy
  • Healthcare delivery systems
  • Human resource management
  • Ethical and legal considerations of healthcare
  • Healthcare marketing
  • Quality improvement in healthcare
  • Healthcare computer systems and electronic records
  • Foundations for healthcare vocabularies

Step 2: Work professionally within healthcare administration and decide on a specialty (one to five years).

Successful potential healthcare administrators need to demonstrate their technical skills, such as the ability to use coding and medical terminology. Since healthcare managers are the leaders of a medical facility, interpersonal and leadership skills are essential for even entry-level healthcare administration positions. Once an entry-level position has been acquired, the opportunity to decide which department within the healthcare facility to specialize in may become more apparent.

Working with a medical group practice for one to five years can allow one to gain essential work experience and a commitment to taking up leadership at a medical facility. In addition, as a mid-level employee, one may acquire a healthcare executive position by eventually earning certification in healthcare administration and/or applying to a master of health administration program.

To apply for certification, one must work in healthcare administration for a minimum of one year and demonstrate completed education credits, leadership skills, and membership in healthcare administration associations.

(Note: Order of steps 3 & 4 may be interchangeable)

Step 3: Apply for certification or state-required license based on your concentration (one year or more).

By this stage, if one is planning a career in healthcare administration, investing to become a certified healthcare professional is encouraged, although not required. Certification is a promising alternative if one does not plan to attend graduate school. Since there are various credentials and licensing boards, below is a general timeline for earning a Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (cHAP) certification from the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHCAP).

To apply for certification from AHCAP, the following criteria must be met:

  • Pay the application and exam fee: $150 for AHCAP members
  • Demonstrate competence in the following categories:
    • Education – must hold at least a high school diploma or GED
    • Professional experience – 50 percent of job duties must be dedicated to administration
    • Elective activities – hold membership in another professional organization

For more information regarding certification requirements, check out the AHCAP Candidate Handbook.

Step 4: Complete a master of healthcare administration (MHA) program (two years).

Joining a master’s program can set one apart from others in the industry and can lead to top-tier executive positions. Both online and on-site universities offer MHA programs and may require the following from applicants:

  • Application and fee
  • GRE or GMAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement that clearly demonstrates one’s commitment to leading the healthcare industry
  • Successful applicants should have at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA
  • Resume or CV
  • Transcripts from former colleges/universities

Coursework may generally include:

  • Economics for policy, planning, and development
  • Quality of care
  • Problems and issues in the healthcare
  • Strategic management of healthcare organizations
  • Information technology management systems in healthcare
  • Urban health policy
  • Financing and reimbursement
  • Six Sigma quality resources for healthcare

Sample programs:

Ohio University

Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions offers an online master of health administration (MHA) program with multiple specialization options in healthcare leadership; project management; quality improvement; and business analytics. This program acts as a career booster for those who wish to gain the necessary skills to move into leadership roles within healthcare organizations. Program graduates will be well-equipped for opportunities in group physician practices, hospitals, mental health organizations, clinics, educational organizations, rehabilitation centers, and more.

Made up of 36 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to the U.S. healthcare delivery system; leadership of health organizations; health policy; evaluation and quality improvement in healthcare; healthcare finance; health law; ethical issues in healthcare; and strategic planning and marketing in health services.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree in any field from a regionally accredited institution; a GPA of 3.0, a personal statement; a current resume; and a $50 application fee. GRE or GMAT scores and prerequisite coursework are not required for admission.

  • Location: Athens, Ohio
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: Ohio resident ($658 per credit); non-resident ($677 per credit)

George Washington University

George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health offers an online master of health administration (MHA) program that is designed for professionals seeking to assume leadership positions in health-related environments, overseeing influential change in communities around the world, and improving healthcare delivery. As part of this program, students will participate in two 40-hour immersions and two 20-hour immersions for a total of nine credits which will be held virtually, on the GWU Washington, D.C., campus, and at various prestigious health organizations around the globe.

Broken into eight 10-week learning modules, this CAHME-accredited program can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis in as little as two years. Comprising 50 credits, the program includes courses such as healthcare management and strategy; medical informatics and decision management; healthcare financial management; community and population health; health economics and quantitative methods; quality and performance improvement; and law and policy.

For admission to the program, applicants require a bachelor’s degree, at least two years of full-time health sector experience, or three years of full-time experience in any industry, and be currently employed in the health sector. Application requirements include a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts from each academic institution attended, a current resume, and a $75 application fee. GRE scores are not required for admission.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to four years
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,835 per credit

Queens University of Charlotte

The online master of health administration (MHA) program at the Queen’s University of Charlotte has no residency requirement, no GRE/GMAT requirement, and does not require any application fee. The curriculum of this program adheres to the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) core competencies, offering courses that are an engaging mix of online learning and faculty-facilitated live sessions via video conferencing.

Preparing students to apply core business principles to the variable healthcare setting, this online program enables students to lead, structure, and manage successful healthcare ventures.

Applicants require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited U.S. college or university or an equivalent from an international college or university. Those who have a GPA of 3.0, must have two years of healthcare work experience, while those with a 2.5 GPA must have five years of healthcare work experience.

The program’s 36-credit curriculum includes courses in health services organization and delivery; organizational behavior in healthcare organizations; management and human resources of healthcare organizations; quality improvement for healthcare organizations; clinical issues in health services management; and healthcare economics and policy.

  • Location: Charlotte, NC
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $830 per credit

Step 5. Become a certified healthcare professional and/or renew certifications (timelines vary).

To remain up-to-date and compliant with the changing policies and care delivery, (re)certification in one’s specialty is recommended.

A Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (cHAP) certification from the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHCAP) must be renewed every three years. Recertification criteria include the demonstration of continuing education, leadership, and electives. The recertification fee is $100 for AHCAP members.

Review the AHCAP handbook for more recertification information.

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).