What Does a Hospital Administrator Do?

Hospital administrators oversee the organizational side of health services. Either working in a team or independently, they make sure a medical facility is employing effective and efficient practices that deliver the best care possible. What a doctor is to a patient, a hospital administrator is to a medical facility. And keeping a large organization healthy requires a robust and multidimensional skillset.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2021), there were 429,800 people working as medical and health service managers across the country in May 2020. More than a third of those people work in hospitals as administrators and managers (33 percent). The U.S. News & World Report ranked the position of medical and health services manager at #1 among the ‘Best Business Jobs’, #4 among the ‘100 Best Jobs’, and #4 among the ‘Best STEM Jobs.’ Average wages (annual mean wage), according to the BLS (Sept. 2023), for professionals in this field are $104,830 per year.

On a concrete level, a bachelor’s degree in a related field is the bare minimum of education required to be a hospital administrator. However, most hospital administrators have master’s degrees (often MHAs or MBAs) that provide both the advanced technical knowledge and the leadership skills necessary to run a large, multi-faceted, health organization.

Hospital administrators need to be competent in analysis, communication, and maintaining collaborative relationships. And those competencies have to be grounded in a strong technical understanding and a detail-oriented approach that can effectively handle the industry’s nuances. Often, years of work experience are required in order to move into such a senior role.

In effect, hospital administrators save lives, but they do so in complex and varied ways. Read on to learn more about what this job entails, how it can look, and where it occurs.

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Hospital Administrator Job Overview

Healthcare is a complex and rapidly changing industry, and its administration can be complicated with all of the industry’s moving parts. An administrator will need to coordinate with the people their facility employs, as well as the people it serves. Policy compliance, HR, finances, work processes, departmental strategy, and even data management are just some of the operations a hospital administrator oversees.

The responsibilities of a healthcare administrator reach beyond the walls of the facility, too. Administrators may foster partnerships with the wider population and work with both the public and private sectors on matters of policy, research, and cooperation. They may also collaborate with other administrators to share best practices and data to better serve patients, wherever they are.

At the core of all of the duties of a hospital administrator, is a keen ability to listen to constituents, shareholders, board members, patients, and community members in order to determine changes for such a large organization. Communication skills are also essential as hospital administrators must be able to convey ideas clearly to keep a hospital running smoothly.

Because hospitals are open 24/7, hospital administrators can be called on at all hours to resolve disputes or address a crisis. They must be calm under pressure and long work hours as this job can be very demanding.

Lastly, it is imperative that hospital administrators be perpetual learners and remain curious and open. Medicine is a constantly evolving field and there are frequent updates to care procedures of best practices. It is the responsibility of hospital administrators to stay abreast of these changes and adjust policies as necessary.

Hospital Administrator Specializations

Hospital administrators are often expected to do it all, but there’s also the opportunity to specialize in an area that requires a more singular focus. Here are four popular specializations for hospital administrators:

  • Health Informatics It’s the age of Big Data, and healthcare has become heavily digitized. With the use of electronic medical records well established, a healthcare facility is now exposed to all the responsibilities that go with it—properly storing, securing, and utilizing patient and provider information. Informatics specialists will have a strong understanding of IT and data analytics, as well as the communication and business skills necessary to translate them into realized outcomes in medical and organizational contexts.
  • Patient Advocacy – The people who need the most help are often the ones without a voice. Hospital administrators may specialize in advocacy, either for individual patients within a facility or for populations and communities at large. As a patient advocate, a hospital administrator will be well-versed in payment options, insurance matters, and government regulations.
  • Law and Public Policy Politicians aren’t necessarily healthcare experts, but hospital administrators with training in healthcare policy are. While most hospital administrators are responsible for maintaining compliance with regulations within their facility, policy-oriented hospital administrators can lobby to influence governmental policy. By educating communities, organizations, and lawmakers, they can use their subject matter expertise and hands-on experience to change the landscape of healthcare from the top down. In addition to having an in-depth understanding of public policy, many hospital administrators hold law degrees.
  • Finance – The economics of hospitals can fall under the purview of hospital administrators who specialized in finance. Additional training may be required, such as a master’s degree in finance or accounting. Hospital administrators in this specialization may be responsible for budgets, purchasing, healthcare service costs, and even forecasting. Depending on the hospital, professionals in this role can be responsible for investor relations or even securing capital for improvements.

Common Employers of Hospital Administrators

As the title of this job may indicate, hospital administrators, are employed primarily by hospitals. These may be sizeable multistate hospital systems or can be small community hospitals in rural areas. Hospitals can be for-profit or non-profit and are run very differently based on the source of their funding. Many non-profit hospitals hold a religious affiliation which can add a layer of complexity to the management of the facility.

However, Hospital administrators do not necessarily work in hospitals. They can also work in private practice, clinical departments, managed care facilities, and public health agencies. Larger organizations often employ more than one hospital administrator. However, in a sense, all hospital administrators have the same employer: the patient. No matter the setting, title, or specialization, a hospital administrator’s main responsibility is the efficient and compassionate optimization of health services.

Day-to-Day Tasks of Hospital Administrators

A hospital administrator’s day to day tasks will vary based on setting and specialization, but some examples include:

  • Designing budgets and establishing rates for health services
  • Managing the hiring, training, and evaluation of human resources
  • Procuring funding through fundraising and community partnerships
  • Serving as a liaison between the facility staff, governance, and patients
  • Overseeing the collection, securitization, and utilization of both patient and facility data
  • Architecting short, medium, and long term organizational strategy
  • Ensuring compliance with governmental policies and insurance reimbursement
  • Developing new policies and procedures to better serve the patient population
  • Streamlining both financial and operational practices

Hospital Administrator Work Environments

For most hospital administrators, the basic work environment is an office at a medical facility, which can be seen as the headquarters for wider operations, but this isn’t a profession buried in numbers and theory. It’s a profession based on people. And while keen leadership and organizational skills are necessary for any hospital administrator, the human element is critical.

Face-to-face interaction combined with on-the-ground experience is usually a prerequisite for effective coordination between a facility’s many moving parts. An administrator at a hospital might walk the halls, talking to doctors and patients and getting a sense of what’s happening at the other end of administrative decisions. In the role of policy advisor or advocate, one may pound the pavement—drumming up funding and community support, attending and presenting at conferences and symposiums, or meeting with other administrators to find opportunities for collaboration.

Regardless of the work environment, the lights will be metaphorically kept on long through the night, as healthcare is a round-the-clock business. Hospital administrators may work long and odd hours, way beyond a traditional “work week” and at times when others are off such as nights, weekends, and holidays.

Even when they’re not working, hospital administrators are often on call, but the reward for this rigorous schedule is making a difference in the lives of others by taking care of the most vulnerable among us.

Hospital Administrator Salary and Job Prospects

Wages for hospital administrators vary widely. Professionals working in large city-based hospitals tend to earn significantly more than administrators who work for smaller or rural hospitals.

According to Payscale (2023), hospital administrators earn $91,483 per year on average, although they can earn as little as $56,000 on the low end and upwards of $166,000 on the high end. Bonuses can be as high as $30,000 per year, and profit-sharing can reach $15,000.

Location can affect wages significantly as well. For example, Payscale shows that hospital administrators in Houston typically earn 23 percent more than the average wage. Pay also typically increases the more years of work experience a candidate possesses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023) classified hospital administrators as medical and health services managers. There will be an estimated 28 percent increase in jobs in this field between 2023 and 2033, which translates into over 144,700 new positions nationally in the next decade. This increase is primarily due to an increased demand for healthcare because of the aging baby boomers.

Finally, the BLS (May 2022) found that the 476,750 medical and health services managers around the country earned an average annual salary of $127,980. The percentile wages were:

Hospital Administrators (United States)
Number of Professionals Employed 476,750
Annual Mean Wage $127,980
10th percentile $64,100
25th percentile $81,430
50th percentile $104,830
75th percentile $143,200
90th percentile $209,990
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).

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