How to Become a Healthcare Administrator

Healthcare is growing at a faster rate than most industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that healthcare employment will grow 14% from 2018 to 2028, creating about 1.9 million new jobs. A portion of these new jobs will be healthcare administration roles.

What Is a Healthcare Administrator?

A healthcare administrator is involved with the daily operations of a medical facility, particularly staffing, efficiency and finance. If you pursue this career path, you could work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient clinics. The BLS categorizes healthcare administrators under “Medical and Health Services Managers,” with a median salary of $100,980 for May 2019.

The role of a healthcare administrator is challenging but rewarding. The BLS expects the medical and health services managers field to grow 18% from 2018 to 2028. That means there will be plenty of opportunities for candidates who have the right educational background and clinical experience.

What Does a Healthcare Administrator Do?

Healthcare administrators keep medical facilities running smoothly by managing the day-to-day operations and planning future improvements. Depending on your role, job description can vary but may include:

  • Coordinating staff schedules
  • Overseeing hiring and salaries
  • Improving efficiency
  • Managing finances and budget
  • Maintaining health records
  • Addressing the needs of doctors, nurses and other staff members
  • Ensuring the facility is following healthcare laws and regulations

Not all of these duties will apply to every position. For example, those working in the government usually focus on health policy and won’t have a lot of these administrative duties. You may also move into a higher position at a facility and take on greater responsibilities, like shaping programming for the entire organization.

A master’s in healthcare administration (MHA) degree may lead to a variety of roles, such as chief executive officer (CEO), department director or operations manager. You can choose to focus on a particular area through coursework, internships, clinical experience and certifications. Think of an MHA as the starting point for your career goals; you have the freedom to shape your path.

Essential Skills for Healthcare Administrators

Healthcare administrators must complete a wide variety of tasks. They need to be detail-oriented yet also look at the bigger picture. Here are the essential healthcare administration skills you need to succeed at this role:

  • Knowledge of healthcare laws and regulations
  • Leadership skills
  • Technological proficiency
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Communication skills
  • Adaptability
  • Business expertise

5 Steps to Become a Healthcare Administrator

These steps may help individuals create a new career path and become a healthcare administrator.

Step 1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in a Required Field

First, earn a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration or a related field, such as public health, business or a clinical discipline. Your undergraduate coursework should include a mix of healthcare and business courses to prepare you for your job duties.

Step 2. Gain Work Experience in Healthcare Administration

Before pursuing a higher level of education, it is beneficial to gain real-world experience. Some MHA programs, either on-campus or online MHA programs, may require up to three years of work experience. Other programs may prefer applicants who are currently working in the field.

Not all master’s programs require work experience, but having some will help you stand out in a competitive program. You could complete an internship, apply for an entry-level job or work part time while completing your bachelor’s degree.

While direct healthcare administration experience is ideal, you may also get applicable experience in a different but related role. For instance, you might work for a hospital’s human resources department or coordinate billing at a physician’s office.

Step 3. Consider an MHA Program

For many candidates, the next step is to earn a master of health administration (MHA). Most higher-level positions require a graduate degree, so earning your MHA is vital for career advancement. 

When selecting a program, look for a certification from the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). This indicates that the program will adequately prepare you for a future career in the healthcare management industry. CAHME is the only certifying organization in the healthcare management education industry that is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. 

When you choose a CAHME-accredited MHA program, you know that the program meets rigorous academic standards and provides up-to-date information. Likewise, employers know that graduates from an accredited program are well-prepared for the healthcare administrator role.

Also consider whether you should attend an on-campus program or complete your degree online. There are many benefits to an online master’s in healthcare administration program, including flexibility and a wider variety of choices. You are not limited to schools in your geographic area and are free to choose the program with the best curriculum and reputation.

Step 4. Earn Certifications

Earning an industry certification will help you further advance your career or improve your job prospects. There are many healthcare administration certifications available, including:

Requirements for earning a certification vary but may include education, work experience in the healthcare administration industry and membership in the certifying organization. Most certifications require you to pass an exam.

According to AAHAM, getting certified can increase your earning potential, provide opportunities for career advancement and expand your skills through continuing education.

Step 5. Pursue a Job in Healthcare Administration

Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s and master’s degrees, gained valuable work experience and earned relevant certifications, you’re ready to start searching for a job in the healthcare administration field. It’s helpful to narrow down your search to a particular area, like government, hospitals, outpatient clinics or nursing homes. You must decide what work environment aligns best with your career goals and other requirements, such as salary and hours. 

Work Settings

Healthcare administrators are needed in virtually every type of medical facility. However, some settings have advantages over others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare administrators working in the government or hospitals earn the highest median salary in 2018 ($111,520 and $110,430, respectively).

Workload may be higher in a hospital, nursing home or other facility that is open 24 hours. If you are looking for greater work-life balance, you may prefer an outpatient setting with regular hours. Regardless of where you work, you may need to be on call in case of emergencies.

Is healthcare administration a good career choice?

Healthcare administration is a rewarding job with a good salary and strong projected growth as explained above. If you pursue this career path, you will perform a vital function for your community by keeping one or more medical facilities running smoothly. Healthcare administrators also have a variety of choices when it comes to work settings since they have the ability to work at different organizations, big and small.  

Healthcare Administrator vs. Medical and Health Services Manager

Many people believe healthcare administrator and health services manager are the same role, but there are key differences between the two. According to a Florida Tech blog article on the differences and similarities of healthcare management versus healthcare administration, health services managers run the business side of a healthcare operation, while healthcare administrators focus on staffing and healthcare regulations.

Do I have to earn a master’s degree to become a healthcare administrator?

While some entry-level jobs only require a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration, many advanced positions require a master’s degree. Plus, there are topics and skills that you may learn from an MHA program that you may not have learned while getting a bachelor’s degree. For example, how to use statistical and economic analysis to better your organization or gaining knowledge in medical law and pharmaceutical policy.

Can I become a healthcare administrator with an MPH degree?

A master’s in public health (MPH) is distinct from a master’s in healthcare administration. Either on-campus or online MPH programs focus on community health and epidemiology; most graduates end up working with specific populations to educate them on health. An MHA is recommended for those who want to become a healthcare administrator. You may also earn an MBA in healthcare management, but the difference between MHA and MBA is that an MBA focuses more on business principles than healthcare.

How long does it take to become a healthcare administrator?

It takes between six and eight years to become a healthcare administrator. You must first earn a bachelor’s degree (four years), and it is highly recommended that you complete a master’s program. Earning your master’s degree takes two to four years, depending on whether you take classes full or part time. 

Information updated as of May 2020