A health administrator is a person who manages the business end of a medical facility or department. The health administrator is often in charge of hiring, purchasing, and managing the budget, and may also supervise the clerical processing of patients. Health administrators help provide the business infrastructure for healthcare facilities and keep the day-to-day functions running smoothly. They may work in places as small as a doctor’s office, or as large as a hospital. They may work in the public sector, as part of government agencies or the military, or for private companies. People enrolled in MHA programs take a wide range of courses when pursuing a masters in health administration.
Health administrators fall into two broad categories: specialists and generalists. Specialist positions tend to be entry- or mid-level management positions. While it is possible to get a specialist job with a bachelors degree it is more favorable to employers when a potential employee holds a master’s in health care administration. Generalist positions, on the other hand, are the highest an administrator can achieve, such as president or CEO of a major hospital. These positions require an advanced degree, such as a master’s in health care administration through an MHA program, broad knowledge and a variety of business and management skills. Both specialists and generalists in this field must be dedicated to the job and willing to put in extra hours. Some healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, never close, and an administrator may be summoned to solve a problem at any hour of the day or night. Pursuing a master of health administration and then finding a job is a big commitment.
Health administrators of all kinds must be flexible, dedicated and possess keen business skills. The healthcare industry is expected to undergo radical change in the upcoming decade, with the implementation of healthcare reform and the graying of the Baby Boomer generation. These challenges will require administrators who are able to manage changing policy requirements and a vastly increased patient population.
Specialists learn the intricacies of managing one specific department or segment of healthcare, such as finance, human resources, nursing administration or patient care services. A specialist may rise to be the head of a hospital department such as accounting, marketing or human resources. The specialist’s duties might include: determining if job applicants to their department are qualified, balancing the budget, or implementing hospital policies that affect their department. Specialists can get jobs with a bachelor’s degree however a masters in health administration degree is always preferred by employers and will allow potential employees to request a higher salary.
Generalists manage whole institutions, such as large nursing care facilities or hospitals. They help create the healthcare policies and professional standards that are implemented at the facility they run. They oversee the work of hundreds or even thousands of employees and can be the highest business authority in a hospital. Generalists are responsible for the financial solvency of their facility and therefore need excellent managerial and financial skills. They are also often the public face of the facility they head, and must be good communicators, since part of their job is to interact with the press and the community at large. A high-level leader such as a hospital CEO must have job dedication like a physician’s, since they will be on call almost like one.
Health administrators have a very broad range of employment opportunities. Most work in a hospital or nursing care facility, but these are by no means the only employment choices. Some work for government agencies such as the FDA, public health departments, or within the military. Others work for university or research institutions; still others work for consulting firms, non-profit organizations or healthcare associations. Though job opportunities are plentiful, competition is keen. Previous work experience in medicine is often required, and while a bachelor’s degree may be enough for a small practice or an entry-level departmental position, advancement opportunities nearly always require a master’s of health administration.
A health administrator most often has either a bachelor’s or a master’s in health administration. A bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for administrators who choose to specialize in a certain area, or who wish to work at a departmental level. However, administrators who want to advance to the highest-paid positions, such as vice-president, president, CFO or CEO of a hospital or other large facility, must have an MHA degree. Actual work experience in some aspect of medicine is also often a job requirement. Some aspiring administrators choose to work in a medical facility to obtain this experience while pursuing an online bachelor’s or online MHA degree.
Healthcare administration is a recession-resistant field, and the job outlook for health administrators is expected to be good for the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual wage for health services managers was $84,270 as of 2010, with a range of $51,280 at the low end and $144,880 at the high end. Administrators working for private industry in research and development and information services tended to make the most, with an annual mean wage of as high as $151,000, while administrators at nursing care facilities tended to make the least by industry.