If you’re considering a career in healthcare administration, you’ll need to decide whether you want to be a generalist or specialist. Depending on your choice, you can either affect change on a broad scope within the facility or run operations in the department of your specialty. Here’s what you need to know before deciding whether to work toward a career as a health administration generalist or specialist.

What are Health Administration Generalists and Specialists?

Healthcare is a huge industry, full of moving parts and changing regulations on both a broad spectrum and within the nitty gritty niches.

It’s important to have individuals on the administrative staff who have a general knowledge of how things should work. It’s equally important to have employees who have specific knowledge and training in a certain area of healthcare administration.

This is where healthcare administration generalists and specialists come in.

Healthcare generalists play a role in overseeing the entire facility. They have an understanding of how each department interacts, and the key functions of each one. Generalists are the jack of all trades of the health administration world, and their wide scope of knowledge gives them the perspective to make decisions that will affect multiple departments within the facility.

In smaller healthcare facilities, health administration generalists often supervise the entire facility in its everyday operation. In larger organizations, they may fall into more of a consulting role, guiding internal operations and directing administration specialists according to the needs of the entire healthcare system.

Health administration specialists oversee specific departments or functions within the facility. In larger organizations, there might be dozens or even hundreds of healthcare admin specialists. These specialists all oversee individual departments like billing, human resources, finance, public relations, IT, and marketing, as well as clinical departments like pediatrics, oncology, cardiology, dermatology, general internal medicine, and more.

Because of the specialized knowledge required to run one of these departments, health administration specialists are often educated and trained in the field related to their department. For example, a specialist in the billing or finance departments might have a degree in accounting, while those in public relations or advertising might have a degree in marketing.

Required Education

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Most healthcare administration positions ask for a minimum education of a bachelor’s degree in health administration, with many requiring an advanced degree or certification. Many colleges and universities that offer health administration gives students the option of pursuing a general management degree or joining a specialized program.

Healthcare administration specialists typically go one of two routes in their education. They may hold an undergraduate degree in a specialized field (such as finance, business, or a clinical area) and pursue a master’s in health administration. Alternately, they can first establish a background in health administration, and then move on to a graduate degree in their specialized field.

Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree is the first step to beginning a career as a health administration generalist or specialist.

For those seeking a future as a health administration generalist, an undergraduate degree in health administration is a good place to start. This will give students the background needed to go on to a graduate degree in general management.

Some of the topics covered in a health administration degree include:

  • Accounting and finance
  • Healthcare laws and regulations
  • Healthcare delivery models
  • Human resources
  • Database management
  • Software application
  • Healthcare information technology
  • Business ethics
  • Office management

The degree is often ended with a capstone project or thesis, giving students the opportunity to prove their competency before moving on to a graduate program.

Students following the health administration specialist career path may begin with a health administration degree as well. Alternately, they may opt to use their bachelor’s degree as a way to gain a background in the clinical or administrative discipline of their choosing.

Common specializations chosen by these students include:

  • Communications
  • Business administration
  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • Information systems
  • Public health
  • Health sciences

Students planning to focus on a clinical specialization may also use their bachelor’s degree as an opportunity to establish a background in their chosen topic. A nursing degree is also a great entry point into the world of health administration.

Though a master’s degree is considered the standard for health administrators, a bachelor’s degree may be enough to get graduates in the door in an entry level position.

Master’s Degrees

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a master’s degree is typically required to climb the ladder in a health administration generalist or specialist career.

Students on either career track can benefit from a master’s degree in health administration (MHA). With this degree, students can opt to take general knowledge courses, or niche down with a focus that will lead to a career as a specialist.

Though the topics of focus offered may vary from school to school, specializations within the MHA may include:

  • Acute care
  • Long term care
  • Residential care
  • Health information
  • Health ethics
  • Healthcare law and management
  • Environmental health science
  • Pediatric and maternal health
  • Geriatric health

These specializations will allow the degree holder to ascertain a level of proven competence that will prepare them for a career managing a department within a healthcare facility.

For students with an undergraduate degree in health administration, an MBA in a general management can set them on the path to become a health administration generalist. This degree will allow students to take business and management classes that will cement their skills in:

  • Critical thinking
  • Effective communication strategy
  • Financial analysis
  • Operations management
  • Marketing
  • Management techniques

There is no one correct education path for students who hope to become a health administration generalist or specialist. Students should talk to their advisors to plan a curriculum that sets them up for future success.

Job Titles and Roles for Healthcare Generalists and Specialists

The following is taken from real job descriptions for health administration generalists and specialists (lightly edited for clarity). While not meant to be entirely representative of the job market, this information can provide a look at employment prospects for healthcare administrators.

Health Administration Generalists

Regional Vice President, Health Solutions Corporation

The position is responsible for managing all regional operational functions, which requires a high level of decision making with regards to financial decisions and personnel.

  • Leadership position in multi-site, multi-state healthcare organization
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to work cooperatively with peers and subordinates
  • Proven leadership abilities
  • Results oriented and accountable
  • Ability to act professionally under pressure
  • Proficient in the use of Microsoft Office applications such as Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and financial applications.
  • Required to travel up to 30% of the time.

Bachelor’s Degree in business administration, healthcare administration or similar field. MBA or MHA preferred.

Director of Patient Access, Hospital

Provides leadership, direction and oversight for the administrative, financial and managerial functions required to support the effective operation of the Patient Access department including, but not limited to, scheduling, pre-registration/registration, prior authorization, point of service collections, single case rate agreements and administrative appeals. The Patient Access Director will align the organization's strategic initiatives with emphasis on customer service and the overall patient experience and is responsible for ensuring that key performance indicators are consistently developed, measured and achieved.

  • Bachelor's degree in the following areas: Business, Finance, Accounting, Healthcare Administration and Leadership required, Masters' degree in the same fields preferred.
  • Ten (10) years’ experience demonstrating progressively responsible leadership operating in highly complex and fast paced roles with both operational and technical components in Patient Access, Revenue Cycle, Healthcare Business or Finance.

Practice Manager/Administrator, Medical Center

Manages all operational aspects of the outpatient clinics to maximize the effectiveness of service delivery, financial performance, and cultivate a clinic culture that is responsive to patient care. The Practice Manager/Administrator will work closely with the staff and physicians to ensure that all clinical and regulatory goals are met. The Practice Manager/Administrator will be proactive in determining workload priorities through planning, coordinating and directing staff and physicians to meet the clinics administrative, operational and support requirements.

  • Bachelor of Science in a health-related field required. Masters preferred.
  • Minimum of five years of practice management experience including two years of supervisory experience required.
  • Administrative experience in large clinic operations and physician practice setting.

Health Administration Specialists

Director of Finance, Medical School

This role provides strategic direction and input on matters relating to the achievement of the departments/unit’s initiatives, goals, and objectives and acts as a connecting link between the senior management for the department/unit, shared services center, and other institutional areas.

Bachelor’s Degree or higher in healthcare administration, business administration, finance or comparable discipline from a regionally accredited college or university is required. Master’s degree preferred. Minimum 3 years managerial experience and minimum 5 years of progressive experience in administrative management, including documented successful management of operational and fiscal activities, including budget development and management, people, process, and technology needs of an administrative unit, space and facilities management, and change management within an organization.

Practice Administrator, Eye Care Facility

The Primary responsibility of the Practice Administrator is to fully understand the goals and standards of the Shareholder-Physicians and manage every aspect of the business for them. He/she must be able to communicate with the shareholder-physicians themselves to reinforce these standards when he/she becomes aware of actions and/or processes which do not meet the standards they set, recommending corrective action needed.

  • Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration, Business Administration or a Related Field, or Commensurate experience required.
  • Minimum 3-5 years’ experience leading a multi-physician, private practice.
  • Ophthalmology experience preferred, but not strictly required. A Certified Ophthalmic Executive (COE) a plus.
  • Leadership experience should include Clinical Operations, Human Resources, Finance and Accounting, Accounts Receivable, and Project Management.

Health and Wellness Program Manager, Community Medical Center

This position is responsible for assisting with ensuring ongoing compliance and operational performance of clinical programs and projects. Supports the development, implementation, maintenance, monitoring, and continuous improvement of the relevant programs. Must possess advanced organizational and matrixed management skills to manage the highly complex processes. Provides broad oversight and assists other leaders to establish, oversee, conduct and evaluate quality improvement for the program which spans the continuum of care of the patient and focuses on patient outcomes. Enhances the Program though the coordination of daily operations, community education and activities using a comprehensive team approach

  • Ensures program compliance with regulatory and insurance standards.
  • Must possess knowledge as normally obtained through the completion of a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, finance administration or project management or equivalent combination of work experience.
  • Requires a proficiency level typically achieved with 3 years of clinical experience in area of specialty. Requires excellent leadership skills and an ability to interact well across departments, facilities, and organizations. Excellent program management skills to effectively provide broad clinical and quality oversight while maintaining fiscal viability and success of program. Prior supervisory or program management experience.

Health Administration Certification

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Most healthcare administrators don’t require any special certification or licensure to do their jobs (with a few exceptions, such as nursing home administrators).

However, those looking to bulk up their resumes may find a few credentials in the healthcare field worth pursuing. Several reputable organizations offer certification upon completing their predetermined requirements.

The most esteemed of these organizations is the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). This requires membership in the group and years of involvement both in health administration and civic events, as well as extensive networking. Members will need to adhere to the group’s high standards of professionalism in order to remain in good standing.

Salary and Career Outlook

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The current job climate is undeniably good for healthcare administrators. The American population is aging and will face an increasing need for healthcare. Hospitals and health facilities will need administrative generalists and specialists to keep thing running smoothly.

Healthcare administrators in the U.S. earn a median annual salary of $98,350 per year, with the highest 10 percent earning as much as $176,130. In addition, healthcare administration careers are looking at a robust projected job growth of 20 percent through 2026.

The numbers don’t lie; the future looks bright for those starting a career in health administration.