Interested in helping people, but hands-on medical practice isn’t for you? Hospital administrators work behind the scenes, but do important work that impacts the care patients receive. Admins bridge the gap between governing boards and medical staff. And—they plan and control much of what goes on inside the hospital.
A hospital administrator works to make sure hospital operations run smoothly. Someone in this role handles the daily business functions of a medical facility by managing the staff, dealing with financial management, and creating policies and procedures aimed at cutting costs and improving the patient experience.
The hospital administrator role applies to a range of medical facilities. Professionals might work in an outpatient facility. Or, they might find work in a major hospital with several other administrators.
To learn more about this career path, keep reading for information on educational and professional requirements needed to get there.
How to Become a Hospital Administrator
As a hospital administrator, your main role is overseeing health services your organization provides. The job encompasses a wide range of skills. Meaning, you’ll need insider knowledge on the ins and outs of accounting and the health insurance system. You’ll also need to be able to budget and make high-level decisions that affect patient outcomes.
Beyond accounting and business management skills, you need to be an excellent communicator. You'll also need great customer service skills and a diplomatic demeanor. Expect to work with the facility’s board, all departments, and often, the community.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that education is the starting point.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to get started (1). That said, many employers prefer candidates to have a master’s degree. Hospital administrators may also need a background in healthcare to get their foot in the door, as well as earning the correct credentials.
With a bachelor’s degree, only, your options may be somewhat limited. There are plenty of entry-level jobs available, but in some cases, you may find yourself competing with people with master’s degrees.
If you plan on entering the workforce with a bachelor’s, it’s smart to major in business, health administration, human resources, or accounting. These areas of study will allow you to pursue a master’s degree down the road to increase your earning potential.
Many colleges offer programs designed to prepare students for roles as high-level administrators. You can apply for a master’s right after completing your bachelor’s degree, but you’ll need a relevant degree to get accepted. Relevant programs include finance, human resources, business, or health administration.
In other cases, a healthcare professional may opt to further their education for a chance at higher-paying positions. These professionals include people with an RN or an MD or a bachelor’s degree.
There are a few different avenues you can pursue this credential. A Master’s in Public Health, for example is ideal for someone who wants to work in public policy or move into social services management.
A Master’s in Health Administration (MHA) might be the best path for someone who wants to become a hospital administrator. Especially if you plan on leveling up to the C suite. MHA grads leaves their program equipped with a background in finance, hospital operations, leadership skills, and marketing.
Basically, an MHA is akin to an MBA, but with a greater focus on the nation’s healthcare system. In most cases, students must complete a capstone project or a thesis to graduate. This is an opportunity to dive deeper into a specific area where you may want to work later on.
Additionally, it’s smart to take relevant internships during this time. If you plan on working in a hospital or for an HMO, seek out opportunities that place you in that environment.
Possible Job Titles or Roles
There are many parts of healthcare administration that look a lot like other types of business administration jobs. You’re managing finances, people, and juggling government regulations and policy issues. Still, being successful in a healthcare administration role means you need to have that empathy gene.
Here are some potential roles for hospital administrators, at every level.
The most traditional career path in this field is literally heading up hospital administration. In this job, you’ll handle financials, personnel, governmental regulations, and more.
That said, there are different levels of management and you’ll move through the rungs to get to the top. You might start off as a medical office administrator or in billing or marketing.
Entry level healthcare administrators can expect to earn roughly $55k per year, while the median salary is about $96k. Early on, you’ll learn the ropes by working in a specific department such as patient services, staff relations, finance, or public affairs.
And, as far as starting your job search goes, smaller institutions like nursing homes, clinics, and insurance companies may be the first stepping stone to a job at a larger hospital.
At the top, job titles include:
- Chief Operating Officer
- Vice President
Hospital administrators at larger medical facilities may head a specific department. Think managed care organizations, hospice, cardiology, neurology, or admissions or finance. Each department will need support staff, so there’s plenty of opportunities for recent grads, too.
Medical Office Administrator
A medical office administrator handles the daily operations of a healthcare practice. This person takes care of a lot of the behind the scenes work. You'll answer phones, handle accounting tasks, and manage staff. You'll also deal with contracts and work with insurance companies.
This position doesn't necessarily require formal education. But you may need an associate's degree or some form of specialized training to get started. For entry-level employees with a bachelor's degree, this may be an excellent way to get some relevant experience before going for a master's degree or moving up in an organization.
Social and Community Service Manager
This role involves more hands-on work with employees and healthcare professionals, as well as members of the community. Here, you'll coordinate social service programs aimed at helping a specific demographic.
In this position, your job will be to advocate for the public's need. Whether it's low-income people, the homeless, veterans, or another at-risk population. Day-to-day duties involve proposing new ways to help people with hospital resources. You'll also gather information needed to prove the worth of your proposal. You'll report to upper management and spend time making a case for new programs.
While you're probably okay with just a bachelor's degree to start, many employers prefer candidates with a master's in public health or hospital administration. Skills needed include the ability to manage budgets and people, write grants, and meet with donors. Additionally, you should have a firm grasp on identifying a need for health services in the community. Not to mention the leadership skills required to enact change.
At the entry level, employees can expect to earn about $35k per year. But, the career path has lots of room for growth--senior social services managers can easily surpass the six-figure mark.
Medical Executive Assistant
A medical executive assistant position is another entry-level opportunity. Here, you'll get an inside look at the C-suite and can learn the ins and outs of what an administrator proper does. In this role, you may gain experience in overseeing projects and managing some of the daily hospital operations.
Additionally, you'll learn to write grant proposals and make sure everything is running smoothly. Like most assistant jobs, much of your role will be in an administrative capacity, supporting executives in ways that don’t always line up with vat you planned on doing. Still, securing a job at a prime medical facility can open doors and present a wide range of networking opportunities.
Healthcare Human Resources Manager
Human resources managers are like hospital administrators in a few ways. There are several levels from entry to executive. And job duties look like what you'll find in a traditional admin role, but instead of going big picture, the focus turns inward.
Healthcare HR managers will deal with hiring, recruitment, and employee relations. They'll also consult with management and serve as a liaison between the board, the C-suite, and all employees from doctors to billing clerks.
Health Information Technician
A health information management clerk handles patient records. This person works to maintain patient security, in keeping with HIPAA laws. And the job isn't so much guarding patient information. Instead, the expectation is, this person will find better ways to process information and more efficient ways to store that sensitive data.
This role is more tech-centric than say, a community manager's position. These days, electronic health records are becoming ever more commonplace. As such, the need for people who can interpret data and prevent data breaches are ever more valuable. Technicians need to have a grasp on the latest changes to EHR software, privacy practices, and security requirements.
You won't need a bachelor's or master's degree to start out in this role. In most cases, a high school diploma or an associate's degree will do. As always, additional education can sweeten job prospects down the road.
And finally, you can increase your chances of securing a job by getting a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certified. More on that below.
The potential job prospects don’t stop there. Those with a background in healthcare administration can also find work at medical equipment manufacturers, in public health, or at a physician group like a PPO or HMO.
Those who want a more hands-on position can take jobs in smaller in-patient facilities like nursing homes, rehab centers, or hospice care facilities. Really, there are tons of options available, especially if you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Certification and Licensure
Unlike other healthcare professions, hospital administration doesn’t necessarily require certification. But, in some cases, certification can help you prove competence or land a job.
Some cases where certification pays off:
A license isn’t usually necessary for most healthcare management positions. However, if you plan on working for a nursing care facility, you’ll need a state license. All states require administrators of these facilities to have a state license; requirements vary by state, which is kept up with regular continuing education.
Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (cHAP) Certification
cHAP is a professional organization that administers certification to those who pass an exam. Certification lasts for three years, and the designation serves as a means of showing that you’re proficient in the following areas:
- Healthcare Regulations
For Health Information Technicians
If you're interested in health information, you can pursue Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) certification. This involves graduating from a HIM program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM). You can get this certification through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA).
Hospital Administrator Salary Outlook
Anything healthcare related is on track to grow at a rate faster than average. Across the US, the population is aging. As such, more healthcare administrators are needed to take on hospital management.
As the population gets older, there stands to be a higher demand for administrators in specialized care centers. Hospices and centers for the elderly present opportunities for upcoming admins. And, of course, hospitals. Additionally, HMOs will have an ongoing need for competent administrators at every level.
At the early stage, an aspiring administrator may get their foot in the door by completing an internship. Generally, you’ll do an internship for a year and from there, start applying for entry-level administrative positions. Your best bet is likely applying for jobs at smaller healthcare facilities or seeking out an assistant position.
Once you’ve got a few years of work under your belt, you’ll be able to seek out better opportunities.
At the senior level; we’re talking 10+ years out, you can start looking at senior positions or prime spots in larger organizations. A seasoned administrator is equipped to set policies and settle disputes between medical staff and board members.
Executives can easily make six figures. The median salary for hospital administrators is around $100k. Human resources managers can expect to pull in a similar amount.
But, when you get to the C-suite, there’s a lot more earning potential. Bonuses and stock options come into play and many top execs take home $250k (hospital CEO) or even more--$500k for top CEOs of insurance companies.
Healthcare is a massive industry. One changing at a rapid pace. Hospital administrators stand to see a promising career ahead of them. For the best possible outcome, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree minimum, ideally a master's. On top of that, being leadership skills and a mind for business will help you succeed in this field.
Our recommendation is pursuing a degree in hospital administration as a starting point. Health care administration is a practical career choice, but one that has the power to change a flawed system at its core.