Becoming a Hospital Administrator
A hospital is a bustling treatment center for patients, and a complex, interdisciplinary workplace for healthcare personnel. One person is responsible for keeping this symbiotic infrastructure running smoothly - the hospital administrator.
As the head of operations, a hospital administrator oversees clinical units, departments or an entire hospital. These professionals manage personnel, finances and facility practices according to a distinct set of policies and procedures established by trustees. They keep abreast of new laws and regulations in the industry and advances in medicine and medical technology. A hospital administrator also represents the institution she manages at investor meetings, on governing boards, and within the greater community.
Hospital administrators are the true leaders of the institutions they helm. Their decisions reverberate throughout the workplace and the community at large. Administrators' influence even extends internationally, as their actions and policies affect global healthcare standards.
Hospital administrators ply their trade in many different environments, including urban and general care community hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, group medical practices and outpatient care locations. They make up the largest portion of the healthcare administrative workforce. The majority of them are full-time employees and most work typical business hours except when called upon for administrative issues or emergencies during evening hours, overnight or on weekends and holidays.
Hospital administrators hold at least a four-year bachelor’s degree and many pursue graduate education (such as a master’s or doctorate degree), necessary at larger facilities or for executive positions high on the administrative ladder. Graduate education programs in business or health administration take two to three years to complete. A curriculum specific to hospital administration includes courses in hospital organization, strategy, healthcare and business law, finance and economics and healthcare technology systems.
Prospective hospital administration students should check a program’s accreditation status at the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education in order to ensure that they receive an education that meets predetermined quality standards.
A hospital administrator is expected to already have the required skills, knowledge and experience when taking on a new position, as practical training is a part of any degree program. On-the-job training that is specific to a facility is provided by the outgoing administrator, an experienced associate or by the new administrator’s immediate supervisor.
Licensing and/or Certification
Administrators who work in hospitals do not need to have licenses. However, those employed at long-term care facilities must have them, as required by all US states. Administrators must take an exam for initial licensure, then maintain proof of active practice or continuing education to keep a license active.
Though the law does not require board certification, many hospital administrators get certified in order to maintain their professional standing and to validate their competency in their field. Board certification is available for hospital administrators at the American College of Healthcare Executives.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Hospital administrators must be analytical problem-solvers who can also tap into their creativity. A detail-oriented personality helps balance effective healthcare delivery and the cost-efficient operation of a hospital, while creative acuity will help an administrator to foresee the broader effects of decisions and policies.
These professionals are leaders, and as such they have well-honed interpersonal skills, needed to mitigate conflict and negotiate changes that affect many. They know how to motivate staff and communicate with people from various cultural backgrounds and educational levels.
Opportunities for Advancement
Thanks to their varied knowledge and breadth of experience, hospital administrators are well suited to move beyond a single facility and take on higher levels of responsibility as administrators in healthcare networks or government organizations. They are also qualified to serve as educators or as consultants for new facilities or healthcare organizations.
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According to the US Department of Labor, healthcare administrators collectively had a median salary of about $84,000 in 2010, with a range of about $51,280 to over $144,880. Many command wages on the higher end of this range, depending on the size of the facility they oversee. Higher levels of education do not necessarily result in a higher salary, but greater levels of responsibility do.
The overall job market for healthcare administrators is expected to grow by about 22 percent until at least 2020. In the ever-changing landscape of the healthcare industry, many hospitals are streamlining roles and responsibilities to cut costs. Administrators who used to manage one department may now be in charge of several. And with more hospitals joining large networks, some administrators are responsible for operations at more than one facility. Administrative professionals who are highly cross-trained are the most likely to thrive in this dynamic environment.