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What is Healthcare Administration?

A medical professional wearing a stethoscope and researching what healthcare administration is on her computer.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Healthcare administration describes leadership roles held by managers in hospitals, nursing homes, insurance companies and medical offices. In these settings, healthcare managers hold a broad range of responsibilities, including operations, finance, management, policies, strategy and more.

As the U.S. population ages and the need for healthcare continues to grow, the demand for healthcare administrators is also increasing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of more healthcare jobs than any other occupational group from 2021 to 2031 — predicting about 2 million new job openings across the country.* Because of the increasing demands on hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities, employment for medical and health services managers, or healthcare administrators, could see 28% growth through 2031, BLS reports.*

In addition to new job openings, BLS estimates that additional opportunities will open up due to retirements or people leaving the field. Healthcare administration roles can pay robust salaries, too. The median annual salary for medical and health services managers was $101,340 in 2021, according to BLS.*

What Does a Healthcare Administrator Do?

Healthcare administrators monitor the effectiveness of their organizations and make recommendations for operational improvements. The duties of healthcare administrators vary, depending upon your role, skill set and the type of organization you serve. For example, managers may oversee clinical and non-clinical staff functions within their department or an entire organization, or they could work with patients directly.

Healthcare administrators can expect to complete one or more of the following tasks in their roles, according to BLS:

  • Analyze and manage organizational or department finances
  • Assure regulatory compliance
  • Facilitate meetings with senior leadership, investors and other legislative groups
  • Manage facilities operations
  • Recruit, hire and train new staff
  • Write grant proposals to obtain research funding

No matter what healthcare administration role you ultimately choose, it’s important to have the right skills, education and training.

What Are the Skills Needed for a Healthcare Administrator?

Successful healthcare administrators should possess a combination of both hard and soft skills. For example, in your leadership role, you should be able to manage multiple projects at once and have the communication, analytical and technological skills you need to lead teams, departments or organizations.

Dr. Meredith O'HaraWhile you can obtain these skills through on-the-job experience in the healthcare field, a degree in healthcare administration helps prepare you to lead in both clinical and non-clinical settings. Most managerial and leadership positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, said Dr. Meredith O’Hara, associate dean of health professions at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

“The courses in our online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Healthcare Administration program teach students to learn how to manage staff and processes within various units, floors, departments or an entire facility within a healthcare setting,” said O’Hara. “Coursework also provides insight into data and trends related to health care economics, health care reimbursement, health care quality, regulatory compliance, health care information systems and health disparities.”

Is a Healthcare Administration Degree Worth It?

Even if you already have years of nursing experience or have worked in a healthcare setting, a healthcare administration degree can help you learn how to apply evidence-based knowledge toward organizational decision-making, O’Hara said.

“If you already have a nursing degree, a healthcare administration degree can help you transition into a management role,” she said. “Having that clinical background knowledge can give you a better understanding of the patient experience and insights into the ways you might improve functionality and operations in a healthcare facility.”

You can choose to pursue healthcare administration degrees at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. It's important to look for programs aligned to the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA) that address the four competencies that have been deemed critical to a healthcare administrator’s success, O’Hara said. These include communication, computational skills, critical thinking and societal and cultural context.

Bachelor’s Degree in Healthcare Administration

Undergraduate healthcare administration programs include courses that focus on data-based decision-making, operational strategies and stakeholder communications. These could consist of courses in healthcare economics, finance and healthcare delivery services, to name a few. Some programs also allow you to specialize in an area of healthcare administration.

At SNHU, for example, the bachelor’s in healthcare administration program allows you to pursue one of two tracks: health information management or patient safety and quality. In the health information management concentration, you learn more about computerized diagnostic and treatment equipment and technologies impacting billing and reimbursement. You also learn about health insurance policies and record management systems and reimbursement. This concentration prepares graduates for roles such as front-line supervisor, business intelligence analyst or administration services managers, O’Hara said.

The patient safety and quality concentration looks deeper into management practices that focus on the patient experience, and students can learn how to mitigate risk through identification and analysis, data management, cultural change and patient advocacy. It can prepare graduates for roles such as compliance director, patient safety representative, patient safety manager and quality and patient safety specialist, O’Hara said.

How an affordable online degree helped Ali

Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration

A master’s degree in healthcare administration (MHA) builds upon concepts taught in your undergraduate program and digs deeper into topics that help you effectively lead in higher-level management positions. It’s a good degree option for those with previous healthcare experience who are on the leadership trajectory or managers looking to enter the healthcare field, O’Hara said.

The MHA provides students with a breadth of knowledge in critical assets of healthcare, including reimbursement, quality improvement, strategic planning and marketing for nonprofits. For example, for positions such as hospital CEO or CFO, some organizations often look for candidates who’ve earned master’s degrees. Depending on your career goals, you may opt to earn an MBA in Healthcare Management or an online master's in management with a concentration in healthcare.

Whether you earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you can greatly benefit from degree programs that also provide real-world learning opportunities. At SNHU, for example, both graduate and undergraduate students participate in weeks-long experiential learning challenges that help them connect theory to practice. These Higher Education and Real-world Training (HEaRT) Challenges ask students to address critical problems facing healthcare facilities across the country and give them the opportunity to present their ideas and recommendations directly to industry experts, O’Hara said.

It can take up to four years to complete a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration and about two years to complete your master’s degree, depending on your prior educational and professional experience. If you’re looking to work on your degree part-time, it might take longer.

If you have transfer credits, you may be able to finish your degree faster. Choosing an online healthcare administration program that offers shorter, more frequent academic terms can also help you compress the amount of time it takes to complete your degree and provide you with greater flexibility.

What Can You Do With a Healthcare Administration Degree?

Your degree in healthcare administration can prepare you for a wide range of management roles that support patients, healthcare providers and staff. You can opt to work with patients directly, focus on financials or improve operational processes. Some positions may require additional educational requirements or accreditation.

Joanna Bradley with the text Joanna BradleyJoanna Bradley '17 '20G '22G, who recently completed her master’s degree in healthcare administration at SNHU, credits her undergraduate and graduate degrees for helping her land a job as an educational program manager at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. In her new role, she identifies gaps in educational offerings for staff and builds systems and processes to close those gaps. She also serves on various workgroups and hospital committees that examine issues impacting employees, including diversity, equity and inclusion.

“When it comes to education in the healthcare setting, there are a lot of regulatory requirements,” Bradley said. “My master’s degree in healthcare administration provided me with regulatory compliance knowledge and with leadership knowledge that’s helped me lead large-scale projects and people. It’s a very well-rounded degree.”

Bradley began taking undergraduate classes online at SNHU in 2015 when she was a single mother to a toddler. She juggled full-time work with family responsibilities while completing her coursework in the evenings and on weekends.

“My professors and advisors wanted me to be successful and achieve my goals, she said. “I never felt that level of support at any other college I had attended.”

What is the Career Path for Healthcare Administration?

Your healthcare administration degree opens the door to a wide range of career paths. With more experience and education, you may move from specialist roles to managerial roles.

Here are some common jobs a healthcare administration degree might prepare you for. Some may require additional certifications and licensure.

  • Clinical managers oversee a specific department or practice and are responsible for management and operations related to that specialty. They establish policies, goals, and procedures for their departments, evaluate employees and create reports and budgets, according to BLS. This job typically requires you to have a bachelor's degree, BLS said.
  • Healthcare consultants work with senior leadership to conduct research, identify challenges and help design solutions. They may help organizations with insurance compliance, healthcare quality and staff retention.
  • Health information managers maintain the privacy and security of patient information and healthcare data related to their organization. They follow healthcare information and privacy laws and safeguard facility databases. They also may supervise medical records and health information technicians, according to BLS.
  • Hospital administrators oversee the overall operations of a hospital, clinic, treatment center or other healthcare organization. They hold one of the top leadership positions in their organization and may have the title of chief executive officer or chief operations officer. Hospital administrators work closely with medical and support staff to ensure safety, compliance, and efficiency.  They may also evaluate providers, enact policies, ensure quality assurance and participate in fundraising and community health planning, according to The Princeton Review.
  • Human resources managers recruit and train new employees and may also oversee staff pay and benefits. These managers often address conflicts between staff and help identify management solutions. A bachelor's degree in healthcare administration can prepare you for this role, BLS reports. In 2021, human resources managers in the healthcare and social assistance sectors earned a median annual salary of $99,870, according to BLS.*
  • Medical billing managers manage contracts with insurance providers, insurance claims, and patient billing for healthcare organizations. They oversee staff in their departments and track payments.
  • Medical office managers oversee a healthcare organization's day-to-day administrative tasks, including expenses and accounts, staff scheduling and file management.
  • Nursing home administrators manage resident admission in a nursing home, overseeing finances, organizational effectiveness and regulatory compliance. Nursing home administrators usually hold master's degrees, according to BLS. All states require nursing home administrators to be licensed; licensing requirements vary by state, BLS said.
  • Practice administrators oversee general operations at a medical practice, such as a primary care practice. They are responsible for managing a variety of administrative activities, including recruiting, contract negotiations and budgeting.

Healthcare administration continues to evolve and can be a lucrative and rewarding career path. Earning a degree in the field can bring you closer to your goal of breaking into a management role.

“The degree will give you so much knowledge and open so many doors,” Bradley said.

Discover more about SNHU’s healthcare administration degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks '11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.