Healthcare will become the largest employment sector by 2026, according to projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means high demand for innovative and compassionate healthcare managers.
Healthcare managers oversee the administration of healthcare systems. For people who are passionate about health and medicine but prefer the business side of healthcare organizations, becoming a healthcare manager could be a fascinating career path.
Healthcare managers understand the health sector’s intricacies, working alongside clinicians and providers to oversee organizational functions, including:
- Strategic planning
- Policymaking and agenda-setting
- Administrative personnel training and professional development
Read on to learn more about the many roles of a healthcare manager, what a healthcare manager does day to day, and how to become a healthcare manager.
Healthcare is a business. As such, healthcare needs business leaders to helm its institutions. Healthcare managers steer healthcare organizations in profitable directions — making healthcare services more accessible, efficient, and equitable.
Healthcare management is an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of jobs in healthcare administration:
- Medical office administration (e.g., medical office director, practice manager, front desk supervisor)
- Medical billing and coding (e.g., medical billing supervisor)
- Medical office accounting and finance (e.g., accounting manager, payroll manager)
- Medical information management (e.g., medical information manager)
- Healthcare law and compliance (e.g., regulator finance reporting manager, regulatory compliance manager)
Additionally, healthcare managers may work in general roles, such as in a manager role at a rural health clinic. Other healthcare managers choose to specialize. A healthcare manager can work as a departmental manager of the nurses working at a radiology lab, for example, or as an administrator who oversees a pharmacy.
Managers in healthcare need to prepare for navigating competing demands and priorities from within an organization.
Broadly speaking, healthcare managers work closely with other healthcare administrators, providers, financial managers, marketing specialists, and many other players from healthcare’s business side. They synthesize expert advice from representatives of different departments.
For example, a healthcare manager will seek budgetary expertise from financial administrators, staffing expertise from department leaders, and feedback about worker’s experiences from nurses, front desk staff, and employees throughout the organization.
At their best, healthcare managers do not just supervise employees under their watch. Healthcare managers identify and cultivate leadership qualities in their staff and promote staff to reach their professional potential.
Healthcare managers also create opportunities for their subordinates. They delegate tasks (such as project management, record keeping, and data analysis) to give other healthcare administrators occasions to gain new skills and step into different roles.
By developing and promoting employees from within an organization, forward-thinking healthcare managers:
- Preserve institutional knowledge (information about how an organization works and why)
- Improve employee morale by recognizing employee achievements
- Promote a culture of innovation and improvement
- Foster business relationships
- Adapt to emerging challenges quickly
- Earn their staff’s trust and respect
For example, imagine a lower-level healthcare administrator who identifies opportunities to make their health clinic more inclusive for transgender patients. A great healthcare manager could recognize the value in making their clinic more equitable, and also see this as an opportunity to support an employee’s professional development. The healthcare manager might support the administrator by allocating time for the administrator to research inclusive practices, organize meetings among organizational stakeholders to discuss equity efforts for transgender patients, and implement new protocols as needed.
In their influential role at the executive level, healthcare managers shape their organization’s culture from the top down. For example, executive-level healthcare managers who set gender equity and racial equity as internal priorities at their organizations can take concrete steps toward greater equity.
To shape their organization’s culture, a healthcare manager might:
- Set organization-wide goals for hiring and retaining women and people of color from underrepresented groups in healthcare administration
- Offer ongoing cultural competency trainings for staff
- Hire medical translators to ensure services reach vulnerable groups
- Create outreach programs to educate the general public about services provided
- Solicit feedback through surveys or town hall meetings to learn more about potential gaps in healthcare service provisions
When healthcare managers step into their power as movers and shapers of healthcare organizations, the entire culture can shift for the better. The benefits? Higher employee retention, more efficient service, and greater profits.
Healthcare managers develop a broad set of business skills to lead their organizations to success.
Healthcare managers are expert communicators. Individuals in this role must have:
- Strong verbal and written communication skills
- Strong presentation skills
- Excellent attention to detail
- The ability to lead and thrive in a dynamic environment, juggling multiple priorities
- Excellent listening skills, to understand, analyze, and synthesize information from healthcare leaders
The core competencies associated with healthcare managers include:
- The ability to notice and respond quickly to business trends in healthcare
- Interest in emerging healthcare technologies that improve service quality and efficiency
- Strategic planning skills
- The ability to navigate ethically challenging situations
- Skills in empowering other health administrators and staff to do their best work
- Compassionate, inspiring leadership capabilities
- The ability to build relationships and collaborate with staff and community partners
Healthcare managers lead their organizations according to their moral compass. Managers in healthcare make policy decisions that affect everyone in healthcare, from other administrators to patients. So, healthcare managers need to make decisions ethically.
Ethical healthcare managers must have:
- An understanding of the social determinants of health (including housing insecurity, nutrition, racism and other forms of oppression, etc.)
- The ability to apply an equity lens
- The ability to exercise independent judgment and decision-making
- The foresight to anticipate how their policy decisions will affect multiple stakeholders, especially the most vulnerable
- An understanding of harm reduction principles and trauma-informed care
Healthcare managers must become comfortable being leaders.
As leaders, healthcare managers:
- Lead with care: They recognize a team’s needs and behaviors and help teams mutually support each other.
- Inspire a shared vision: They communicate with credibility and trust, and present a clear direction for pursuing long-term goals.
- Engage teams: They trust in the team and support collaborative participation.
- Evaluate information: They source information from experts and synthesize results to develop new plans.
- Inspire a shared purpose: They embody the values they want to see in their staff, and realign teams with their values as needed.
- Connect services: They understand an organization’s internal politics and adopt outside approaches that can address challenges and overcome roadblocks.
- Develop capabilities: They provide opportunities for individuals and teams to develop, enabling improved long-term capabilities.
- Hold others to account: They have clear expectations, challenge teams for continuous improvement, and create an environment that fosters innovative change.
The bottom line is: healthcare managers are leaders. They need to perform many different tasks well (analyze data, communicate with diverse groups, work well with others, delegate tasks, manage their time) and thrive in a fast-paced healthcare environment.
Many healthcare managers start in other business organizations before transitioning to healthcare. Some start at entry-level clerical roles, whereas others work as managers and directors before making the move to senior- and executive-level roles in healthcare.
In general, professionals in healthcare management may have an undergraduate or graduate degree.
Undergraduate healthcare management degrees focus primarily on entry-level management and strategic communication. Common undergraduate degrees of healthcare managers are in:
- Business administration
Individuals with an undergraduate degree will need to supplement their education with courses and experience that reflect their specific expertise in healthcare. These might include:
- Additional coursework in healthcare leadership, healthcare organization, medical ethics, business ethics, or healthcare law and compliance
- Internships or work experience at a hospital, care clinics, health industry regulatory organization, or similar organization
Job candidates need to learn about the leadership issues that are unique to healthcare employers and departments, which are typically not covered in a four-year degree program.
Candidates with advanced degrees, such as a Master of Health Administration (MHA), often have additional training and exposure to healthcare leadership principles, healthcare business trends, and best practices.
Most successful candidates have a graduate degree plus at least two years of experience in a leadership role at a healthcare organization.
Few professionals transition from clinical practice to healthcare management, as most come from business backgrounds. To thrive in healthcare management, business professionals need to gain experience working in a healthcare setting.
Some examples of ways to gain professional experience working in healthcare on the administrative side are:
- Working in data entry or data quality oversight, especially with social service client tracking
- Working in healthcare policy for a government agency, legislative team, or healthcare-related nonprofit
- Working in financial billing or compliance for a healthcare organization
Individuals considering a career in healthcare management should choose their graduate school carefully.
Employers look for regionally accredited programs. Well-respected program-specific accreditations for healthcare management are provided by:
- The Commission on Accreditation Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
- The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
- The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
Additionally, different schools offer different opportunities and resources for current students that can help students secure experience. Some programs have a dedicated internship opportunity for students. Some programs offer classes online, which can make it possible for working students to earn their degree without leaving their place of employment.
Nearly every healthcare organization needs healthcare managers — not just hospitals. Healthcare managers can enjoy long careers in:
- Public health
- Private practice
- Community health
- Policy analysis
- Telehealth services
Most healthcare employers seek healthcare managers with experience managing in a business setting. The role of a healthcare manager must constantly adapt to changes in healthcare organization structures. Hence, the need for flexible healthcare managers who can keep up with new technologies and demands in healthcare.
Healthcare management is experiencing rapid growth and offers excellent salaries. As of May 2020, healthcare managers had a median annual wage of $104,280, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Among the 422,300 healthcare managers employed across the U.S., the median hourly compensation was slightly over $50 per hour as of May 2020.
Healthcare manager salaries vary by type of organization (e.g., hospital or private practice), location, and experience.
These jobs also offer professional perks, including high rates of job satisfaction, personal autonomy (the ability to take ownership of one’s work), and transferable skills including leadership, data analysis, management, and strategic planning.
The BLS projects that the demand for healthcare services will grow 32 percent from 2019 to 2029 to keep pace with the aging baby boomer population — a projection in growth the BLS describes as “much faster than the average for all occupations.”
A healthcare manager’s salary can vary based on their specific role at their organization.
The CCO of a hospital or clinic makes sure that all operations comply with the healthcare industry’s laws and regulations. Healthcare CCOs work with other managers and executives to ensure compliance with federal and local guidelines. According to a 2019 report by the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA), CCOs had an average salary of $134,624 with some earnings for healthcare CCOs topping out at $180,000 and above.
The COO reports directly to the CEO of a hospital or clinic. As second in command, the COO oversees all operations and facilitates communication among various units and departments. ZipRecruiter reports that the average salary for a healthcare COO is $120,608. Because top executive positions are so competitive, salaries for COOs can exceed $200,000.
Healthcare facilities need administrators in order to function. They oversee operations and manage staff in a healthcare organization’s various departments. The average salary for a clinic administrator as of 2021 is $46,746 according to ZipRecruiter.
CNOs oversee nursing units throughout an organization. They typically need a healthcare management degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or a Master of Science in Nursing. Salaries for CNOs are over $100,000, with the lowest paid Chief Nursing Officers in Florida making an average of $105,000 annually and the highest paid in Massachusetts making an average of $147,120 per year.
Healthcare department managers oversee daily operations of the departments within their organization. For example, an oncology department manager leads the oncology department. Depending on the organization, healthcare department managers may work directly with the public (if they work for a university or hospitality company). The median annual salary for healthcare department managers is $72,855 according to ZipRecruiter.
Healthcare managers have the leadership to drive healthcare organizations toward sustainable growth. With their business acumen and professional experience in healthcare organizations or other professional industries, healthcare managers can usher in equitable and profitable changes by introducing new technologies, communication tools, leadership styles, and organizational processes.
Excellent healthcare management starts with competent, compassionate healthcare leaders. Are you already working in a management role? Are you interested in making the leap into healthcare management?
The online master’s in health administration degree program at Tulane University can help you take that next step in your career. Healthcare needs leaders. Be the change you want to see in healthcare, and learn more about how this advanced degree program can propel you to a better career in healthcare management.