How to Become a Hospital Administrator
To put it simply, becoming a hospital administrator means getting educated, getting certified, and getting to work. For details, continue reading below.
Featuring expert interview with Lori Sparks Corgan, RN, BSN, MS, CCM CRN-R
It takes a special kind of person to keep a hospital running — someone who can look at financial reports, inventories, and HR statistics and remember that every number represents a real person’s well-being. That person might be a chemo patient, an overworked nurse, or a grieving family member. In hospital administration, compassion can’t suffer for the sake of boardroom politics.
If you have a mind for business and a passion for changing lives, becoming a hospital administrator could very well be your calling. But before you start your journey, learn what hospital administrators do every day, how they learn to do it, and the salary potential that comes with such an integral role in modern healthcare.
What Does a Hospital Administrator Do?
Many of a hospital administrator’s responsibilities are defined by the size of hospital they work in. In large, urban hospitals, administrators may only be in charge of one or two departments. In smaller ones, they may oversee most aspects of the facility’s operations.
Likewise, different types of hospitals need administrators with different skill sets. For instance, an administrator in a cancer treatment hospital may need to stay up-to-date on research and work with a global network of experts. On the other hand, psychiatric hospital administrators may need to focus on blending inpatient services with long-term aftercare programs.
But across all types of facilities, hospital administrator job duties typically fall into certain domains:
- Preparing annual budgets.
- Allocating funds to the appropriate departments.
- Authorizing expenditures.
- Creating revenue reports and tracking financial success.
- Equipping staff with the right technology, medicine, and equipment to carry out their duties.
- Maintaining an efficient flow of information, patients, and services.
- Overseeing facility maintenance.
- Monitoring and preventing legal issues.
- Conducting performance reviews.
- Coordinating between different departments and department heads.
- Facilitating professional development (training, certification, continuing education).
- Devising recruitment strategies.
- Creating employee training and orientation programs.
- Overseeing employee benefits like insurance and paid time off.
- Resolving workplace disputes.
- Coordinating with local organizations on community events.
- Eliciting funds from private donors.
- Creating a positive image through websites, billboards, social media, and other marketing strategies.
- Monitoring patient outcomes and discussing them with staff.
- Identifying and resolving overarching patient care issues.
- Ensuring compliance with all state and federal safety regulations.
- Organizing services to meet the community’s specific health needs.
Along with actually carrying out these responsibilities, hospital administrators craft policies and procedures with input from staff, patients, and other stakeholders. In doing so, administrators are often key players in their facilities’ daily operations.
Answers from an Expert: What is the difference between a hospital administrator and a healthcare administrator?
“Typically the largest difference between hospital administrators and healthcare administrators is that hospital admin focuses more on managing the day-to-day operations of the facility functions such as hospital staffing, i.e. doctors, nurses, and ancillary staff for all clinical departments and department budgets. Healthcare administrators often take a broader view than the day to day operations that is the hospital admin main focus. Healthcare administrators might be involved in the overseeing of hospital/facility policies and future operations.”
–Lori Sparks Corgan, RN, BSN, MS, CCM CRN-R
Specializations Within Hospital Administration
Not every hospital administrator is a generalist. Some go through degree programs that emphasize specific aspects of the job. Others narrow their focus throughout their careers by pursuing professional certifications or licenses.
Here are a few specialties hospital administration professionals can pursue.
A 2019 research paper found that healthcare organizations often need to manage over 19 terabytes (1,000 gigabytes) of clinical data every year. Physically, that would make literal mountains of test results, screening images, and other vital information. Health informatics specialists use their knowledge of data management systems and hardware to keep it under control.
But informatics administration isn’t just an IT role. Specialists use their talents to analyze patterns, present their findings in a visual format to the clinical team, and help medical professionals assess treatment options.
Patient Access Services Administration
The American Hospital Administration reports that there are over 33 million hospital admissions in the US every year. That’s 33 million patients who need the right services at the right time. Patient access services administrators make sure no one gets lost in the shuffle.
These professionals make sure patient registration procedures are streamlined by:
- Making staff schedules and participating in hiring
- Overseeing patient appointment scheduling
- Analyzing and reporting on patient visit times
- Assisting with patient issues
- Developing systems that make every aspect of the patient experience exceptional (online registration, insurance coding, intake paperwork, etc.)
Critical and Acute Care Administration
There’s perhaps nothing busier than a packed emergency room. In fact, the CDC reports that there are around 131 million emergency room visits in the US each year. Critical and acute care administration specialists play a huge part in making those visits go as smoothly as possible.
This might include scheduling ERs for peak times, managing supplies, and making sure all policies are ethically- and medically-sound. Along with supporting front-line staff, acute care administrators often help patients deal with trauma and coordinate with local emergency services.
How to Become a Hospital Administrator
It’s common for hospital administrators to start their careers in other healthcare roles. Then, they get promoted into managerial positions related to their expertise. For instance, nurses might move into clinical care administration while medical registrars might become informatics administrators.
However, this isn’t always true. Many administrators take a more educational path to achieve their career goals.
Generally speaking, there are four basic steps to becoming a hospital administrator by way of education:
- Get a bachelor’s degree.
- Get a Master’s degree.
- Gain experience.
- Consider getting certified.
If this educational path aligns with your own goals, here’s what you need to know about becoming a hospital administrator.
1. Get a Bachelor’s Degree
Specific hospital administration degrees at the bachelor’s level aren’t very common. However, you may want to pursue a bachelor’s in the broader field of health administration or health systems management. This way, you have an educational foundation to build on later.
Bachelor’s degrees in human resource management, information technology, or finance can also put you on the path to becoming a specific type of hospital administrator. Combining one of these areas as a minor with a major in healthcare administration may prove to be advantageous in later stages of your education and career.
2. Get a Master’s Degree
Like at the bachelor’s level, hospital administration Master’s degrees are rare. Instead, you may want to pursue a Master’s in Healthcare Administration (MHA) through a program that offers a hospital administration focus.
Typically, MHA curriculum includes anywhere from 36 to 64 credit hours. Programs can take as little as a year to complete if you attend full time. Part-time programs can often be completed in two to three years, with some taking five to six years.
Along with learning about the many departments that make up a hospital’s structure, you may also take classes about:
- Healthcare laws and policy
- Medical ethics
- Data management regulations as outlined by HIPAA
- Organizational leadership and development
- Healthcare finance topics like insurance and non-profit management
- IT in a healthcare setting
- Public health
In addition to regular coursework, MHA programs typically require students to complete a capstone project and/or thesis paper. These hands-on projects may require researching hospital administration topics, coming up with ideas to improve hospital policies and procedures, and may even let students work directly with local hospitals.
MHA Admission Requirements
Each MHA program has its own admission requirements, but they typically ask prospective students to have:
- A high level of achievement in their undergraduate studies or on placement exams.
- A written personal statement.
- A résumé detailing all relevant experience.
- Two letters of recommendation.
- GMAT or GRE scores (this isn’t a requirement for all programs).
After earning an MHA, students are ready to start gaining work experience or even pursue a Doctor of Health Administration (DHA). However, DHAs aren’t required for most mid- and upper-level hospital roles.
Different Types of Health Administration Master’s Degrees
An MHA is only one type of degree future hospital administrators can earn. Students with specific career goals in mind may want to investigate programs with narrower focuses.
Executive MHA programs are similar to their MHA counterparts except that Executive programs are tailored to working healthcare professionals. They typically require work experience instead of GRE scores for admission, are offered in flexible virtual or hybrid formats, and can be great networking opportunities.
Master of Science in Health Administration (M.S.H.A.)
This is similar to the M.H.A. degree, with a more intense focus on scientific methods and subjects.
Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) with Health Administration focus
The M.P.H. program trains students for a public health career. Specialties might include global health and health education and promotion.
Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) in Health Administration
For those who are more business-minded, an M.B.A. may be the best route to take. This option can be great for students who wish to pivot into other sectors of healthcare administration.
3. Gain Practical Work Experience in Health Administration
Fortunately for aspiring administrators, the healthcare sector is rich in entry-level jobs. Some are even available with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Entry-level jobs in hospital administration include:
- Hospital unit clerk
- Health information technologist
- Medical registrar
- Patient services representative
- Administrative assistant
- Billing manager
- Patient advocate
Many of these entry-level positions allow working students to work with the types of administrators they’re aspiring to be.
However, you may also gain work experience through administrative fellowship programs. Offered through healthcare providers and professional organizations, these one- or two-year paid positions allow students to get hands-on experience and work with a mentor. In some cases, these programs lead directly to employment opportunities.
After earning your MHA and gaining some experience, you might not be able to jump straight into a high-level administrative position. However, many graduates become administrators for specific departments or work in smaller hospitals. From there, they can move on to more senior positions in larger hospital systems.
4. Earn Industry Certification
While it isn’t essential to get certified as a hospital administrator, doing so can be beneficial. Hospital administrators do not need to be licensed by the state. Their professional credentials will demonstrate their qualifications, ability, and experience in the field—and gaining professional certification is a testament to that. The following are both examples of board certification:
American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Accreditation
This body certifies healthcare and hospital administrators at the master’s and doctoral levels. Certification can be achieved only after five years in the role and participation in two community or civic activities, as well as two healthcare-related ones. You will also need several references from current ACHE fellows and passing grades on relevant tests.
Certified Medical Manager (CMM) Accreditation
This is the only nationally accredited professional certification specific to medical office and practice management. In addition to passing an exam, candidates for the CMM designation must have at least two years of experience, twelve college credits, and professional references.
Hospital Administrator Salary and Career Trends
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies hospital administrators under the broader category of medical and health managers. According to their data, these positions often pay very well and are projected to be in demand for at least the next decade.
While the median annual wage for medical and health managers is $101,340, the lowest-earning 10% bring home closer to $60,780. However, the top 10% of administrators earn salaries of $205,620 and above.
The BLS says average job growth for all industries through 2031 is about 5%. Employment in health services management is projected to grow by 28%. That’s about 56,000 new job openings every year.
Additionally, a 2021 survey administered by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) found that hospital CEOs rank staffing shortages as their biggest problem. According to ACHE executives, this is the first time since 2004 that financial issues haven’t been number one.
Career Growth Through 2031 by Industry
|Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, private||45.6%|
|State, local, and private hospitals||25.9%|
|Private specialty hospitals (excluding psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals)||38.6%|
|State, local and private specialty hospitals (excluding psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals)||36.5%|
Hospital Administrator Resources
- Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals: The AHCAP is an organization offering a variety of services, including professional development, leadership opportunities, and education.
- American College of Healthcare Executives: ACHE is a professional organization focused on advancing leaders and excellence in the field of healthcare management, offering accreditation, training, community, and more.
- National Center for Healthcare Leadership: The NCHL offers healthcare administrators three membership programs — The Leadership Excellence Networks (LENS), U.S. Cooperative of International Patient Programs (USCIPP), and The National Council on Administrative Fellowships (NCAF), which offers a centralized service for fellowship applications
- Healthcare Administrators Association: The HCAA is a prominent non-profit trade association supporting the education, networking, and resource and advocacy needs of its members.
- Health Resources & Services Administration: The HRSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for improving healthcare for people who are geographically isolated or vulnerable economically or medically.
- American Hospital Association: The AHA represents and serves all types of hospitals, healthcare networks, and their patients and communities, with nearly 5,000 hospitals, healthcare systems, and networks, and 43,000 individual members.
- Children’s Hospital Association: The CHA advances child health through innovation in the quality, cost, and delivery of care specifically within children’s hospitals.
- Journal of Healthcare Leadership: The Journal of Healthcare Leadership is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access journal focusing on leadership for the healthcare professions.
- American College of Healthcare Administrators: The ACHCA is a non-profit professional membership association that provides educational programming, networking, and career development opportunities for its members.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for medical and health services managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.
Why should someone pursue a career in hospital administration?
Healthcare professions are growing including the field of hospital admin. Hosp admin is a challenging role requiring quick creative thinking & flexibility. It encompasses detail & organization as well as the ability to see the big picture and identify opportunities to implement improvements. There is an opportunity for personal fulfillment in this role.
What does an average day look like for a hospital administrator?
Hospital admin census and acuity of patients hospitalized on that particular day would be reviewed by the hospital admin each day. Discharge projections for the day & emergency department census for hospital beds possibly needed for the day would be identified. Staffing would be something a hospital admin would be aware of everyday not just for the current day but for the week/month. Interfacing with other departments (clinical and non-clinical, i.e. financial) regarding status of timely projects would be a daily responsible. Meetings to disseminate information hospital wide.
What personality traits does a good hospital administrator need and why?
Excellent communication skills would be required. The hospital admin interfaces with numerous individuals in varied departments and needs to be able to communicate clearly & effectively to individuals as well as to large groups. The hospital admin would need to be able to inspire others when implementing new policies as changes can be challenging to initiate. The hospital admin needs to be able to weigh the needs of multiple groups – patients/families, staff, facility, community.
There are opinion pieces out there about doctors and nurses disliking hospital administrators. Is there any way you could speak to that?
Yes, you bring up a real issue with dislike of hospital admin in some instances. Hospital administrators in many instances come from the ranks of clinical staff previously. Hospital administration goals can sometimes be at odds with needed staffing numbers as far as financial resources/goals for staffing as well as staff shortages (nurses for example). For example, CA is the only state that stipulates in law and regulations a minimum nurse to patient ratios to be maintained at all times by unit. Sometimes staff feels that the hospital admin is viewing the bottom line of the hospital financially as more valuable than safer patient care for example. The ability of a hospital admin to weigh the needs of multiple groups & advocate for those needs would be a necessary quality for a hospital admin.
Anything else a potential hospital administrator should know?
Something I wanted to add is that acute inpatient hospitals are not the only facilities that employ administrators for daily operations – Skilled Nursing Facilities and Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities for both physical and psychiatric patients also have on site administrators.
HEALTH ADMINISTRATION SCHOOLS
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia