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How to Become a Hospital Administrator

Lori Sparks Corgan

Featuring expert interview with Lori Sparks Corgan, RN, BSN, MS, CCM CRN-R

Hospital administration, a specialty within healthcare administration, is one of the most advanced leadership careers in all of healthcare. It focuses on the overall operation of hospitals and other large health facilities and requires both healthcare experience and business acumen. This page provides essential information about what the career and education path entail.

What Does a Hospital Administrator Do?

Hospital administrators manage and coordinate the operations of a hospital or other healthcare facility. Their overarching goals are to ensure that care standards and financial objectives are being met. Achieving these goals involves a wide range of responsibilities.

  • Financial: Responsible for fiscal performance, including such tasks as preparing the annual budget, reviewing and authorizing expenditures, creating reports
  • Business: Lead all business development and operational planning efforts; ensure that hospital operations are efficient, effective, and meeting organizational objectives
  • Supervisory: Manage and coordinate all departments, including overseeing and mentoring department heads, facilitating communication, conducting associate performance reviews, and arranging professional development as needed
  • Human resources: Ensure that the hospital is adequately staffed, recruiting and training new staff as needed, creating and maintaining a high-performing, positive, engaged workplace culture
  • Patient care: Responsible for the quality of services provided to patients including patient safety and compliance with federal and state statutes and regulations
  • Marketing and fundraising: Liaise with community and stakeholders to promote a positive image, plan community events, and acquire financing as needed

Hospital administrators often work with a board of directors in performing these tasks. In particular, they report to the board about all aspects of the facility so the board can make sure the hospital is achieving its goals.

As a hospital administrator you might work in a wide variety of settings including public hospitals, private healthcare centers, government-run facilities, and specialty facilities such as psychiatric hospitals, veteran’s hospitals, children’s hospitals, and hospitals that focus on specific diseases such as cancer.

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

Hospital Administrator Job Duties

Although many hospital administrator positions involve all facets of running a hospital, in some cases—especially at larger facilities—the administrator may specialize in a certain area. They might oversee a particular clinical division of a hospital, such as cardiology or obstetrics, or focus on one facet of hospital operations, such as human resources or business development.

Other more narrowly focused jobs include:

Health Informatics
In this data-led age, healthcare has become increasingly digitized. Health informatics specialists need a strong understanding of IT and data analytics, solid communication skills, and good business acumen to translate data into protocols and realized outcomes.

Patient Advocacy
Often, the people who would benefit the most from additional support are the ones who have the quietest voices. Hospital administrators who specialize in advocacy, either for individual patients within a facility or for populations and communities at large, should be well-versed in payment options, insurance matters, and government regulation.

Public Policy Administration
Those who specialize in public policy administration will need to use their strong networking and research skills to study, plan, and build policy proposals that will eventually impact the laws and regulations that govern the healthcare industry.

How to Become a Hospital Administrator

There isn’t one specific path to follow to get a hospital administrator job. You may begin your career in some other role with that goal in mind (some start as doctors or nurses) and be promoted to the position. However, it’s common for hospital administrators to earn a relevant degree—and an increasing number of employers now require a master’s as well. Generally speaking, there are four basic steps to becoming a hospital administrator:

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree
  2. Get a master’s degree
  3. Gain experience
  4. Consider getting certified

Get a Bachelor’s Degree

There are many bachelor’s programs in health administration available, with majors such as health systems management and health services topics such as information technology. However, other degrees—such as finance, business, and human resources—may also be relevant. At this stage, unless you are already set on being a healthcare administrator, any number of major/minor combinations can get you into a master’s program.

Get a Master’s Degree

It’s unusual to find a specific master’s degree in hospital administration—instead, you’ll likely need to earn a master’s in healthcare administration with a hospital administration focus. There are a number of degree paths you can take, including:

Master of Health Administration (M.H.A.)
With an M.H.A. program you’ll gain a general basis of knowledge and competencies needed for careers in hospital administration. You could also specialize in subjects such as finance or health informatics.

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.

In general, master’s programs in healthcare administration require from 36 to 64 credits and can take as little as a year to complete if you attend full time. Part-time programs, which are popular with working professionals, can generally be completed in two to three years, with some taking five to six years.

Prerequisites to begin a master’s program may vary depending on your college, but generally you will need to have:

  • A high level of achievement in your undergraduate studies or on placement exams
  • A written personal statement
  • A résumé detailing all relevant experience
  • Letters of recommendation

Passing requirements may include a minimum of 42 to 44 hours of coursework, plus either field experience or a thesis (also known as a capstone project), with either one entailing a minimum of six to eight hours.

During your master’s in health administration program you may cover topics such as:

  • The U.S. healthcare system
  • Strategic planning and marketing in healthcare
  • Financial management for healthcare organizations
  • Public health administration
  • Legal aspects of healthcare management
  • Healthcare ethics and governance
  • Information technology for healthcare administration
  • Human resources management in healthcare

Toward the end of your master’s degree program you’ll usually be expected to complete a capstone project. This serves as the culmination of your education and gives you an opportunity to integrate and demonstrate the knowledge you’ve gained.

Doctoral programs are also available to students wishing to enter hospital administration jobs, but are not required for most roles.

Gain Practical Work Experience in Health Administration

As with many careers, it can be beneficial to gain practical experience in the field either before or after your master’s degree. This is particularly relevant for those who earned a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, such as finance, rather than a specific healthcare administration degree.

After earning your master’s degree it may not be easy to enter straight into a hospital administration job, especially if you want to work in a large facility. Some graduates choose to start in smaller hospitals and gain experience in those roles first.

Top graduates may be able to find administrative fellowships. These are one- or two-year paid positions for post-graduates that provide hands-on experience in daily administrative functions and give students the opportunity to find mentors. A study by the American College of Healthcare Executives found that 54% of the participants in fellowship programs accepted permanent positions within the corporations where they served the fellowship.

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) provides salary data for the general category of “medical and health services managers.” ZipRecruiter has salary data specifically for hospital administrators. Here are their salary reports:

Medical and Health Managers

$58,680
Low

$99,730
Median

$182,600
High

Hospital Administrators

$70,000
Low

$101,880
Median

$140,000
High

Hospital administrators are in high demand, with the BLS reporting an average 17.6% job growth for all medical and health service managers between 2018 and 2028. Growth is even higher for management roles in certain types of hospitals, including:

Career Growth by Industry

Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, private 22%
Specialty hospitals, private (excluding psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals) 39.8%
Specialty hospitals, state, local, and private (excluding psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals) 36.2%

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.

Expert Q&A with Lori Sparks Corgan

Lori Sparks Corgan

Lori Sparks Corgan is an RN, BSN, MS, CCM CRN-R with over 30 years of experience in patient care and health management. Her focus has been on pediatrics, NICU, psychiatrics, home health, and hospice care. Most recently she has become a certified RN case manager and medical coder working as a Utilization Management RN Consultant. She finds her Appeal Consultant role to be stimulating and fulfilling.

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.

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