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Healthcare Management Degree Online

healtcare management programs The American healthcare system is an enormous one. It’s already responsible for around 17 percent of the country’s GDP, and provides jobs for 16 million Americans. And according to international accounting and consulting firm Deloitte, it’s on track to create another 4 million of those jobs by 2026, with practitioners and technical support representing the fastest growing segments.

But it’s not just a story of robust growth and service. Although the healthcare sector is growing, it’s not growing fast enough. In the twenty-year run-up to 2025, the population overall is on pace to grow by 18 percent, almost 350 million people who will need medical care according to research published by the American College of Physicians. That has left the country dramatically short of caregivers, with an estimated 52,000 additional primary care providers needed by 2025. Only about 7,000 are expected to actually be added before 2030, however.

That’s one reason why the U.S. ranks among the worst countries in the developed world in terms of accessibility to primary care, while holding the top spot as the most expensive place on the planet to provide and receive healthcare services.

This is the environment you will be expected to manage, and it’s not for lightweights. It is, however, the perfect fit if you’re capable of staring down these kinds of challenges and finding solutions that help deliver cost-effective, high-quality care to patients, while at the same time delivering on the bottom line for the hospital or healthcare system you work for.

The way you perform the jobs will change lives, and the better prepared you are with the right education, the better off the American healthcare system will be.

What is Healthcare Management?

As the critical link in a complex network of doctors, specialists, nurses, vendors, accountants and more, the responsibility of managing all the inner workings of hospitals and medical practices lands squarely in the wheelhouse of healthcare managers.

Nationwide, 36 million Americans are checked in to those facilities every year in need of a level of care and treatment that requires a hospital stay, and millions more pass through those doors for outpatient procedures, consultations, or evaluations. For some of them, despite the best efforts of their caregivers, coming through those doors will be the last thing they ever do in this world; for others, it will be the first chance at a newer, better, and healthier life.

Healthcare administrators play a crucial, and often unsung, role in the experience every last one of those people have. The choices you make every day will change the odds of how many of those patients will go home after their treatment, and fundamentally alter the nature of their experience in the healthcare system.

While they will be seeing hardworking clinicians and front-line staff in reception, pharmacies, and even cleaning and janitorial services, they won’t necessarily see the person who ties all those vital services together: you, the healthcare administrator, balancing budgets, hiring and motivating staff, and keeping the doors open.

Healthcare Management Job Descriptions: What Hospital and Practice Managers Do Every Day

The hospital or practice administrator is in charge of the operation of the health care facility. In essence, you oversee all the departments that make up your facility including accounting, nursing, medicine, dining and more. At a small outpatient clinic, you are likely to have to cover more duties but will also have more one-on-one contact with patients and staff. At a large hospital with a lot of departments, you might find yourself operating as part of a team of hospital administrators, each of you responsible for your respective departments.

Regardless of the size of your facility, your day will include a wide range of tasks. You might have a morning breakfast meeting to review a fundraising drive, followed by a sit-down to go over facility budget with your accountants, along with a number of other meetings. Overall, you will be balancing everything from staff concerns to patient care and finances.

While those basics offer the broad strokes of administrative work in healthcare, you’ll find that the particulars shift quickly. Hospital administrators had to scramble at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to cover supply and staffing shortages, and even a lack of bed space; in some cases they had to supervise makeshift field hospital facilities going up in fairgrounds and sports stadiums.

The industry hasn’t come through it unscarred, and in the aftermath of the pandemic we’re seeing shifts in hospital administration work as well. An estimated 30 percent of staff who worked directly with COVID patients exhibit PTSD symptoms, an HR challenge that hospital managers will be addressing in one way or another for the remainder of their careers.

At the same time, managers in smaller practices and non-critical departments were forced to lay off some of their best workersdue to cash shortages as non-essential visits were cancelled during the pandemic.

That’s just one example of how your work may be a completely different experience depending on the kind of facility you manage. But you’ll also find differences between non-profit and for-profit healthcare providers, and between small, provider-owned practices and larger conglomerates.

While you’ll spend a lot of your day in meetings or revising budget spreadsheets or negotiating with suppliers just like any manager in any other business, healthcare offers a lot more drama, but along with that also comes a much bigger sense of how you’re making a difference with every decision you make.

Healthcare Management Requirements: Getting The Right Degree to Work as a Healthcare Manager in Hospitals and Clinics

Needless to say, making the right calls in all those situations takes a first-rate education. At most facilities, that means earning at least a master’s degree in a relevant field. Only the very smallest operations, tiny clinics and urgent care centers, will consider a bachelor’s degree adequate for their management team.

The very largest hospital systems, the ones that operate dozens or even hundreds of hospitals and far-flung networks of specialist support centers and clinics, look for administrators who have earned an MHA or similar master’s at minimum, or a terminal degree in the field, often a practice-focused Doctor of Health Administration (DHA).

Nonetheless, you will have to work your way up before you get to those heights, and things you learn at every level will stick with you along the way.

Types of Degrees Hospital and Clinic Administrators Typically Hold

The business of healthcare is still a business, and most administrators will look for a degree that is business or finance oriented. Of course, majors in healthcare administration are the type of degree that is most squarely aimed at hospital management, but you’ll find completely adequate paths to the same jobs through degrees in fields like:

  • Business Administration
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Public Health
  • Health Science
  • Health Services

Many of those business-focused degrees can be found offered with concentrations in healthcare administration, while the healthcare focused ones often offer a focus in business and management. No matter how they’re structured, these degrees offer you the right blend of healthcare-specific expertise and business training. Further specializing by looking for a concentration in acute care or health promotion can give you the exact preparation you need in those niches.

Most of those are offered at every level from associate through doctorate, with differences in coursework and purpose that reflect the types of roles they’re designed to prepare you for:

At the entry-level, undergraduate degrees can prepare you to step into administrative roles on the ground floor:

  • Associate – Two years in length; designed for entry-level work, includes only basic and vocational training; often offers general education coursework and the ability to transfer credits to a bachelor’s program to satisfy the first two years of study in those degrees.
  • Bachelors – Four years in length; delivers a good all-round education in both healthcare and business specific areas as well as general liberal arts coursework designed to improve your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

The higher-level management and executive roles in virtually any healthcare organization, certainly major hospitals and hospital systems, are reserved for professionals with a lot of experience and advanced degrees:

  • Masters MHA (Master of Healthcare Administration), MSHA (Master of Science in Healthcare Administration) and MBA programs with a healthcare administration focus are usually two to three years long; offering a much more in-depth investigation of the major area, with a focus on analysis and leadership. Requires a thesis project and some exposure to research skills, and usually comes with internship or other experiential learning.
  • Doctorates PhD and DHA (Doctor of Healthcare Administration) programs are also about three years in length; delivering the most intensive and cutting-edge exploration of topics in the major area, largely self-directed and builds toward a publication-quality dissertation or major project.

Doctorates come with either a research-oriented or applied, practice-focused lean to them; a PhD is considered the research branch and is intended to prepare future professors and high-caliber researchers for roles in the industry. Applied doctorates, like the DHA are intended to prepare active administrators for major leadership positions. But in an industry like healthcare where education often involves active practice, the lines can be blurred, and it’s common to find chief executives at major teaching hospitals who hold PhDs in the field.

Should You Pick an Online Program to Earn Your Healthcare Management Degree?

The fact that more and more degrees at every level are being offered either entirely or partly through online programs reflects both the times we live in and the real advantages remote delivery provides in terms of flexibility and scheduling.

Being able to study from anywhere, at any time with asynchronous classes, makes a college degree far more accessible to far more people than the traditional on-campus format. And the simplicity and seamlessness of the few synchronous Zoom classes and online proctored exams you’ll take give you an experience very similar to what you would find in the classroom anyway. There aren’t too many arguments that can be made for why fighting traffic to get to campus every day and reorganizing your life around in-person classes is a better option.

There are some people who do learn better in classrooms, however, and some classes that are just easier to grasp in person. While many traditional programs can fill those needs, you’ll also find a lot of mixed, or hybrid, degrees—particularly at more advanced degree levels—where much of your study happens online, but with occasional on-campus classes or in-person meetings to bridge the gaps.

The Importance of Accreditation in Healthcare Management Degrees

Accreditation is the process by which third-party organizations examine and evaluate colleges and degree programs to assess how closely they meet the expectations of the American public and employers. A degree from an accredited program will be accepted anywhere in the world and signify that your training has met the standards that are expected of a college graduate.

Since almost every American college has received institutional accreditation from an agency that meets the standards of the Department of Education for general academics, you don’t usually have to think too much about this sort of accreditation.

But when you are looking specifically at degrees focused in certain fields, it can make sense to check to see if the degree itself, or the department that offers it, holds a specialty accreditation. A specialty accreditor goes through very much the same process as general accreditors in looking at the documentation, hiring practices, and resources behind a program, but with an eye toward validating the particular aspects that are important within a specific field.

If you’re looking at an MHA or MSHA specifically, there’s only one organization to be familiar with – Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).

Though CAHME doesn’t accredit bachelor’s or doctoral programs, it can serve as a guide when looking at those programs since the instructors and certain elements of the curriculum are likely to be the same as those found at the master’s level. CAHME accredits fewer than 100 programs, so it’s definitely not a deal-breaker if a program hasn’t submitted to the organization’s accreditation process, but if you happen to find the program you’re interested in has the CAHME stamp of approval, you can be confident you’re in good hands.

If you’re looking at an MBA or business degree with a healthcare administration focus, then it’s definitely worth considering programs that hold accreditation from one of the three specialty business school accreditors:

Professional Certifications Available to Healthcare Managers

Professional certifications are big in healthcare, but there are only a few worth considering for hospital and clinic managers:

There is nothing that says you have to become professionally certified, and there certainly is no legal requirement for it, but any one of these certifications provides you with a way to add to your credentials in a very visible way. It’s simply a writ large way to provide employers and the public with a concise picture of your education, the knowledge you’ve demonstrated through exams, and your experience in the field. Certifications also usually require ongoing continuing education credits in order to maintain them, so they also speak to your continued professional development as an administrator.

It’s important to distinguish these professional certifications from academic certificates that many schools offer as a short-course education option. An academic certificate program is basically a set of college courses that in some cases offer valid and transferable credits that are designed to improve your education in a specific subject. The professional certification, on the other hand, is more of an assessment of your knowledge and skills and a way to demonstrate that you were found to have exactly the skillset the industry is looking for.

Career and Salary Prospects for Hospital and Clinic Managers

As you probably guessed from all the discussion of the rapid expansion of healthcare in the United States, hospital and clinic managers are expected to be in great demand for the foreseeable future. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for medical and health services managers are expected to skyrocket by 32 percent between 2019 and 2029.

Your salary prospects are bright, too. The median pay for managers was $100,980 according to BLS, but that’s a job category that includes many managers at lower levels. Looking exclusively at top executives in the healthcare industry, the bureau found that the median was well above that, at $166,410.

That’s probably a fair look at compensation when it comes to the full range of clinic and hospital management careers out there, but at big healthcare systems, many executives pull down over $1 million annually. The New York Times reported that hospital administrators routinely make more money than the physicians working in those hospitals.

That number continues to increase, as well. And it’s not just at for-profit organizations; Modern Healthcare found that pay raises for executives at several Chicago-area non-profit health facilities averaged 37 percent in the one-year period from 2016 to 2017.

Of course, your compensation can and will vary depending on the size of the organization and your ability to hit performance targets that are put in place for everything from reducing infection and readmittance rates to the simple dollars and cents of operating within budget.

Resources for Future Healthcare Managers

You’ll find your path to hospital or practice management is a lot smoother, and your tenure there more secure, if you take advantage of the various resources available to professionals in the field. There are many organizations that are devoted to bringing together the best people and ideas in the business and keeping them connected. Even before you become a hospital or clinic administrator, it’s a good idea to tap into the expertise available with the following organizations.

  • Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals:cDedicated to the professionals who support the nation’s top healthcare leaders, this organization provides leadership opportunities through work on committees and groups in order to strengthen the delivery of healthcare.
  • American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management: AAHAM represents a broad base of healthcare professionals, providing information, education, and advocacy in the fields of reimbursement, admitting and registration, data management, medical records, patient relations, and so on.
  • American College of Healthcare Executives: This international organization of executive healthcare leaders advances professionalism and expertise in the field of healthcare management. Members receive the latest research and education and receive policy updates at the annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership.
  • American Health Information Management Association: Members of AHIMA receive the latest updates on topics such as privacy and security, coding, electronic health records, reimbursement, and compliance, as well as professional development and networking opportunities.
  • Healthcare Financial Management Association: This member-based organization supports individuals and organizations by providing education and development opportunities, deciphering the complexities of American healthcare financial practices to build more stable and effective organizations.
  • The National Association of Healthcare Access Management: This organization provides educational programming and networking opportunities for healthcare professionals involved with the management of patient access services like scheduling, registration, insurance processing, and other patient-facing assistance.
  • Health Resources and Services Administration: This agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) supports the training of health professionals and distribution of provider care to geographically isolated, economically or medically vulnerable areas.
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