The Skills You Need to Excel
as a Healthcare Administrator
It's a career choice that is often overlooked but choosing to work in healthcare administration could be a great decision. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of healthcare occupations generally is projected to grow fourteen percent by 2028, which is much faster than for other professions. This growing sector needs administrators to keep it running smoothly.
Healthcare administration is well paid with a median salary of $114,000 and a top-level salary of $207,000. There are also high levels of job satisfaction amongst healthcare administrators because the role is not only varied and interesting, but you will actually be making a difference to the lives of the people being cared for by the service.
As an added bonus, as the skill base for healthcare administrators is so broad, you will find that by working in this field you will acquire a range of transferable skills that you could use should you want to try a new career later on. Healthcare administrators are also actively encouraged to continue their education, so working in this field is a great way to support your personal growth.
What is Healthcare Administration?
Healthcare administration is so much more than administration! Healthcare administrators are responsible for the management of healthcare facilities and ensure that the best possible healthcare is delivered.
Their role touches on business strategy, health policy, human resources, and financial areas. Depending on where you are working, you may be responsible for an entire healthcare practice, or it may be that you are responsible for a smaller department within a larger hospital; for example, you might work just with the cardiac department.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the medical field was advancing quickly with the discovery of antibiotics and the development of surgery into a much safer practice. With this advancement, more and more hospitals were built, and a need to effectively manage them arose. At this time, people doing the role that is now known as healthcare administration were called 'superintendents'. The first educational program for healthcare administrators began in 1916.
Today hospitals are more complex than ever before and under more pressure, than they have been. Hospitals are large businesses in which the government plays a huge role, plus they are home to highly advanced technology. Add to this the fact that payment for healthcare has now shifted to third parties in the form of insurance providers, and you can see how a healthcare administrator needs to have a wide range of knowledge about a lot of areas to function effectively. This need for specialist knowledge is one of the things that makes the career so rewarding, but also what makes it so hard to acquire a health administration degree.
With a rapidly aging population and a shortage of nurses, hospitals are under more pressure than ever before. It takes good healthcare administrators to ensure that the care that is delivered to patients in this challenging environment is of top quality and that the hospital can continue to run. These two goals can sometimes oppose one another, and it is up to the healthcare administrator to act as an arbitrator and ensure that these opposing goals can be met.
Now that we've seen what a healthcare administrator does, let's deep dive into the skills that are needed if this is a career choice you are considering.
Policies are the rules which govern healthcare facilities and ensure that everyone knows what they need to do in a given situation.
Policies are often created in response to a particular issue. For example, when it started to become apparent that smoking tobacco was bad for our health, policies were designed in hospitals to help medical professionals to have conversations with their patients about stopping smoking and to deal with the health complications that were arising in people who did smoke.
The policy making process is likely to include the following elements:
Engagement with stakeholders. This means reaching out to any groups or organizations that may be impacted by or have input into the policy that you are writing. So, for the example of a non-smoking policy, the stakeholders may have been the government, healthcare professionals with knowledge of the research on smoking, charities which help people to stop smoking, and health insurance groups whose policies may be affected. The final policy will have to have 'buy-in' from all of the parties for it to be effective, so they must be involved from the beginning. Multiple perspectives also make for a much more rounded policy that considers all points of view. The goals of these stakeholders may differ, so it is up to the healthcare administrator to facilitate discussion between the groups and come up with a compromise that still meets the original policy objective.
Situation analysis and priority setting. Situation analysis means having a comprehensive understanding not just of the current risk to health but also what impacts it may have on the healthcare facility if not addressed - for example, increasing patient numbers and the impacts that would have. From a detailed analysis of the situation, comes a list of priorities to be addressed, which informs the priorities within the policy itself.
Costing. Once an initial version of the policy has been designed, the healthcare administrator will need to quantify the cost, considering equipment, staff time, and medical resources. Usually, the cost of a few different versions of the policy will be calculated, and this cost will play into choosing the final policy.
Implementation. Once the policy has been designed and signed off by the stakeholders, the healthcare administrator will ensure that it is implemented into the organization by educating staff on what is expected and why it is essential. They will also make sure that staff have everything they need to allow them to implement the policy.
Monitoring and Iteration. Once the policy is in place, data will be collected to ensure that it is being implemented as expected and that it is having the desired outcome. If it isn't, then changes will be made to ensure the effectiveness of the policy going forward.
Hospitals only run because of the people who work there: whether they are a top-level consultant or a janitor, everyone is integral in keeping the hospital running. This is why the human resources aspect of the Healthcare Administrator job is so key.
It will be up to you to keep the people who work in your facility or department as happy as possible so that they can better perform their jobs.
This can mean mediating to resolve grievances between staff, dealing with disciplinary procedures, designing workplace initiatives to keep staff engaged with their work, arranging for any educational needs of staff to be met… the list goes on.
Hospitals are essential. However, they are also businesses that need to be competitive, just like any other business.
You will need to have a clear idea about what your facility's business strategy is, what you are hoping to achieve in the future, and how you are going to go about achieving it. For example, you might decide that your strategy will be to focus on patient satisfaction so that your business can grow through word of mouth. If that were your strategy, then decisions that you were making about your business would need to feed back into that strategy and any policies that you design. If, for example, there were a conflict between cost and patient satisfaction, your strategy would tell you that choosing the option which promoted patient satisfaction was the right way to go.
Like any other business, modern healthcare facilities also need to focus on marketing. You need to be sure that your patients know you exist and that they can easily interact with you online. Marketing for healthcare also hinges on consistent branding that is in line with the image that you wish to promote. For example, a funny marketing campaign might be very effective for some brands. However, healthcare is a more serious profession, so if you were taking this approach, you would have to consider it very carefully! As a healthcare administrator, it's unlikely that you would be solely responsible for the marketing of your facility but you still need to be aware of the marketing strategy as it feeds into the work that you do.
Financial management is the backbone of an effective healthcare facility. If there isn't any money, then patients can't be treated!
Healthcare administrators need to be financially savvy, not only keeping track of the current incomings and outgoings of their facility but predicting future costs and income using financial models, taking into account healthcare-specific factors such as the impacts of the seasons and the seasonal illnesses that come with them, to ensure that they remain solvent.
Financial management for healthcare is quite a specific skill set that it might be difficult to gain by working in other industries, so it could be worth studying this specifically if your aspiration is to be a healthcare administrator.
Data Collection and Analysis
As the role of a healthcare administrator is to make informed decisions about the direction of the facility and the policies that will be implemented within it, having accurate data upon which to base these decisions is absolutely crucial.
This means gathering data not only on the facility within the facility in which you are working but gathering data from other hospitals and healthcare providers across the country, looking for trends and then applying analysis to decide whether these trends will affect your facility.
Data analysis involves using statistics and analytical models to predict patterns and trends, and to make better sense of what is currently happening in your organization.
If you decide to work as a Healthcare Administrator, you may also be called upon to act as an advocate for a patient.
Essentially this means that you act as a support to a patient while they are discussing and receiving treatment. Advocates can be especially necessary for patients where memory is an issue because having a second set of ears present in the consulting room means that the patient can be assured that they have all of the information they need. In some cases, advocates can even make decisions on behalf of patients based on what they know about them, for example, if a patient is non-communicative, an advocate might use what they know about the patient to decide what treatment option they are likely to prefer and make this argument to the doctor or nurse administering it.
Advocacy is actually beneficial to any kind of patient, not just those who struggle to communicate. Some of the benefits of advocacy are that it:
Allows the patient to discuss new symptoms or whether a treatment is working for them with a third party so that they are clear on what they need to say when they go to their healthcare provider.
Gives a sense of having support in a consultation or treatment room.
Offers an extra set of ears to help make sense of what was discussed with the doctor or nurse. Sometimes as an advocate, you can take notes for the patient (with the permission of everyone present for the meeting).
Helps make sense of complex medical terminology for patients.
As you can see, healthcare administrators have a depth of knowledge on a multitude of aspects of healthcare. This makes healthcare administrators perfect people to act as a mediator when there is a situation with competing values because they can really see both sides of the story.
For example, in a difficult situation where a patient needed a treatment that was too expensive for the hospital to pay for, the healthcare administrator can empathize with the patient but also understand the hospital's budgetary needs. Ideally, the healthcare administrator can help both parties to come to an agreement so that everyone gets a solution that is right for them.
About the Author
This is a guest post by Maggie Hammond. Proud mama to two little people, and has one too many furry friends. Passionate about alternative medicine, the great outdoors and animal welfare.