Is a Master’s in Health Care Administration Worth It?

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A health care administrator meets with hospital staff.Health care administrators work behind the scenes to ensure that a health care facility runs smoothly, that health care workers have the tools and equipment to deliver effective care, and that patients’ health needs are met. The role is ideal for individuals seeking a business-focused career in the health care field.

How can individuals considering a career in health administration embark on a path toward a leadership role? To qualify for these competitive positions, job candidates need experience in business, health care, planning, leadership, and problem-solving, among other competencies. Additionally, a master’s degree can help prepare individuals for this role. Is a master’s in healthcare administration worth it, though?

Because health administration encompasses both business and health care responsibilities, health care administrators are tasked with a wide variety of duties. Individuals, whether they have business or clinical experience or both, can benefit from a Master of Health Administration (MHA) curriculum to help refine their competencies and knowledge and position them for success.

Health Care Administration vs. Nursing: Examining the Differences

When patients visit their doctor’s office, a hospital, or other health care facility, a nurse is one of the first people they see. What patients don’t often witness is the work that health care administrators perform out of public view, although they benefit greatly from it.

A comparison of health care administration vs. nursing reveals one similarity: Both are important to ensure that patients get the care they need. However, each role does this differently.

What Do Nurses Do?

As front-line health care providers, nurses play a pivotal role in ensuring positive patient outcomes. They interact directly with patients to deliver transformational care and provide treatment to fight disease and injury. Common nurse activities, often performed under extreme stress and limited resources, including the following:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Reviewing medical histories
  • Asking about symptoms
  • Performing physical examinations
  • Recording patient status in electronic health records (EHRs)

Nurse leaders such as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) have increased responsibility, including helping patients build wellness strategies, delivering care in specialized situations, leading nurse teams, and advising the public on various health issues.

Nurse roles require clinical experience, which isn’t necessary for an individual wanting to become a health care administrator. However, nurses looking to transition from a clinical position to a business-focused role can certainly leverage their knowledge and experience working with patients and apply it to a health care administration role. In this type of career transition scenario, advanced education can help a nurse prepare for a career in health care administration.

What Do Health Care Administrators Do?

Health care administration responsibilities involve using business skills to perform key aspects of the job, combined with having knowledge of health care practices and regulations. A primary activity of health care administrators is coordination of standards of care delivery.

Understanding what the process involves is important to coordinate care. Important elements of coordination of care include the following:

  • Organizing patient care activities to ensure that health care staff and other resources are available to care for patients
  • Sharing information to ensure that patients, their families, and health care professionals involved with patient care provide it safely and effectively
  • Establishing the groundwork for teamwork so physicians and nursing staff have the resources to do their work and the means for communicating clearly
  • Managing medication to ensure that life-saving medicines are available to treat patients and medical devices are in working condition
  • Supporting self-management health goals by making patients aware of and providing access to resources to stay healthy

The responsibilities of health care administrators go beyond supporting patient care and include key operational aspects, such as improving workplace efficiency, developing efficient strategies to promote the financial health of a health care facility, and ensuring the security and safety of guests and staff.

Individuals working outside of health care who are interested in careers in health care administration can leverage their business experience and skills to enter the field. While having clinical knowledge isn’t required for the role, understanding common medical terms and keeping up to date with health care laws and regulations are required. In this type of career transition scenario, advanced education can help an individual without any clinical knowledge or experience gain an understanding of medical field terminology and health care administration processes.

Is Health Care Administration a Good Career Choice?

Although health care administrators rarely interact with patients directly, their job impacts patients by contributing to the improvement of health care services. They help to shape a health care facility’s approach to care delivery, ultimately making a profound impact on patient health and well-being. For many individuals, this work provides a sense of satisfaction and opportunities to give back to the community.

Here are additional reasons that health care administration is a good career choice.

Various Opportunities

Health care administration roles come in different flavors and offer robust job opportunities. For example, health care administrators can serve at the executive level: Sample job titles include hospital CEO or nursing home manager. They may also oversee a specific function in a large hospital, such as the pediatric wing or diagnostics laboratory.

Other job titles for health care administrator roles include health insurance specialist, wellness program manager, health care marketing director, or medical device and equipment manager.

Fast-Paced Environment

Health care administrators can expect to work in a fast-paced environment with multiple activities occurring simultaneously. This requires them to be flexible enough to quickly switch between activities and work environments. One moment a healthcare administrator may be working on the hospital budget in an office, and the next moment meeting with healthcare facility personnel, nursing staff, and doctors to solve a problem.

Strong Growth Projections

Health care administration is in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected growth rate for medical and health services managers, including health care administrators, is 32% between 2020 to 2030, faster than the projected average growth rate for all occupations.

Competitive Salary

As healthcare leaders, healthcare administrators receive competitive compensation. The median annual salary for health care administrators was $104,280 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

Skills Needed for Health Care Administration

Detail-oriented individuals with administrative skills, business acumen, and a penchant for viewing challenging problems from various angles may be ideal candidates for roles in health care administration. Necessary qualities for success in health care administration include interpersonal and communication skills, problem-solving skills, and analytical and planning skills. Health care administration professionals are also strong leaders and adept at using technology, such as coding and classification software and EHR systems.

Here’s a breakdown of seven essential skills needed for health care administration.

1. Communication

How a health care administrator communicates with health staff, nurses, and doctors matters. Beyond knowing the right words to say, being straightforward in communication, cognizant of nonverbal communication cues, and an active listener are equally important.

2. Interpersonal

Relationships can become strained in stressful and fast-paced health care settings. Strong interpersonal skills are foundational to working well with colleagues. Possessing a calm demeanor to reduce tense situations is an asset.

3. Problem-Solving

Any number of things can and will go wrong on a given day. There could be an unexpected influx of patients or perhaps equipment isn’t functioning as it should. The ability to quickly resolve problems is critical. Being prepared should problems arise is important.

4. Analytical

Health care administrators need to think analytically and critically to analyze data and information, conduct research, and address various operational challenges.

5. Planning

Tasked with the heavy responsibility of ensuring that hospitals run smoothly, health care administrators have a lot on their plates. Strong planning skills enable them to accurately estimate the time and resources needed to complete their tasks and to know what’s needed to support staff.

6. Technology

Technology in hospitals encompasses EHRs, operational information systems, financial software, and much more. While health care administrators aren’t expected to be technical experts, they must possess a basic understanding of the technologies that hospitals use to ensure reliable operations.

7. Leadership

Effective leaders must be decisive, dependable, and filled with integrity: key qualities for getting individuals and teams to follow their lead. Leaders must also know how to build and maintain professional relationships and be ready to teach, mentor, or provide advice at a moment’s notice.

Acquiring Health Care Administration Skills

Health care administrators may begin their careers as entry-level administrators, medical records and health information technicians, or financial clerks before stepping into health care administration positions. Alternatively, a health care administrator may come from a clinical background such as a registered nurse in a hospital.

As they advance to senior-level roles, health care administrators acquire vital skills to oversee staff, work across clinical and administrative functions, and lead planning efforts. In the process, they acquire valuable leadership and organization skills. These skills are also well suited for management and technology initiatives. For example, health care administrators can use their analytical, problem-solving, and leadership skills to oversee the implementation of new technology or lead projects that involve helping teams adjust to major process changes throughout a facility.

To acquire or hone the leadership, technical, analytical, and interpersonal skills required to succeed in a career in health care administration, individuals can enroll in an advanced degree program, such as an MHA program, to refine these competencies.

What to Expect from an MHA Curriculum

Whether you’re working in health care and seeking to move to a leadership position or looking to enter the health care field, earning a master’s degree in health administration (MHA) could be the path to success.

Earning an advanced degree requires dedication and hard work. Wondering what to expect? The following are some core theories and concepts that students encounter in Ohio University’s MHA curriculum:

Health Information Systems

In this course, students learn how health administrators should communicate using information technology (IT). Exploration of the challenges of selecting and implementing information systems helps students understand how to align technology with the core mission of health care organizations.

Organizational Leadership

Health administrators are involved in high-level decision-making and regularly interact with a wide range of stakeholders when managing change. In this course on leadership, students learn the importance of facilitating intraorganizational communication, making judgment calls, and increasing their adaptability to address evolving demands.

Finance

Health administrators need to understand how to work with data and tools to ensure the financial viability of health organizations. This course covers key concepts, such as financial statement and cost analysis, budgeting, asset pricing models, and valuation methods. It also teaches students strategies for dealing with different stakeholders regarding organizational finances and budgets.

Health Care Strategy Evaluation

This course teaches students how to measure and improve health care efficiency, effectiveness, and quality. It covers strategies for gathering, assessing, and acting on data to promote a culture of safety and achieve health care quality goals.

Epidemiology

Knowledge of epidemiological principles enables health administrators to effectively set priorities, allocate scarce health care resources, and prevent disease. This course teaches students how to understand clinical information to manage health services.

Developing skills is critical for health care administration roles — the more senior the role, the more employers expect from candidates. Developing expertise in these concepts demonstrates knowledge and leadership ability, positioning an individual to pursue a range of advanced careers in health care administration.

Make a Difference in Health Care

Health care administration is critical to the effective delivery of care. Through health care administration, health care organizations can ensure that behind-the-scenes activities, such as financial management, scheduling, and operations support the efforts of front-line health workers, including nurses and physicians.

To optimize the impact that health care organizations have on patients and the community at large, health administrators must apply a wide range of knowledge of skills. Whether you’re a nurse seeking a more business-oriented role or a business professional looking to transition to the health care field, you’ll want to explore Ohio University’s online MHA program to acquire the essential competencies to lead in this growing field.

Learn how OHIO’s online MHA program can prepare you for a career in health care administration.

Recommended Readings

Mobile Health Clinic Guide: Tips for Expanding Your Health Practice

Types of Community Engagement Strategies for Health Care Organizations

How to Become a Health Care Administrator

Sources:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Care Coordination

American Public Health Association, Health Administration

The Balance Careers, “What Does a Health Care/Hospital Administrator Do?”

Houston Chronicle, “Pros & Cons to Being a Hospital Administrator”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners