Health care administrators are individuals entrusted with managing various aspects of the health care industry. Also known as medical managers, health service mangers, or health care executives, these professionals work with physicians, nurses, lab techs, insurance and pharmaceutical representatives, and other health care workers on a regular basis. They oversee business operations, direct and coordinate health services, and stay informed about legal regulations and new technologies. They may manage entire facilities or specific departments within a facility.
Most health care administrators are employed by hospitals. However, many work at individual medical practices, nursing facilities, or various government agencies. An online degree in health care administration can help students develop decision making and leadership skills while obtaining the practical knowledge needed for a successful career in medical management. Students seeking a health care administration degree will take courses in a variety of subjects. Some areas of study include management, economics, marketing, finance, human resources, and epidemiology, all with an emphasis on how these subjects apply specifically to the field of health care.
How to Choose the Right Health Care Administration Degree
Health care administrators should possess excellent communication and analytical skills along with displaying an aptitude for leadership. Entry into undergraduate programs usually requires a high school diploma or equivalent. A bachelor's degree in health care administration and relevant work experience may be required for entrance into graduate-level programs.
Medical managers can be found working in a number of different health care environments. Hospitals, physicians offices, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home health care organizations all need executives to oversee their operations. Additionally, some administrators might perform research or analyze public health policy. By completing a health care administration degree, graduates may have the option of working in any of these fields. The table below lists the various levels of degrees available, as well as potential career outcomes for each degree:
Length of Completion
Associate in Health Care Administration
These programs typically take up to two year of full-time study to complete and may be used as preparation for a bachelor's degree.
Assistant Health Care Administrator, Medical Assistant, Medical Records or Health Information Technician
Bachelor's in Health Care Administration
These programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.
Health Care Administrator, Social or Community Service Manager, Human Resources Manager
Master's in Health Care Administration
These programs take between two and three years of full-time study after completion of a bachelor's degree.
Health Care Administrator, Social or Community Service Manager, Human Resources Manager
MD/PhD in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
These programs take an additional two to four years of full-time study after completing a master's degree.
Political Scientist (Health Care Policy Research and Analysis)
Prior to choosing a degree program, students should consider their own personal career ambitions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor's degree in health care administration (or a related management field) is generally considered the minimum barrier for entry-level employment. Many employers prefer to hire administrators with master's degrees or higher. Some graduate degree programs require applicants to have work experience prior to acceptance for enrollment. Additionally, states may have degree and/or licensing requirements for health care administrators. For example, all states require nursing home administrators to be licensed.
What to Expect in a Health Care Administration Program
Successful health care executives must combine business and leadership skills with a working knowledge of the health care system. They also need to be able to effectively communicate with members of the medical community. Thus, online degree programs in health care administration cover a wide variety of business and health related topics. Although curriculum varies by degree type and school, core courses often include:
- Introduction to Health Care Delivery and Health Services Organizations
- Organizational Behavior
- Economics in Health Care
- Marketing for Health Care
- Financial Management for Health Care Organizations
- Health Care Operations Management
- Human Resource Management
- Fundamentals of Leadership
- Health Care Quality Management
- Health Care Research
- Health Care Law and Policy
- Principles of Epidemiology
As with many health care degrees, completion of a practicum may be required before graduation. These in-person assignments allow future health care administrators to receive practical medical management training in a real-world environment. Practicums and internships usually occur at hospitals, clinics, or health care consulting facilities. Those pursuing graduate degrees may be expected to complete up to a year of supervised learning in these environments.
Health Care Administration Specializations
Health care administrators are needed to oversee operations in a variety of health-related fields. While many work in hospitals, others do not. Some specializations for medical management professionals include:
- Hospital Administration
- Clinical Administration
- Group Practice Administration
- Nursing Home Administration
- Assisted Living Administration
- Home Health Care Administration
- Health Care Policy Research and Analysis
- Insurance and Pharmaceutical Consulting
- Health Information Management
With a health care administration degree, graduates may be able to find employment in any of these specializations. Some career tracks may be available immediately upon graduation, while others might require years of work experience. Regardless, online degrees in health care administration can help prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to begin a career in the medical management field.
Benefits of an Online Degree in Health Care Administration
Health care management degree programs incorporate a variety of business-related topics with courses specifically geared toward careers in health care. Business courses have long been a great fit for busy students interested in online and distance learning. Because these courses are largely theory-based and rarely require a hands-on component, online learning may be a perfect fit for aspiring health care administrators.
In today's online educational environment, students often get the best of both worlds. By combining traditional lectures and reading assignments with current technologies, students can gain the knowledge they need to succeed while enjoying a flexible study schedule. Communication with professors and classmates is also available through video chat, text, and email.
Because many students are already employed in the medical field, online degrees in health care administration provide a perfect way to increase their level of education and career prospects. Online learning allows students round-the-clock access to their course materials so they can design a schedule that works with their busy lives. Additionally, the flexibility of online learning is great way for those with family and other commitments to increase their knowledge and marketability.
Careers in Health Care Administration
Earning a health care administration degree offers graduates a wide variety of employment options in the health care field. Opportunities can be found in hospitals, clinics, private practices, skilled nursing facilities, consulting, and more. While a degree in health care administration generally leads to a position in medical services management, the chart below lists several other related career fields, along with current wage and employment data courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Projected Job Growth 2014-2024
Mean Annual Wage in 2015
Medical and Health Services Managers
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians
Social and Community Service Managers
Human Resources Managers
Online degrees in health care administration help prepare graduates with the knowledge and leadership skills they need to succeed in the field of health care management. Students aspiring to a career as a health care administrator should consider earning a bachelor's degree and gaining work experience prior to pursuing a graduate degree. Please keep in mind that degree and licensure requirements vary by state and field.
To learn more about online degrees in health care administration, or get information about a specific program, contact one of the schools listed on this page.
Online Associate Degrees in Health Care Administration
When we think about the health care field, we usually focus on the professionals who provide patient care. But as changes in medicine, technology and the law move the industry forward, qualified individuals who contribute to the business side of health care may play an increasingly important role. In order to train professionals for this aspect of the industry, online associate degree programs in health care administration teach students how to perform the day-to-day functions that keep medical facilities operating smoothly. The core curriculum of these programs can include coursework in finance, facility operations, staffing and personnel practices, and managerial techniques.
What Does an Associate Degree Program in Health Care Administration Entail?
Full-time students enrolled in health care administration associate degree programs can expect to finish their degrees in two years. Generally, course material covers the operations behind the health care industry, so students gain knowledge and skills that can help groom them for business-oriented positions in the field. The curriculum in these programs includes subjects such as health care informatics, management strategies, business writing, and human resources management. Examples of course topics include:
- Introduction to Medical Terminology: Health care has a language all its own, and medical terminology courses immerse students in that language by building their vocabulary. Students can expect to learn the definitions, standard abbreviations, pronunciations and correct spellings of medical terms. The course also teaches students how to build and define medical terms based on Latin and Greek prefixes and suffices, and how to understand the difference between the chemical and trade names for drugs. To demonstrate their understanding of the material, students may be required to audiotape themselves pronouncing medical terms, or listen to tapes and identify when someone else is mispronouncing them.
- Medical Law and Ethics: This course teaches students how to navigate through the legal and ethical issues that arise for medical professionals. Students might learn how the law affects the way medical facilities work; the privacy and security concerns associated with electronic medical records systems; the litigation process when a medical facility is sued; and how the law protects workers when they are discriminated against or fired for whistle-blowing. To give students a first-hand look at the state and federal laws that govern the health care field, students may be asked to draft a defense against a negligence or malpractice claim, or participate in role-play exercises that highlight different ethical issues they may face in their careers.
- Health Care Management: This course prepares students interested in taking on management roles in the health care industry. Coursework typically covers the financial challenges that health care facilities face, how health organizations can use marketing to attract new patients, and effective business planning and forecasting. In order to give students an idea of how these concepts work in the real world, students may be required to engage in role-playing exercises where they negotiate with a labor union, delegate work to a subordinate employee, or mentor a colleague.
In addition to core courses, students enrolled in health care administration associate degree programs may be required to take electives to help them develop a well-rounded understanding of the health care field. For example, health care communication classes can enhance students' written and verbal communication skills, human resources management courses give students fundamental knowledge on dealing with the workforce, and sociology classes help students understand the societal issues that influence the health of patients and how care is delivered.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Health Care Administration
Health care is constantly evolving thanks to new technologies, laws and medical breakthroughs. As such, it's imperative to have highly-skilled professionals in managerial positions who can help the industry adapt to this rapid advancement. Online bachelor's degree programs in health care administration help give students the tools they need to step into these leadership roles. Graduates gain a framework of health care administration through courses that address subjects such as finance, human resource management, health care informatics, policy, and planning.
What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Health Care Administration Entail?
For full-time students, an online bachelor's degree in health care administration generally takes four years to complete. Programs tend to focus on the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed to pursue management jobs in the health care field. While curriculum varies from school to school, students can expect to learn about public health, legal and ethical guidelines, long-term care, health care communication, effective decision making skills, and leadership theory. Examples of courses include:
- Health Care Management: No matter how good the medical care is at a facility, it will not thrive without good leadership. Health care management courses teach students the principles necessary to successfully run a health care organization. These courses often cover clinical classification systems; human behavior in the workplace and employee relations; how to implement an effective training program for health care workers; and the legal and economic factors that impact the health care industry. Students in this class may gain hands-on experience with the material through exercises like writing an employee training manual, participating in a simulated job interview, and drafting a case study on a hypothetical health care organization.
- Ethics and Law in Health Care: This course examines the legal and ethical concerns that affect the way health care organizations do business. Students may look at how to resolve business problems in a legal and ethical manner, how law and ethics influence patient care, the rights and responsibilities of health care personnel, the legal precedent that governs the health care industry, and the key characteristics of ethical leadership in a health care organization. Coursework can include applying state and federal law to specific problems in the health care industry, or writing a memo that explains informed consent to employees at a hypothetical organization.
- Health Care Entrepreneurship: For those who want to start their own health care organization, entrepreneurship classes outline how to get this type of business up and running. Students in this course learn about the challenges associated with starting a new business, basic business planning, marketing, human resources management, business site selection, and sources of funding for a health care organization. In order for students to get real-world experience in this area, they may be required to engage in exercises associated with starting an imaginary business, such as developing a business plan, creating a marketing campaign, or constructing an exit strategy for a failing venture.
- Introduction to Public and Community Health: This course explores local and global perspectives on health care and the well-being of a population. Topics can include health policy and management, biostatistics, environmental health, communicable disease control, health care informatics, the epidemiological model of health care, and advancements in public health. Depending on the particular course, students may be asked to compile data about illnesses in a specific geographical area, create a wellness promotion to prevent a specific disease, or write a report on epidemiological trends.
Students enrolled in online health care administration bachelor's degree programs are also required to take elective courses that will enhance their knowledge of the health care industry and the delivery of patient care. Elective classes may include biology, health care economics, death and dying, health care terminology, algebra, anatomy and physiology, and project management. General education courses are typically required as well.
Online Master's Degrees in Health Care Administration
As technology, laws and industry standards evolve in the medical field, more and more qualified leaders will be needed to help health care organizations navigate through new challenges and come out on top. Online master's degree programs in health care administration help to train these leaders. Students in these programs learn the core concepts of running a health care organization by taking courses in subjects such as health care law and ethics, health care informatics, marketing and strategic planning, human resources management, finance and accounting and project management.
What Does a Master's Degree Program in Health Care Administration Entail?
When enrolled full time, students can typically complete a master's degree in health care administration in two years. Students in these programs primarily take courses that enable them to understand how the health care industry functions, giving them the knowledge they need to pursue managerial positions in the field. In order to do this, the program's core curriculum includes classes in management, technology, health care research, financial management, and systems for delivering health care. Examples of course topics include:
- Health Care Economics: This course covers the economic principles that influence the health care industry. Students in this course learn about concepts like cost production, profits, market behavior, financial reporting, best practices for creating budgets, supply and demand, and market power. In addition, students are taught how to conduct an economic analysis of a health care organization, how economics influences health care policy, and the role that microeconomics and macroeconomics play in the health care field. Students may be required to demonstrate their mastery of the material by creating a budget or financial report for an imaginary health care organization, writing a grant or a business plan, or analyzing the economic principles that drive specific health care service providers.
- Heath Care Marketing: Just as any other type of business needs to market itself to attract customers, health care organizations also must market their services to prospective patients. This course examines the roles and functions of marketing in the health care industry, as well as the principles and concepts that drive marketing for health organizations. Students in this class learn about analyzing the industry to craft a marketing campaign, executing a marketing plan, branding and promotion, and marketing theories and practices used in the health care field. Class assignments such as developing a marketing plan and creating a survey to gauge customer satisfaction may be required to give students hands-on experience with course concepts.
- Health Care Policy: Health care is a highly-regulated industry, so it's imperative for leaders in the field to understand the role that policy plays in how health care services are delivered to patients. Students in this course can expect to learn about health care policy formation, how economics and politics influence health care policy, and the way health care organizations are regulated by policies on the federal, state and local levels. In addition, students in this class may learn about the personnel policies that health care organizations implement to manage their employees.
- Health Care Leadership: This course addresses the qualities that leaders need in order to manage health care organizations in a rapidly changing industry. Students in this class learn about the psychological concepts that affect leadership, how personality impacts leadership styles, and the organizational decision-making process. In addition, students learn about workplace team dynamics, how to motivate employees, and how leaders can analyze their own performance to become better managers. This class may incorporate activities designed to give students hands-on experience with the material, such as conducting mock job interviews, writing an employee manual, or giving unmotivated employees a pep talk to get them back on track.
Students in health care administration master's degree programs may also take electives in different subjects related to the delivery of health care to patients, such as gerontology, epidemiology or long-term care. Students may also take electives outside of the health care realm to get a broader understanding of the skills they need to manage a health care organization, or understand the research that affects the field. For example, students may take business writing courses to sharpen their communication skills or sociology to understand the societal factors that impact the delivery of health care.
In addition, students in these programs may be required to complete a comprehensive examination to demonstrate their grasp of the program's material, or a master's thesis that focuses on a research area of the health care field.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Health Care Administration
Although medicine usually comes to mind when people think of the health care industry, management can be equally important when it comes to delivering quality care to patients. In order to help train students for managerial or teaching roles in the field, online doctoral degree programs in health care administration teach students the business acumen needed to run a health care facility -- such as human resources management, finance, health care ethics and health care informatics. In addition, courses cover the underlying theories that form the foundation of patient care, as well as classes that teach students how to conduct their own research and scrutinize existing health care studies.
At this level, there are several ways that health care administration students can earn a degree. A Doctor of Health Administration, or DHA, is a degree program that focuses on the real-world management skills that can help students pursue managerial roles in the field. Students who are interested in the research end of the profession can pursue a Ph.D. in health administration, which prepares them for more academically-driven careers in health care. In addition, students who want to combine health care administration with business can earn a Doctor of Business Administration with a specialization in health care administration.
What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Health Care Administration Entail?
For full-time students, an online doctoral degree in health care administration generally takes about three to seven years to complete, depending on the requirements of the specific program and the student's aptitude. The curriculum in these programs prepares students for upper managerial positions in the health care system through courses that cover ethical and legal influences on health care, public administration and public safety, health care finance and accounting, and health care marketing. Examples of course topics include:
- Health Care Research Methods: The health care industry advances in part because of the academic research that is conducted by leaders in the field. In order for students to learn the principles they need to conduct health care research, this course teaches the relationship between health care theories and the practice of delivering care to patients; the concepts and processes used when conducting health care research; qualitative and quantitative research methods; the skills needed to read, understand and utilize health care research; and ethical considerations that researchers must adhere to when conducting studies. In addition to learning how to conduct research, students learn about the process of getting published in academic journals -- including the submissions process, choosing the appropriate journal for a specific research subject, understanding submissions guidelines, and presenting academic papers in a professional manner. Students may be required to critique a study in a journal or conduct their own original research.
- Health Care Communication: Communication is key in the health care industry, whether it is communicating with patients or with colleagues in a medical facility. This course teaches students the different communication contexts that are present in health care organizations, the issues and challenges that occur when communicating with patients and health care professionals, and the theoretical foundations of health care communication. In addition, students learn about conflict resolution in health care facilities, crafting a public health campaign, verbal and nonverbal communication strategies, and the ethical issues associated with health care communication. Students may be required to demonstrate their understanding of the course material through exercises such as creating a campaign to educate a community about a disease outbreak, participating in role playing exercises where a conflict between two health care workers is resolved, and conducting a patient interview in order to practice active listening skills.
- Legal and Ethical Issues in the Health Care Industry: This course teaches students how law and ethics influence the way health care is delivered to patients. In this class, students learn about the state, federal and local laws that govern the health care industry; the key characteristics of ethical leadership in health care organizations; and the sociopolitical factors that influence health care legislation. In addition, this class teaches topics such as patients' rights, informed consent, patient privacy, the legal and ethical responsibilities of health care providers, tort claims that can be brought against health care facilities, and the process of litigation when health care providers are sued. In order to prepare students to apply ethical and legal principles to real-world situations, they may be required to create a plan to defend a medical facility against a malpractice claim or examine problems in the health care industry in terms of current laws or ethical standards.
- Health Care Management: To deliver quality care to patients, health care providers must have strong leadership in place. Health care management courses give students the theoretical framework, as well as the practical skills, they need to work in these important management roles. Students in this course learn about topics such as management planning; leadership styles; best practices for recruiting, training, and retaining employees; conflict management; entrepreneurship in the health care field; and decision making skills. Students may get hands-on experience with management skills by simulating job interviews, labor union negotiations, or conflict resolution scenarios; writing employee and training manuals for a health care organization; or developing a business plan for a hypothetical health care provider.
Students in this program may be required to choose an area of health care administration to concentrate their studies on, such as health care law, community health education, wellness and disease prevention, health care technology, health advocacy and leadership, or entrepreneurship. In addition, students enrolled in health care administration doctoral degree programs may be required to complete a comprehensive examination that covers the material from the entire program, as well as a dissertation that includes original health care research.
Students may also be required to enroll in elective courses that help to strengthen their health care administration skills and knowledge. For example, business writing and public speaking classes can help students develop their communication skills; economics and finance classes can help them increase their business acumen; and sociology or political science classes can give students an overview of the sociopolitical influences that affect the delivery of health care.
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