What Is Healthcare Administration? What You Need to Know [2021]

Written by Coursera • Updated on Apr 26, 2021

What does a healthcare administrator do (and how do I become one)?

A young woman working in healthcare administration speaking animatedly with her colleague

When you visit a doctor’s office or hospital, you likely interact with a receptionist, a nurse, a doctor, and maybe a radiologist or other specialist. But behind the scenes, there’s a healthcare administrator making sure the facility runs smoothly. 

Healthcare administration sits at the confluence of business and medicine. It’s a field where you can apply your leadership and organizational skills to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Let’s take a closer look at what healthcare administrators do, why you might want to consider working in healthcare administration, and how you can get started on this rewarding career path.

What does a healthcare administrator do?

A healthcare administrator (also known as a medical or health services manager) is tasked with overseeing the operations of healthcare providers. Whether at a doctor’s office, hospital, senior care facility, or outpatient clinic, the healthcare administrator coordinates the business activities of the facility or department. 

Did you know?

Healthcare administrators don’t just work in hospitals. You can also work in a pharmaceutical company, behavioral health clinic, governmental organization, health insurance provider, nonprofit, or consulting firm.

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Tasks and Responsibilities

While the exact tasks of healthcare administrators will vary based on the size and function of the organization, the role shares similarities with other leadership positions. As a healthcare administrator, your day-to-day responsibilities might include:

  • Ensuring compliance with healthcare laws and regulations

  • Managing finances

  • Recruiting, training, and supervising staff members

  • Keeping detailed records of medical and office supplies

  • Coordinating work schedules for care providers and other employees

  • Maintaining patient medical records

  • Processing claims for insurance companies

  • Improving quality and efficiency of patient care 

Working at a smaller office or facility typically means taking on most (if not all) of these roles. If you’re an administrator at a large hospital, by comparison, you might oversee or work alongside a team of managers, each with a different specialization.

Essential skills for healthcare administration

As a successful healthcare administrator, you’ll use your business skills and knowledge of healthcare policy to make a big impact on your facility (and the patients who come to seek care). In addition to several universal skills (empathy, communication, organization, leadership, critical thinking), you can set yourself up for a thriving career by understanding:

  • Budgeting: Deliver quality healthcare while meeting financial goals.

  • Patient care: Understand best practices to help improve the patient experience.

  • Health law and policy : Keep up with the latest legal changes to ensure your facility operates legally.

  • Software: Billing and coding software, as well as electronic record systems, help keep records and bookkeeping organized.

Why pursue a career in healthcare administration

Working as a healthcare administrator gives you the power to change lives by ensuring the best possible patient experience. A doctor or nurse might only see a dozen patients each day. Through your work as a healthcare administrator, you have the opportunity to positively affect hundreds if not thousands of people. You can have an impact from behind the scenes, without needing a medical degree or direct patient care experience.

The global healthcare market is expected to grow by nearly nine percent annually by 2022 [1]. This demand can make healthcare administration a well-paying career option, as well as a rewarding one. The median annual salary for healthcare administrators in the US in 2020 was $104,280, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [2]. 

Degrees in healthcare administration

While most healthcare administrators enter the workforce with at least a bachelor’s degree, exact educational requirements vary by company and function. Let’s take a look at the different types of healthcare administration degrees, their benefits, and alternatives.

Types of healthcare administration degrees

Many colleges and universities offer healthcare administration degrees at all levels. Which one you choose to pursue will depend on your specific career goals. 

Type of DegreeTime to completeBest if...Sample job titles
Associate's degreeTwo yearsYou're looking for an entry-level position or planning to transfer from a community college to a bachelor's program.Billing or coding specialist, administrative assistant, medical transcriptionist
Bachelor's degreeFour yearsYou want to enter the workforce in a management position at a smaller facility.Office manager, human resources manager, healthcare consultant
Master's degreeTwo to three yearsYou have work experience and want to advance to a higher-paying position or bigger facility.Hospital administrator, practice administrator, clinical director
Doctoral degreeThree to five yearsYou want to conduct research in healthcare, direct policy, or pursue a career in executive leadership.College instructor, policy director, hospital CEO

Online vs. in-person degrees

No matter which level of degree you choose to pursue, you can choose to complete your studies in person or online. Each option has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

Studying in person lets you take advantage of the community and facilities available on most college campuses. Class schedules tend to be rigid. This can make it difficult to manage a career, family, or other obligations at the same time. If you have a specific healthcare administration program in mind, you may also have to relocate to get the degree you want.

Studying online allows you to continue gaining valuable work experience in the healthcare sector while bringing home a paycheck. You can earn a degree from a top university without having to move, all while learning from the same professors as your in-person peers. 

Explore online degree options from Coursera.

Healthcare administration curriculum

While specific coursework will vary by program and university, you might take classes in topics like:

  • Health systems

  • Financial management

  • Healthcare planning

  • Health law and policy

  • Compliance and risk management

  • Ethics

  • Global health

  • Leadership

Some programs in health administration give you the opportunity to specialize in a specific field of study. Depending on your interests, you might choose to specialize in healthcare informatics, management, law and policy, or patient advocacy, among others.

Is a degree in healthcare administration worth It?

Earning your healthcare administration degree expands your career options in the quickly-growing healthcare field. It also involves a significant commitment of both time and money. Think about your career goals and lifestyle to decide which degree path is right for you. 

If you’re already working in the field, check to see if your employer offers education reimbursement benefits. Some hospitals and practices will cover a portion of your tuition as you continue to work. This eases the financial burden while empowering you to immediately apply what you’re learning in a real healthcare setting.

Alternatives to a healthcare administration degree

If you’re interested in the healthcare industry, you’re not limited to healthcare administration. Here are some other fields to consider as you consider earning a degree:

  • Public health: This is a good option if you’re interested in informing policy or working with communities. 

  • Health sciences: Pursue a degree in health sciences if you’d like to work in a clinical or laboratory setting.

  • Health informatics: If you have an analytical mind and an interest in data science, this field might be for you.

  • Nursing: Earning a degree in nursing prepares you for a hands-on career in direct patient care.

Licensing and certification for healthcare administrators

Licensing and certification are not widely required in healthcare administration with one key exception. If you’d like to make a positive impact on the aging population by working in a nursing home, you’ll need to get licensed at the state level. This typically involves completing a state-approved training program and passing a national exam. Some states also require licensure for administrators at assisted living facilities. 

Get started with Coursera

Whether you’re just graduating or are ready for a career change, choosing healthcare administration puts you on a rewarding and in-demand career path. Build a foundation for success by learning the Business of Health Care from the University of Pennsylvania. If you’re looking to advance your career, learn more about how earning a healthcare degree online can fit into your life.

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Article sources

1. Business Wire. "The $11.9 Trillion Global Healthcare Market: Key Opportunities & Strategies (2014-2022), https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190625005862/en/The-11.9-Trillion-Global-Healthcare-Market-Key-Opportunities-Strategies-2014-2022---ResearchAndMarkets.com." Accessed March 26, 2021.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Medical and Health Services Managers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm." Accessed April 26, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Apr 26, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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