June 12, 2024


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What to Know About Health Care Management Degrees and Programs | Best Graduate Schools

Hospitals, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities and nursing homes are complicated organizations where it is possible for many things to go wrong if there is insufficient oversight. If these places aren’t run properly, the consequences can be deadly.

Because of the high stakes involved in overseeing health care organizations, people who intend to lead such organizations often pursue specialized training in either health care administration or health care management. These two terms are used interchangeably to describe the academic discipline that focuses on understanding and addressing the many problems that plague the health care industry, such as the challenge of imposing quality standards and safety measures while controlling costs.

Training in this area is extremely marketable and can lead to lucrative employment. According to a forecast from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. workers employed as medical and health services managers in 2029 will likely be 32{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} higher than it was in 2019. BLS statistics reveal that six-figure salaries are common within this profession; the median annual salary in the field in 2020 was $104,280.

What Health Care Management Is and How to Study It

“Health care management is a broad field, because it really is meant to cover all of the various managerial skills that are required to lead and manage health care institutions,” says Robert Huckman, faculty chair of the Health Care Initiative at Harvard Business School in Massachusetts.

Finance, operations, management and strategy skills are all necessary for success as an executive in the health sector no matter the type of health organization where someone aspires to become a leader, whether it is a retail clinic or a physician practice, Huckman explains.

“There is no single, agreed-upon definition of what’s in and out of the field of health care management, but we tend to think of it as the set of skills that an individual would need to lead a complex organization and to deliver health care,” he says.

Alexandra Lutz, a program director at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy in Pennsylvania who manages the school’s health-focused Master of Science programs, says an introductory course on the U.S. health care system is typical at the beginning of health care management degree programs. Classes on information systems and budgeting are also usually included, she says.

Formal coursework typically underscores the importance of compliance with ethical guidelines and legal requirements that apply to managers, clinicians, insurers, suppliers and developers within the health care sector, and it also describes the techniques health care companies use in order to follow all of these rules, experts say.

A top-notch curriculum in this area usually helps students understand the implications of various health care policies and come to their own conclusions about which policies are best. Within the health care industry, it can be especially tricky to ensure transparency and accountability given concerns about patient privacy, so guidance on how to navigate these moral dilemmas is valuable to current and future health care administrators.

Types of Health Care Management Programs

Health care management programs sometimes confer degrees at the undergraduate or graduate level, but not always; there are nondegree programs such as executive education courses and professional certification tracks.

A few of these programs are aimed at doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other health care providers who want to enhance their leadership abilities so that they can supervise health care teams. For example, Master of Medical Management programs are intended for physicians. However, many programs are accessible to individuals who have no interest in diagnosing and treating illness but are intrigued by the challenge of ensuring that a health care company runs smoothly.

Christopher K. Lee, founder of the PurposeRedeemed career consulting firm, notes that there are several types of credentials that someone can use to qualify for health care management jobs: a Master of Health Administration, Master of Public Health or Master of Business Administration degree.

Health Care Management Jobs: What You Can Do With This Type of Degree

Because there are many kinds of health care organizations ranging from multinational for-profit companies such as Fortune 500 pharmaceutical corporations to regional nonprofit ventures such as charity hospitals that serve a specific city, there are numerous leadership positions within this field. Some examples are:

  • Behavioral health director.
  • Chief executive officer.
  • Chief financial officer.
  • Chief medical officer.
  • Chief nursing officer.
  • Chief operating officer.
  • Clinical director.
  • Director of mental health.
  • Doctor’s office manager.
  • Health care business or strategy consultant.
  • Health care compliance officer.
  • Health care finance manager.
  • Health care operations manager.
  • Health care quality improvement manager.
  • Health care risk manager.
  • Health informatics director or manager.
  • Hospital administrator.
  • Medical records manager.
  • Nursing home administrator.
  • Practice administrator.
  • Pharmaceutical quality manager.
  • Rehabilitation manager.

“The sky is the limit when it comes to health care management positions,” Melissa Green, who has a doctorate in health administration and serves on the faculty at Walden University, an online school, wrote in an email. “You can virtually work in any channel of health care operations, like private practice, hospital administration, outpatient services, health systems, rural health, health departments, revenue cycle organizations, consulting companies and more.”