As Americans prepare to spend more on health care, careers in this rapidly-growing industry are more accessible than ever before. The health care industry requires bright, educated minds to help manage the needs of staff, and keep hospitals, urgent care clinics, doctor’s offices, and other health care organizations running smoothly.

Health care administrators are also responsible for shaping government policy and can use their specialized knowledge to advocate for patients’ rights. You may also find health care administrators working in the private sector, for pharmaceutical companies, insurance providers, or medical supply companies.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2014 and 2024, employment in this industry will grow by over 17 percent. In order to tap into this massive growth, you’ll first need to obtain a degree in health care administration. Most jobs in this field require at least four years of higher education, and potentially either a master’s or Ph.D. depending on the position. Wherever you choose to work, make sure you’re set up for success by enrolling in the right program.

Read on below for a detailed look at how to choose the best school for your health care administration degree.

What is health care administration?

People working in health care administration are the staff who are responsible for operating and managing health care organizations. They’re not front-line health care workers; unlike doctors, they will never directly care for patients. Instead, they serve the public by ensuring that all of the services that they rely on, like hospitals, doctor’s offices, and even private sector organizations like insurance companies and pharmaceutical labs are run both responsibly and efficiently.

Health care administrators are responsible for staffing, budgeting, and ensuring all facilities meet the latest required standards. You’ll find health care administrators all over the health care industry, from the public to the private sector. Even the smallest towns need doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other services that help people when they’re sick or injured.

In order to succeed in this industry, you don’t need a medical degree, but you do need to know everything there is to know about medical and health care policy, and how to deliver these critical services to patients. Whether you intend to pursue a career in the public or private sector, you’ll need to start with a degree in health care administration. After that, many people chose to do a post-graduate degree to further refine their skills.

What colleges offer degrees in health care administration?

There are several schools that have excellent, reputable programs that focus on health care administration. If you’re coming straight from high school, you’ll likely start with a Bachelor of Health Care Administration (BHA).

One of the best schools in the United States for health care administration is the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, which is currently ranked #1 in this specialty by U.S. News and World Report. They offer a Bachelor’s in Health Management and Policy through their School of Public Health. Their program is multi-disciplinary and will really help students understand the challenges facing our modern health care system.

Another great school for health care administration is the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). They offer a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Health Care Management and give students the opportunity to specialize even further with a focus in a specific aspect of the health care system, like nutrition, occupational therapy or long-term care. At UAB, you can structure your degree to take advantage of your career goals as well as your personal interests. As such, they offer students the ability to design an interdisciplinary major within their College of Art and Science, so you can choose between all their course offerings and build a knowledge base that will benefit your future career.

If you’re looking to pursue a BHA, but don’t have time to go back to school full-time or you live in a remote area, there are plenty of online programs available that will allow you to study for your degree online. George Washington University offers graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs within the health science field that are perfect for future health care administrators or mid-career workers who want to continue their education and boost their resume.

What subjects are taught in this degree program?

If you’re just starting a degree in health care administration, you can expect your first year or two of courses to cover the basics. You’ll need a detailed understanding of current issues in public health, the history of health and human services in the United States, and basic organization and management skills as they relate to health care. From there, your course of study will likely build on this knowledge to cover more detailed topics like finance, accounting, data analytics, and risk management as they relate to health care. These initial courses are designed to give you an understanding of the big picture, and once you have a solid knowledge base, you can start to specialize. Depending on your degree, and your eventual focus, this specialization could be anything from finance to human resources.

If you’re taking courses online, your degree will be structured the same as an in-person degree, but you’ll have the freedom to study at your own pace. You’ll start with general topics, then move to more specialized courses towards the end of your degree.

If you’re interested in a managerial role within your organization, you might consider going back to school to get an MBA with a focus in health care, or a Master of Health Care Administration (MHA). These programs are specifically designed for students who already have some experience in their chosen field and want to continue their education. They’ll embark on an in-depth course of study on organizational behavior, management, and operations as they relate to the health care industry, and afterwards will have both the education and experience to ensure a high-level position within their chosen organization. Many schools also require that MHA students complete a final research project under the supervision of a faculty member. This research will bring them closer to an issue that they’re passionate about, and “tend to be oriented to problems and issues of professional practice in health care administration.” This in-depth research is a great way to explore an urgent issue that’s facing the health care industry today.

What is the employment outlook for health care admin degrees?

A degree in health care administration can truly take you anywhere within the industry. All organizations, regardless of whether they’re public or private, require administrators who can manage employees, ensure safety standards are being met, shape organizational policy, and lead a diverse staff. The health care industry is growing quickly, and health care facilities all over the country are in search of talented, qualified employees with the right credentials.

At the entry level, many recent graduates start in admissions, marketing, or human resources within a health care organization, and move up depending on their aptitude and interest in the work. Your income will vary depending on where you work and whether your organization is public or private. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that the annual median income for a mid-level health care administrator is $96,540.

Are there any prerequisites for entering a health care administration program?

As with most undergraduate degrees, there are some basic prerequisites that are necessary before prospective students can move forward with their application. You’ll need an official high school transcript and you may be asked to ensure that you’ve taken basic high-school math and science courses. Many schools also ask for an essay or statement of purpose. Your admissions essay should be well-written and speak to your interest in health care. Since your course work could involve an internship in a hospital or clinic, you may be asked to submit to a criminal background check, which shows that you’re eligible to work with vulnerable populations.

If you’re applying to a graduate or doctorate-level program, you’ll likely be asked for your undergraduate transcript. If you’re entering a professional program, the school may require that you have a certain amount of experience in your chosen field — between two to five years is typical. You’ll also be asked to take a standardized test like the GRE or GMAT and provide your score with your application. Most graduate level programs also require letters of recommendation from an academic or professional mentor, who can vouch for your experience.

The application process may feel intimidating, but it’s worth it to know that you’ll soon be able to join a rewarding field like health care administration, and really make a difference in the world.

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