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A guide to medical and health services management as a career

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

Mark Johannsson

This article was reviewed by Mark Jóhannsson, DHSc, MPH, Dean, College of Health Professions

This article was updated on 3/21/24.

Health managers are a guiding force in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings. They use their wealth of technical skills and management experience to oversee staff, budgets and organizational compliance. Let’s take a closer look at this career path, including where health services managers work, their responsibilities and what opportunities exist.

Interested in healthcare management? A degree from University of Phoenix is a great place to start! 

What is health services management? 

Health services management is a multidisciplinary field combining aspects of business, health policy and science with the goal of improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare services. It is integral to healthcare governance and involves leading and managing healthcare systems.

Professionals in this field work in various settings, such as public health systems, nursing homes, hospitals and entire hospital networks. Health services management, in other words, might look different depending on the setting. Consider the following environments:

  • Hospitals: Health services managers might oversee specific departments or the entire hospital. They’re responsible for compliance with laws and regulations, improvements in efficiency and quality in patient care, and budget-related matters.
  • Nursing homes: In this setting, health services managers sometimes hold the title of administrator and are typically responsible for staffing, admissions, budgeting and resident care.
  • Clinics: Smaller clinics might rely on health services managers to oversee day-to-day operations, including hiring and training staff and managing budgets.
  • Public health departments: Managers who work in public health typically coordinate public health programs and policies. They also tackle staff management duties.

What is a health services manager?

A health services manager, also known as a health manager, is an administrator who coordinates important aspects of a healthcare environment. These professionals might address such tasks as planning and implementing operations, managing facilities and overseeing employees.

 

During a single week, health managers might oversee nurse training, purchase equipment, plan budgets and create staff schedules. Broken down, their duties include the following:

  • Operational management: Health services managers’ primary job is to run a tight ship and ensure each department functions smoothly. They also focus on efficiently managing resources and implementing organizational goals.
  • Financial management: Staying on (or below) budget is a big part of this job. Health services managers monitor expenses and revenue to ensure stable financials. They oversee budgets, financial planning and billing to accomplish this goal.
  • Human resources: Ensuring the hospital or clinic is staffed adequately means that health services managers work closely with HR. They’re usually in charge of staffing, recruiting, performance evaluations and training.
  • Strategic planning: Long-term strategies are essential to improve patient outcomes and run a hospital efficiently. Health services managers are professionals at this too. They typically know they must stay ahead in a fast-changing environment that can include emerging diseases and new policies.
  • Policy development: Health services managers ensure their facilities comply with safety standards and quality assurance. This generally means that they need to stay abreast of federal regulations and figure out how to create policies to keep their organizations in compliance.

Remember, each hospital’s or health system’s needs may dictate different responsibilities at different times. 

How to become a health services manager 

People who pursue a health services management career might take the following steps as part of their path:

1.     Earn a bachelor’s degree, usually in healthcare or business

2.     Gain practical experience in a hospital or healthcare facility, usually in a clinical or administrative capacity

3.     Complete licensure and certifications

4.     Continue education with advanced degrees or certificates, or both, depending on educational and career goals

Let’s walk through how to become a medical and health services manager and discuss the importance of each step.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree 

To qualify for a position as a health services manager, you will need a bachelor’s degree. Students often pursue a Bachelor of Science in Health Management or a related healthcare degree.

Look for degree programs that teach skills a health services manager will need. For example, prioritize options that include courses in management, budgeting, regulations and ethics. You’ll also need to learn how to manage human resources tasks, protect electronic health records (EHR) and analyze internal and external data.

2. Gain practical experience 

Some employers prefer candidates with at least a few years of hands-on experience in an administrative or clinical setting. Employers appreciate this experience because it often means the job candidate is already familiar with the workplace and the problems they might face as a health services manager.

There are several ways to gain practical experience in a healthcare environment. Some aspiring health services professionals get their start with an internship, one that bridges the gap between the classroom and the real world. Others find employment in one of several entry-level healthcare careers, where they can learn skills in patient care, business administration, clerical tasks and health IT.

You can also volunteer at a hospital, clinic or healthcare organization. Volunteering is one way to gain firsthand knowledge before you commit to studying health management. (Plus, it demonstrates a commitment to serving your community.)

Other managers, after years in a clinical setting, might move into non-patient-facing management roles. Their hands-on patient care experience provides excellent insights into healthcare’s challenges.

Finally, some hospitals or healthcare organizations can offer training for employees who want to move into management roles. These types of programs feature on-the-job training mixed with formal education.

UOPX faculty member Fredreka Living notes, “Due to a shortage of clinical healthcare workers, many organizations have invested in offering students job opportunities during their externships to fulfill open clinical and non-clinical positions.”

University of Phoenix welcomes many students who are pursuing their educational goals while working, and therefore they aren’t seeking additional job experience. Other students who are changing careers or do not have that experience for another reason can seek out the volunteer and entry-level opportunities outlined above. Occasionally, assignments require students to reach out to healthcare industry professionals for firsthand information. Other times, the University shares information about internships, fellowships and related opportunities that could benefit students.

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Clinical vs. non-clinical healthcare careers 

3. Continue your education 

Continuing your education can help you earn meaningful skills to help you in your management role. A Master of Health Administration, for example, doesn’t just develop your healthcare knowledge. It also empowers you to become a better leader in your organization.

The Master of Health Administration at University of Phoenix is an online program accredited by the CAHME (Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education). The program teaches relevant skills like business management, communication and professionalism. It can also help prepare you for a career as a health manager, health information management director or practice administrator.

4. Complete licensure and certifications 

Most health services managers do not need professional certification to begin work. However, certification programs are valuable for deepening health management-related skills. For example, through the Health Care Compliance Association, individuals can become Certified in Healthcare Compliance (the CHC credential). The HCCA also offers other credentials.

University of Phoenix educationally prepares students to sit for this exam through its Master of Health Administration with a concentration in Health Care Compliance and Privacy program and the Graduate Health Care Compliance and Privacy Certificate.

Undergraduate students can further enhance their careers with certificates in Health Information Systems and Medical Records.

Some facilities, like nursing homes, require health managers to hold a state-issued license. Depending on your responsibilities, you may also need licensure as a social worker or registered nurse.

Skills needed to become a health services manager 

Candidates for health services manager roles need many skills to do their jobs. The right combination of hard skills (technical knowledge) and soft skills can make all the difference in your career.

Hard skills 

Medical and health services managers often have to stay on top of healthcare advances, including those in EHR systems. In addition, it’s important to understand healthcare finance, including budgeting, forecasting and decision-making based on financial data. A thorough understanding of healthcare laws and regulations is also essential because it helps keep a facility in compliance.

Finally, understanding medical terminology is important. Health services managers often engage in conversation with medical professionals, review reports and train new employees. Having a firm grasp of the healthcare industry lexicon is critical for all of these responsibilities. 

Soft skills

To become an effective health manager, you need to have more than just solid organizational skills. Knowledge of communication, leadership and problem-solving can help you work effectively with others in different healthcare settings, often behind the scenes.

Because health managers oversee facility operations and supervise employees, including those with clinical backgrounds, it’s important to be able to make high-level decisions by using critical thinking, analyzing problems and motivating staff.

Knowing how to have productive conversations is also key as a health services manager. They need to be able to effectively communicate with administrators, doctors, nurses, support staff, external vendors and patients. Listening skills, empathy and transparency are important.

Finally, because every day can look different for a health services administrator, you need to be adaptable, whether building an activities schedule or responding to urgent clinical priorities. Health managers need to quickly learn technology, implement the latest best practices and stay updated on nursing and healthcare trends.

The ability to pivot is helpful in other ways too, notes UOPX core faculty member Thom J. Sloan. “The truth is, everyone who works in healthcare, but especially a leader, is expected to change directions on an almost daily basis,” he says. “Whatever you have on your agenda for the day will undoubtedly be subject to a new direction.”

Wondering what that means? Sloan has plenty of examples, one of which is the following: “You are planning on working on a presentation for the monthly board meeting about budget performance when you discover that the new equipment that was ordered for radiology will be delayed for another two months. In the meantime, you have already extended an offer to the new technician who is needed to operate this equipment and have to decide whether to delay the hiring or find something for them to do for two months.”

Flexibility, in other words, is simply part of the job.

Understanding healthcare laws and ethics 

Ongoing education plays an important role in the career of health services managers. They must understand laws and ethics that affect their responsibilities and how those policies might change over time.

Laws provide a rigid framework for healthcare settings. They might protect patient privacy and safety and regulate billing. The same laws could also inform internal policies on patient safety and risk.

As far as ethical considerations, health services managers should understand how ethics affect patient consent, how to ensure equal access to care and what patient family rights entail. An organization’s ethical policies should also provide clarity during a dispute or conflict of interest.

Nye Clinton, associate dean for the College of Health Professions at University of Phoenix, says, “As ethical issues in healthcare often entail conflicting issues, it is important for health services managers to have a deep understanding of the field, regulatory requirements and their organization’s core values to help them navigate that complexity.” 

Health services management career progression and opportunities 

As health managers gain experience, they might qualify for more senior leadership positions within a healthcare organization. Growth opportunities can include administrative or department leadership. They might aspire to additional roles with increased responsibility, where they may collaborate with stakeholders, clinicians and community representatives to shape policy and protocols.

Other health services managers go on to become consultants. They can use their knowledge and skills to help healthcare companies improve operations across departments. 

Health services manager salary and job outlook 

Several important factors influence the salary of virtually every healthcare employee. For example, location, years of experience, active certifications and employer can all impact income. As of May 2022, the lowest 10% of health services managers made less than $64,100 and the highest 10% earned more than $209,990 per year, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

Positions are projected to grow by 28% from 2022 through 2032, much faster than other occupations, according to BLS. This should create an estimated 54,700 new positions each year for aspiring medical and health services managers.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

BLS publishes BLS Occupational Employment Projections, 2022-2032. This data reflects BLS’ projections of national (not local) conditions. These data points are not specific to University of Phoenix students or graduates.

Frequently asked questions about health services management 

What do health managers do?

Health managers plan, direct and coordinate health and medical services. They can manage at a facility- or department-wide level. Their responsibilities include setting policy, managing staff, budgeting and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations. They’re a bridge between care providers and the administrative aspects of healthcare.

Is health services management a good career?

Health services management can be an excellent career for several reasons. First, there’s a growing demand for these professionals. Because health managers can work in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient care centers, there’s plenty of potential to find a company that fits your needs. Finally, health managers play a critical role in the quality of healthcare for patients, so it’s a fulfilling job in that you can make a positive impact on people’s lives.

What is the difference between health services management and healthcare administration?

Health services management and healthcare administration have few differences. While health managers might focus on the broader business and strategic aspects of a healthcare organization, healthcare administrators tend to concentrate on the daily operations and personnel management within a facility. However, in many respects these two roles are similar and the titles are often used interchangeably.

Earn your degree at University of Phoenix 

University of Phoenix  has degree programs that can help you prepare for a career in health services management.

Healthcare degrees can be earned 100% online, allowing you the flexibility to pursue your educational goals without putting your life on hold. Read more about healthcare degree options available at UOPX:

  • Bachelor of Science in Health Administration: This degree prepares students to learn important business aspects of health management to help organizations improve patient care and outcomes. Key skills include marketing trends, accounting and quality care analysis. 
  • Bachelor of Science in Health Management: This degree is specifically designed for allied health professionals, such as medical assistants, who want to pursue a career in healthcare management. You’ll learn critical skills like financial management, regulatory and compliance policies and data analysis.
  • Master of Health Administration: Students learn to generate core business strategies based on innovative concepts developed in the program, evaluate industry and organizational dynamics in the healthcare environment and construct strategic relationships with diverse stakeholders across the health sector to achieve business objectives with a current or desired employer.
  • Master of Health Administration with a concentration in Health Care Compliance and Privacy: This program equips you with skills to navigate the complexity of healthcare laws, rules and regulations to help keep patients and providers safe. The program educationally prepares students to sit for the Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) examination.
  • Doctor of Health Administration: If you’re a health professional seeking greater responsibility in shaping the future of the health sector, the Doctor of Health Administration can help you get there. You’ll meet the challenges inherent to today’s healthcare landscape, including economic fluctuations, burgeoning patient needs and industry-changing legislation.
  • Online healthcare certificates: Explore five certificates that include options for undergraduate and graduate students in areas like health administration and medical records.
Photo of blog author Michael Feder smiling.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!

 

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