Career Profile: Healthcare Management: Navigating a Booming Industry

Nurse Anesthesiologist

Healthcare in the United States is growing and evolving at an astounding pace. In 2003, for instance, 15.3% of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States was directed into the hospitals, laboratories, doctors, and other entities that comprise the industry—more than any other nation (Wikipedia). And this phenomenal growth is opening a vast gateway for those professionals trained to manage the finance, personnel, and logistics that underpin quality healthcare. High salaries and job satisfaction are waiting for those with the ambition and work ethic to secure a place in healthcare management, but many budding careerists are intimidated by the complexity and sheer size of the field. A plethora of questions are raised: What does the career path look like? Which subfield should I specialize in? How long will it take to reach the position I want? Which position do I want? Luckily, this trepidation is rooted not in a lack of options, but in an abundance of them. And as with most anxieties, a little information and planning can clear things up rather quickly.

The prerequisite for the aspiring healthcare manager is to earn a degree (or two) in the field. For optimal success, a Masters in a healthcare-related field is strongly recommended. Since a Masters curriculum spans the entire spectrum of subjects, from epidemiology to accounting, it is a perfect time for students to narrow down their particular area of interest. Upon graduation, they can expect to secure an entry- to mid-level position in one of a wide scope of fields, which includes but is not limited to finance, information systems, human resources, governmental relations, marketing, medical staff relations, or material management (American College). Recent graduates shouldn’t fear, however, that entering one of these areas will be a point of no return, for there is a great deal of occupational mobility in healthcare management. The case of James L. Bolden is a good example; in Careers in Healthcare Management, he relates how he started out as a laboratory supervisor, a highly technical position, but subsequently moved into administrative roles such as strategic planning analysis. His current position as project administrator at Cooper Green Hospital allows him to plan and execute fundraising and public-awareness initiatives aimed to aid underprivileged hospital patrons. His experience demonstrates that you will have the ability to explore the field in order to find the right niche.

During this early career stage, roughly the first ten years, managerial positions are typically available at smaller long-term care facilities, doctor’s offices, and outpatient clinics. At larger insurance companies or hospitals, on the other hand, the rookie manager will start out as a staff employee. Even as a fresh graduate with virtually no on-the-job experience you can expect to earn between $30 and $40 thousand in these entry-level roles. (American College).

Within the second ten years of your career, you will be offered the chance to manage whole departments. In both clinical and administrative-oriented sections, the high managerial role will bring with it the need for more interpersonal dealings and leadership responsibilities. Conan Dickson, the Administrator of The Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center, notes the challenge of balancing the “’big picture’ when trying to deal with daily operations” (Haddock). It is this very ability to juggle small details with broad-scale planning that makes an effect manager. And of course, salaries rise to meet the added responsibility entrusted to these higher positions: $50 to $80 thousand is common, with opportunities for $100+ available (American College).

Although CEO positions are attainable earlier, they typically open up after you put in a solid twenty years in the field. In what could be seen as the third career stage, years twenty and beyond, you will have built the confidence, skills, and credentials to assume top-level leadership of a healthcare institution. The obligations and pressures of this position are tremendous, but years of hard-work and experience will have prepared you for such a position. And as a senior level officer, you will have earned the privilege of a very handsome salary: according to the 2002 Hospital Compensation Survey, Chief Financial Officers earned a median base salary of $140 thousand, while Chief Executive Officers received $237.7 thousand (American College).

Without a doubt, healthcare management is large and complex, but armed with knowledge of what to expect, you can see it not as an intimidating giant, but as a field of nearly limitless opportunity. Plus, the division of your career plan into the three stages mentioned above can help you determine how to take advantage of those opportunities. So don’t let hesitate any longer—combining high pay, high potential for advancement, and satisfaction of bettering lives on a daily basis, healthcare management could very well be the career you’ve been looking for.


American College of Healthcare Executives

Haddock, Cynthia, Ph.D; Robert A. McLean, Ph.D.; and Roger C. Chapman, Ph.D. Careers in Healthcare Management: How to Find Your Path and Follow it. FACHE (Chicago: Health Administration Press, 2002).


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