What is a Healthcare Administration Bachelor Degree?
A bachelor's degree in healthcare administration prepares students to oversee the policies, procedures, staff, and finances of healthcare institutions. Your studies will be similar to those of business administration majors, as you'll learn about planning, budgeting, organization, and management; but while the healthcare industry is a type of business, it is so different from other businesses that it warrants its own major.
There are both Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree programs in healthcare administration. Typically, BS degrees are more technical, with more required STEM classes; in healthcare administration, you may focus on computer and record-keeping skills. On the other hand, BA degrees usually require more arts and humanities classes; you may focus a bit more on the soft skills of healthcare administration, like personnel management and health policy.
You'll notice that colleges and universities offer degrees in both healthcare administration and healthcare management. While the two sound the same, they're actually significantly different in practice. Think about it like this. If you're a big-picture thinker--good at directing large groups of people and understanding organizational systems, policies, and procedures--you should look into a major in healthcare management. If you're more detail-oriented and better at leading small groups of people in a particular department, then you'll want to major in healthcare administration. In large healthcare systems, the differences between the two are more pronounced than in smaller clinics or hospitals, where the manager and administrator might be the same person.
College courses may have similar titles and emphases for both majors, and job titles can sound similar as well. For instance, a healthcare management major might get a job as a hospital administrator. Be advised that there is quite a bit of overlap in what administrators and managers do. Notwithstanding, you should choose a major that fits your strengths as described above, and when it comes to job hunting after graduation, make sure to read job descriptions and ask questions during interviews to determine the kind of leadership employers are looking for, regardless of the job title.
Healthcare Administration Bachelor's Degree Concentrations
Healthcare administration is frequently nested under a health science bachelor's degree as a minor or concentration. That being the case, bachelor's degree programs in healthcare administration don't often have concentrations, though students are encouraged to minor in related studies like business administration, finance, human resource management, and marketing.
Curriculum for a Bachelor's Degree in Healthcare Administration
It is normal for undergraduate students to complete two years of general education requirements before applying to the healthcare administration program, which may list some prerequisites for admission. Common prerequisite courses include computer information systems, health care systems, business ethics, health sciences ethics, and medical terminology. A minimum GPA (usually above 2.0) and a minimum number of credit hours (usually 30) may also be required before application to the healthcare administration major.
Once accepted into the major, healthcare administration students will take classes such as microeconomics, macroeconomics, statistics for health sciences, healthcare policy, healthcare analytics, and healthcare insurance. You'll also probably take accounting, marketing, business finance, information technology, foundations of management, and human resource management. Even though there are elective classes to choose from, they are often similar--for example, you might have the choice between hospital organization and administration, long term care organization and administration, or ambulatory care services organization and administration.
You might also take health science survey courses like biology, physiology, anatomy, and epidemiology, but the healthcare administration major is not intended to prepare you for clinical work.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor's in Healthcare Administration?
A bachelor's degree in healthcare administration usually takes about four years to complete, or 120 semester hours. You will spend the first one to two years fulfilling general education requirements and healthcare administration prerequisites before gaining admission to the healthcare administration program. If your college or university offers summer classes, you may be able to speed up your degree; that said, you may want to save your last summer for an internship unless your program has an internship experience built in already.
Choosing a Bachelor's Degree Program in Healthcare Administration
One of the most crucial experiences for future healthcare administrators is an internship. Getting real-life experience can help you decide whether you're in the right major, and it can expose you to aspects of the profession that you wouldn't learn about in the classroom. During an internship, you can also make valuable contacts who might offer you a job after graduation or who will give you a great reference when it comes time to apply for jobs or graduate school. And while reading and studying are extremely important, experience will make your resume pop. So, an excellent way to narrow down your search for a healthcare administration program is to look for schools that include internships, and then compare the quality of the internships.
Another way to compare degree programs is to think about your ultimate education and career goals. For example, if you want to become a healthcare information systems specialist, then you need to make sure that your degree program has classes specific to that career, or at least offers them as electives. If you want to go to graduate school, you should look for schools with well-known faculty or a solid reputation in health services.
Accreditation for Bachelor's in Healthcare Administration Degrees
You want to make sure that your bachelor's degree program is accredited, meaning that the program meets a set of standards accepted by all educational and healthcare institutions, professionals, and employers. It is absolutely essential that your program be accredited in order for you to be eligible for employment in the healthcare services and for further education. It's easy to see whether your college or university is accredited--just check out its website, and the accreditation status should be listed under one of the tabs about the school or program.
Some well-known accreditation organizations in healthcare administration include the following:
- Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA)
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
- Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics & Information Management (CAHIIM)
- Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
Healthcare Administration Licensure and Certification
Just as accreditation proves to institutions and employers that your degree meets a certain standard of education, licensure and certification prove to your state and to your employer that you meet a standard of healthcare practice and continued education. Some certifications are designed for particular jobs, while other certifications apply broadly to healthcare administrators. Licensure is not generally required of healthcare administrators, and certification is not always a state requirement. Earning a certification, however, can greatly improve your chances of getting a desired job. Some certifications include the following:
- The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) offers a certification called the Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) for healthcare administration professionals who hold a master's degree or above and have at least five years of experience in the field.
- The Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM) offers a certification called Certified Medical Manager (CMM) to individuals who have at least two years of experience in the field and who pass the CMM exam.
- You can become a Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (CHAP) through the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHCAP) provided that you meet education standards and experience in the field.
- You can also become a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) through the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ), which in turn is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), a branch of Washington, DC's Institute for Credentialing Excellence. A necessary level of education isn't specified, but you'll need to pass an exam that tests knowledge you'd have gained through a healthcare administration degree.
- If you wish to become a Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) through the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), you'll need to hold a bachelor's degree as well as five years of experience in information and management systems with at least three years in a healthcare setting. If you have a master's degree, you only need three years of experience with two in a healthcare setting.
- Finally, the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM) offers a number of certifications for different levels of work in healthcare administration, specifically for revenue cycle professionals.
These aren't the only certifications available for healthcare administration professionals, but they are some of the largest and most well-known. For all of these certifications, you'll need to pay a fee, meet eligibility criteria, pass some type of exam, and renew your certification periodically through continuing education.
Should I Get a Bachelor's Degree in Healthcare Administration?
The healthcare industry is in desperate need of new faces to staff hospitals, research disease prevention and cures, care for the elderly, and manage various systems. Health services are in a process of rapid expansion to meet the needs of an aging and frequently ill population, especially since the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for medical and health services managers is estimated at 32% between 2019 and 2029. This is over ten times the national average job growth. So, if you're looking for a career with opportunities and job security, healthcare administration is a great choice. Health services administration is also a very well-paid career, with a median annual wage of $100,980 (over two and a half times the median annual wage of all workers).
In addition to a great job outlook and an amazing salary, healthcare administration offers constant opportunities for growth and learning. You won't be bored in your career, for two big reasons. First, the healthcare industry is always evolving to meet population needs and catch up with new technology. Secondly, there are never-ending possibilities for further education. Don't stop at a bachelor's degree--there are master's degrees, doctoral degrees, and graduate certificates in healthcare administration that will keep you on your toes as you become more knowledgeable and skilled as an administrator.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Healthcare Administration?
There are a number of opportunities for those with a bachelor's degree in healthcare administration. You might oversee a clinic or hospital; work at a nursing home or outpatient facility as a home health administrator; or you could even work for a government agency. There are also various specializations in health administration. You may specialize in finance and accounting, for example, or you could become a sales rep or human resource manager. You could become a healthcare administrator, healthcare manager, or assistant who specializes in human resource management. Or you might work to create or reform healthcare policy.
How to Become a Health Information Manager
Earn a bachelor's degree in healthcare administration. You should take electives in computer systems, medical records and billing, healthcare policy and law. If you get a chance to do an internship or volunteer in health services, take it--you'll gain valuable experience that can help you get hired, get certified, and be more proficient as an administrator or administrative assistant.
Step Two, Option One
Get some experience in healthcare administration and health information systems by working at an entry-level job for a few years. After gaining the requisite experience, you may also want to apply for CPHIMS or the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) certifications in order to move up in your career as well as increase your salary.
Step Two, Option Two
Get your master's degree in health information management. If you aren't certified, you should consider earning a certification soon--even though it may not be required by your state or employer, some employers do require certification or at least strongly prefer candidates who have it.
You have the option to pursue further education and certification, but with a master's degree and at least one certification, you're well on your way to a great career as a health information manager.
How to Become a Nursing Home Administrator
Earn your bachelor's degree in healthcare administration. You'll want to have a good grasp of business and management principles, so make sure to choose electives that will prepare you in that capacity. You should also take classes on gerontology (the study of aging) and care of the elderly to prepare for work in a nursing home. Take any opportunities to intern or volunteer in a healthcare setting, particularly in a nursing home or retirement home.
Pursue a master's degree in healthcare administration. While jobs in the field of healthcare administration don't always require advanced education, you'll need a master's degree to become an actual administrator, especially of a large facility. Even if an employer doesn't explicitly require candidates to hold an advanced degree, employers will almost always prefer a candidate with a master's degree over a candidate with only a bachelor's.
You'll also need to get some entry-level experience in administration so that you're not overwhelmed when you take on a larger role. Consider working as an administrative assistant before, during, or after graduate school.
To be an administrator of a nursing home, you will need to obtain state and national licensure. While state licensure requirements vary, the national licensure is obtained through the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards. Be vigilant about renewing your license and completing any necessary continuing education.
With internship and entry-level experience, a master's degree, and the appropriate licensure, you'll be well prepared to take on the role of nursing home administrator.
What Other Kinds of Healthcare Administration Degrees Are There?
Associate Degrees in Healthcare Administration
Associate degrees in healthcare administration are widely available through both campus and online programs. There are three types of healthcare administration degrees: Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Arts (AS), and Associate of Applied Science (AAS). The latter is a terminal degree, meaning that it will not lead into a bachelor's degree, but rather prepare you to enter the workforce immediately after graduating. So, if you're undecided about whether you'll continue after earning your associate degree, you should choose an AS or AA program so that you have options.
Associate degree programs usually take around two years to complete, or 60 credit hours. You can transfer previous college credit if you've already completed some of the required classes.
You'll take many of the foundational classes that are found in bachelor's degree programs (which makes it easy for you to continue into a bachelor's program should you so choose). You'll cover medical terminology, health policy, medical law and ethics, medical records, health care management, human resource management, healthcare systems, and more.
Master's Degrees in Healthcare Administration
Like associate degrees in healthcare administration, master's degrees are commonly found online as well as on campus. A master's degree is often a prerequisite and always preferred for leadership roles, so if you want to become an administrator or manager of a healthcare facility, you should seriously contemplate graduate school in healthcare administration.
There are different titles for what's essentially the same degree: Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), which is the most common; Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA); and Master of Science in Health Systems Management (MS). However, they are all generally recognized as MHA degrees. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) may help you advance your career in healthcare, but keep in mind that the health industry is a sector of its own, so it may be best to pursue an MHA.
An MHA usually takes one to three years, depending on your program and whether you study part-time or full-time. Programs vary, but most hover around 60 credits. You may not need a background in healthcare to be admitted to an MHA program, but you must have a bachelor's from an accredited institution (a 3.0 GPA or above is preferred), and you also need some foundational courses in statistics and accounting. The GRE is sometimes required and other times not--check the admissions page at your desired institution's website to find out whether you need to take the exam.
Many MHA/MHSA programs culminate in internships, which is excellent preparation for your career in healthcare administration.
Doctoral Degrees in Healthcare Administration
The most common and practical doctoral degree in healthcare administration is the Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA), but other types of relevant doctoral degrees are also available. Alternatives to the DHA include:
- PhD in Healthcare Administration
- DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) in Healthcare Management
- EdD (Doctor of Education) in Organizational Leadership, emphasis in Healthcare Administration
- DrPH (Doctor of Public Health) in Health Leadership
These degrees will allow you to advance to upper-level administrative and managerial positions, lead your organization with purpose, and impact the healthcare industry by researching and exemplifying effective leadership. Earning a doctorate in healthcare administration usually takes around three years, with heavy coursework during the first two years and the dissertation during the third year. Programs vary, but most require between 45 and 60 credit hours. You can complete a doctoral degree through a campus or online program, but even online programs may require some campus visits.
Certificates in Healthcare Administration
Many colleges and universities offer graduate certificates in healthcare administration, which usually consist of 12 to 15 credit hours and can be completed in about a year online or on campus. Certificate programs are generally quite flexible, allowing you to complete them while working, and they're designed to enhance your career and build your resume so that you can advance in your field. You may even be able to apply the credits to a master's program later on.
You'll take classes on management, leadership, finances, and more; but importantly, certificates allow you to specialize in areas you might not have had room for in your associate or bachelor degree program. Instead of taking survey courses on many aspects of healthcare administration, you'll be able to focus on one or two aspects--for instance, you can choose between finance and economics; policy and management; or health informatics.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Bachelor's in Healthcare Administration Degrees
Before you commit to a degree program in healthcare administration, you should contact your college or university's financial aid office to inquire about scholarships, work study opportunities, and loans that can help you cover the cost of your education. Comparing different universities' financial aid packages can help you decide which program will be best for you. The most expensive education isn't necessarily the best, so choose the program that meets your needs, keeping in mind that one of those needs is peace of mind about your finances.
You should also investigate whether you're eligible for any state and federal scholarships, grants, or loans. Every college student should complete the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), which can significantly reduce the financial burden of earning your college degree.
There are dozens of scholarships funded by organizations, companies, and private individuals for students in STEM fields, the health sciences, and administration and management. They can contribute anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars to your college fund, and every dollar counts. You might want to look into a few of the ones below.
- New Jersey Chapter of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (NJ HIMSS) Academic Scholarships
- National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) STEAM Scholarships
- Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards
- Indian Health Service Scholarships
- Save a Life Scholarship
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Undergraduate Scholarship Program