What Can You Do With a Health Administration Degree? The Best Career Paths for Master’s Graduates

With an increasingly promising job outlook, a myriad of positions and a rewarding work environment, it’s clear why health administration careers are flourishing.

One of the fastest growing industries in the U.S., health care is projected to expand by 16 percent over the next decade and add an estimated 2.6 million new jobs, more than any other sector.

While there is clearly an abundance of job opportunities in health care, workers aren’t flocking to the field just to meet demand — health care careers are also extremely fulfilling, ones in which workers can truly feel like they’re making a difference in their communities and the world at large.

Of course, not everyone interested in health care has aspirations to become a nurse or doctor. And even those who have worked within those positions may find themselves researching alternate roles due to pandemic-induced burnout or simply an interest in taking on more managerial duties.

For many, transitioning to health administration provides a wealth of interesting, meaningful and well-paying positions.

To learn more about the career possibilities for aspiring clinical and management professionals, we spoke with Michael Harris, a professor in USC’s online Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) program and president of Harris Health Care Consulting.

What Does a Health Administrator Do?

Physicians may be the ones working directly with patients, but it’s health administrators who are calling the shots behind the scenes. A health administrator oversees health care facilities, hospitals, insurance companies or clinics, making the necessary decisions so everything remains on track.

That includes creating plans, training guidelines, policies, budgets, schedules and more to ensure the facility and its staff are well-positioned to provide excellent care to their patients. By harnessing skills in leadership, management, technology and organization health administrators are well-suited to shape and transform the future of health care.

How to Become a Health Administrator

If you want to pursue a career in health administration, the first step is to identify whether you have a true passion for the field, according to Harris.

“You have to have a passion for wanting to help people get better, to get the quality care that they need. To me, that’s the first step: having that kind of desire to help people. If you want to help create a financial portfolio or something to help this organization, that’s not going to get it. It’s always got to be rooted in passion, in ‘I want to make sure that we can deliver the best quality health care that we can in this society,’” he told USC Online.

Next, you will need to gain the applicable skills and education, likely starting with a bachelor’s degree in health administration. From there, you will learn more about the practical aspects of the medical field and secure an entry-level position.

But if you’re looking to advance your career or even transition from a different industry entirely, a master’s degree will provide you with the necessary knowledge and qualifications to thrive as a health care leader.

To pursue the online EMHA program at USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, you will need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university as well as five years of experience with progressively greater levels of responsibility in health care or a related field.

Geared toward mid-to-senior-level professionals, the online Executive Master of Health Administration has two flexible start dates — fall and spring — and usually takes two years to complete. With an emphasis on delivering cost-effective care, providing efficient management and developing strategies to enhance quality of care, the EMHA shapes graduates into remarkable, innovative leaders.

While the program is online, there are two required in-person residencies that take place on the USC campus. 

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What Jobs Can You Pursue With a Health Administration Master’s Degree?

There are plenty of options available for those who have earned their master’s in health administration — it all just depends on the skills and qualities you possess.

“Employers and health care institutions are looking for really key things. They’re looking for people who are knowledgeable conceptually about health care … but they’re also looking for people who can think, ‘How do we become more innovative in what we do?’” Harris told USC Online.

That innovative spirit is at the heart of executive-level positions across the country.

“We’re trying to prepare executives who can lead the innovation of health care at many of these institutions all across the country … That’s what hospitals and that’s what physician organizations are looking for. They want you to look at health care very differently than the way we’ve looked at in the past. Health care, the way it was 25 years ago, is not the health care that we have today, or the one we’ll have over the next 25 years,” he added.

When it comes to the specific positions available to those with an EMHA, there is no shortage of possibilities.

Consider director of patient safety — someone who works with patient safety managers to ensure facilities are secure and healthy environments for patients — or a health care research analyst, who collaborates with insurance companies to research available health care options for patients and verify both patient and hospital claims.

Others may decide to become chief clinical transformation officers, who create system reorganizations in facilities and dream up initiatives for updates so they run smoothly and efficiently. And of course, you can also become a health administrator, someone who works with organizations to direct health services and ensure patients receive proper care.

Other possible careers include hospital managers, medical staff directors, financial managers, ambulatory care directors, database administrators, medical coding and billing managers, emergency preparedness administrators, patient advocates, telehealth program managers, quality assurance managers and more.

The EMHA program set students up with a multitude of career opportunities, allowing them to impact the medical field in various unique and meaningful ways.

“You have students getting jobs like directors of nursing positions, like service line executives. Maybe they’re running the oncology center, or they’re running the orthopedic center at a huge corporation, at some of these huge service lines where you need really talented administrators who understand how to bring value, who understand process improvement … We do have some graduates who are now presidents of large institutions … One of our faculty members now, who was also a student of mine at one point, is running the L.A. County emergency room,” Harris said.

What Are the Salary Expectations for Health Care Administration?

As with any industry, the salary ranges quite a bit for health administration roles, depending on the position, experience level, facility and required qualifications.

Those in the field can make upwards of $70,000 to more than $250,000 a year, and the median salary for health care managers in 2020 was almost $105,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, that number can vary.

Why Should You Pursue an EMHA?

With an increasingly promising job outlook, varied positions and a rewarding work environment, it’s clear why health administration careers are flourishing. But most importantly, it’s a field where people who have a passion for health care and great leadership and organizational skills can make a lasting impact.

“I think [USC’s EMHA] is a worthwhile degree to have since we’re continuing to grow. The health care field is going to continue to explode … If you want to get an EMHA so that it can prepare you to lead this evolution of health care … and to lead your organization in that direction, do it. This is an exciting time to get involved,” Harris concluded.

Learn more about the Executive Master of Health Administration online program today.

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