How to kickstart your hospital administrator career

Do you have a passion for healthcare? Are you a practical-minded, organized person who enjoys working around lots of people? Do you thrive in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of the above, a career in hospital administration might well be the ideal choice for you. Here is how to get started.

What does a hospital administrator do?

Hospital administrators are highly skilled managers who act as a point of contact between all departments in a hospital. They liaise between governing boards of trustees, medical staff, and support staff and ensure that the hospital functions well as a whole. Larger hospitals will have an administrator for each department, whereas smaller hospitals will rely on one administrator to manage and oversee the entire organization.

Some of the duties of a hospital administrator include setting budgets and fees, hiring staff, creating and maintaining organizational policies, developing scientific research programs (in research hospitals), and planning hospital activities. The job of a hospital administrator is varied and demanding, and to succeed in this field, you will need to work well under pressure.

As a hospital administrator, you will be required to keep up with developments in medicine and medical technology, data processing technology, government regulations, and more. This is definitely not a job for those looking for an easy ride, but for the right person, hospital administration can be an incredibly interesting and fulfilling career. If you think that might be you, read on!

Useful high school and college subjects

To become a hospital administrator, you will need to gain a high school diploma and, subsequently, a bachelor’s degree. It is possible to enter the field of hospital administration after an unrelated course of study, but if you are a high school or undergraduate student, you might want to consider taking classes in biology, nursing, and other healthcare-related subjects.

Other useful fields of study would be business, leadership, and, of course, administration. Hospital administrators are managers, and like all managers, they need to be able to see the big picture, think critically and creatively, and form a successful interpersonal relationship. While knowledge of the medical field will greatly help you in your hospital administration career, don’t overlook the importance of also developing ‘people skills’ and organizational skills.

Work experience

As an aspiring hospital administrator, you will want to gain some work experience in a hospital. This will allow you not only to enrich your resume, making you more attractive to potential employers but also to verify that you really are comfortable in a healthcare setting.

Working in the medical field is not for the faint-hearted. Even though you won’t be working as a doctor or a nurse, you still need a strong stomach, as you are going to encounter patients with serious injuries. You also need to be able to work under pressure. Hospitals are fast-paced environments, and if you are someone who needs to ponder every decision they make for a long time, this might not be the career for you.

A good way to gain relevant work experience is to work as a receptionist or other junior administrator in a hospital. This kind of role will allow you to learn about the healthcare field at the same time as gaining valuable administrative experience. If your local hospital isn’t hiring at the moment, cast your net wider and explore opportunities in other healthcare settings, such as family doctor practices, hospices, and nursing homes.

Alternatively, if you are finding it hard to secure a paid position and if you have the capacity to do so, you could volunteer in a hospital. As a volunteer, you are likely to be asked to provide administrative and other practical help, and you are going to learn how to interact with patients.

Whether paid or voluntary, this kind of experience will be invaluable as you progress towards a hospital administrator role. Importantly, undertaking work experience in a healthcare setting will also allow you to gain relevant letters of recommendation, which you will need in order to access more senior positions or to apply to graduate school.

Graduate education

A very common route to a hospital administrator career is to gain a graduate degree that combines healthcare and business education. When choosing the right program for you, the key question you need to ask yourself is: Healthcare MBA or Master of Health Administration? While both types of degrees will prepare you well for a career in hospital administration, there are some key differences between the two.

A Master of Health Administration (MHA) is a specialized graduate degree that will teach you solely about healthcare administration. All case studies and other references you encounter during your course will be related to a healthcare setting. On the other hand, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Healthcare will include both healthcare-related education and more generic modules in business, finance, marketing, and so on. 

Another important difference is that many MHA programs can be accessed with no or little experience in the healthcare field, whereas to gain entry into a Healthcare MBA — like any other kind of MBA — you will need to have several years of work experience under your belt, often some of it in leadership positions. Therefore, a Master of Health Administration may well be the better choice if you are in a hurry to get your career started, whereas a Healthcare MBA will be for you if you already have significant work experience.


While a license is not normally required for hospital administrators, if you want to work as a manager in a nursing home, you will need to pass a certification exam. Licensure requirements vary depending on your location, and there are several organizations offering certification programs.

As an example, the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM) offers a Certified Medical Manager credentialing program as well as more specialized Continuing Professional Education modules. Certification may also be built into your graduate program. When choosing a course of study, whether it is a Master’s degree or a professional course, make sure that it is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education.

Professional organizations

Once you have completed your studies, or perhaps even while you are still a student, you may want to consider becoming a member of a professional membership body.

There are many such organizations for healthcare management professionals in the US and elsewhere, including the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM), the Health Care Administrators Association (HCAA), the Association for Health Care Administrative Professionals (AHCAP), the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) and the American Hospital Association (AHA). Becoming a member of one of these organizations will give you access to valuable resources, networking opportunities, and continuing education.

Career progression and salary expectations

Once you have gained your qualifications, you will probably start your hospital administration career as an Administrative Assistant or as an Assistant Administrator, depending on the size of your workplace. Alternatively, you may be offered a year-long internship or residency before being hired on a permanent basis.

As time goes on and you become more confident, you will take on additional responsibilities, and you might be promoted to the role of Associate Administrator, Case Manager, or Department Manager. After about ten years in the field, you can expect to be eligible for senior-level management positions, which include Department Vice-President, Senior Vice-President, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Executive Officer.

As you progress throughout your career, you may find yourself leaving your higher-ranking position for a lower-ranking job in a bigger healthcare setting in order to further your professional growth. Don’t worry about your salary, though: your long hours and likely high levels of stress will be well rewarded. CNN Money reports the median pay for hospital administrators to be $120,000, with the top pay at $241,000.

Job outlook

Healthcare administration is a booming field, with a predicted growth of 32% in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that while there were around 429,800 people employed at all levels of healthcare administration in the US in 2020, a further 139,600 positions are likely to be created in the next decade, resulting in a total of around 569,400 people predicted to be working in this field by 2030.

For comparison purposes, the projected growth rate of all occupations within the same period of time is only 8%. Healthcare management is, therefore, an incredibly future-proof career choice.

The new jobs won’t all be in hospitals themselves, however. As medical technologies evolve, it is predicted that many services which are currently being provided by hospitals will shift to other settings, such as medical group practices, which are becoming larger and more complex. Furthermore, in nursing homes, as the large baby boomer generation grows older, more staff will be required.

If you are thinking of starting a course in healthcare management, you would be well advised to choose a program that includes modules specifically about the management of care homes and other services dedicated to the elderly.

Photo by Zhen Hu