By Kara Sherrer
A physician who oversees several clinics, a communications director who manages hospital PR, and a finance manager who works at a pharmaceutical company are all vastly different roles. Despite their apparent differences, however, all these positions qualify as healthcare management jobs.
“There’s just tons of different jobs that can be classified as healthcare management,” confirmed Burch Wood, Director of Health Care Programs at Vanderbilt Business. To help dispel some of the confusion, we talked with Wood and Emily Anderson, Senior Director of the Career Management Center, to learn more about the types of healthcare management opportunities available and what skills it takes to succeed in those roles.
Types of Healthcare Management Jobs
Healthcare management jobs can be sorted into two broad categories: clinical and non-clinical. The first category, clinical, encompasses doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and anyone else who works directly with patients. These clinicians work in many environments, including hospitals, physician offices, clinics, home health organizations, and more. “They have an entire management structure in and of themselves,” Wood said.
Anyone who doesn’t help treat patients falls into the non-clinical category. This may include everyone from an administrator working in hospital management to a marketing manager at a major biotech company. “The non-clinical administration side is typically managing the pieces of the business,” Wood explained.
Because of the emphasis on patient care, clinicians — especially doctors — tend to be the most influential people in the healthcare industry. “The decision makers have come up through the clinical side of things. You have to learn how to understand what’s going on from the clinician’s point of view because they’re the central core of healthcare, and then everything revolves around (them) like a donut,” Anderson said.
Earning a Healthcare Management Job
Most clinicians start at the bottom and work their way up into a healthcare management job as they gain experience. For example, someone might start out as a floor nurse, then work their way to shift lead, then the director of a unit or floor, then night supervisor, then perhaps even the Director of Nursing or Chief Nursing Officer. When clinicians reach these management roles, some seek out additional education such as the Master of Management in Health Care program to help them gain leadership skills not covered in their clinical education.
Some non-clinical administrators also take this approach, starting work in healthcare straight out of college and earning enough experience until they achieve a management role. Others decide to switch into the industry later and may use an advanced degree such as an MBA to help make the transition.
“You’ve got sort of work your way up. It’s an industry where you often start at the bottom,” Wood said. “Even when you go in with an MBA, you sometimes start not (quite) all the way the bottom and then work your way up.”
“(This industry) also rewards work,” he added. “Most healthcare companies are pretty good about rewarding people, they see who are doing well (and then promote them).”
Skills Needed to Succeed
Whether people are aiming for a clinical or non-clinical leadership, industry knowledge is absolutely essential to success. This is especially true for healthcare career switchers, who are trying to break into the industry. “It’s one of those areas where you’ve got to be you’ve got be interested in the business of health care. It’s a big, broad, complex industry that touches everybody at some point,” Anderson said.
Those aspiring to healthcare management jobs must also determine what part of the industry they want to be in. Many clinicians figure this out ahead of time, but non-clinicians have more flexibility, especially on the corporate side. “You get a lot of people who liked one particular space and say, ‘I’m a hospitals guy, I love hospitals, I have good friends who are physicians,’” Wood said.
For those seeking non-clinical roles, they must also choose a function to pursue along specific industry areas like biotech or hospitals. “People say, ‘I want to be in healthcare,’ but you do need to think about what functional role you want to have,” Anderson said. “(In corporations) it’s largely along a functional line, so it’s either finance marketing, operations, or consulting. Then there’s some programs that are a bit more cross functional, where you would you would have roles in different business functions, like a leadership development rotational program.”
Whatever role they prefer, healthcare managers must also be passionate about their work. No matter what healthcare management jobs they have, healthcare can sometimes be a frustrating industry to work in — but one that also offers a lot of opportunities to create change and make a difference. “It’s for people who are not afraid of working in an industry where the answers are not all known. They’re going to be part of hopefully making the industry better,” Anderson said.
For more information about what kinds of jobs MBAs get in healthcare, check out this article.