10 Healthcare Management Skills Employers Are Seeking
By Hannah Meinke on 11/04/2019
You might think you’ve got a decent handle on how businesses should be run—but healthcare comes with some unique differences. Patients aren’t researching hospital emergency room reviews while having a stroke, and not many businesses’ rely on the complicated systems of various middlemen to receive payment. That said, hospitals and clinics still have overhead, revenue and budget cuts to contend with—and they need effective management to keep them viable.
Whether you come from a business background or a clinical one, the need for professionals who know their way around both is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow 18 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.1
But before you commit to a Healthcare Management program, it is important to understand a little bit more about the field. First and foremost—understanding what healthcare management is and what it covers.
What is healthcare management?
Behind every checkup, CAT scan and emergency room visit, a healthcare administrator is figuring out the logistics needed to keep things running smoothly. From assistant administrators to directors of admitting and clinical managers, there are many different roles and responsibilities in this field. In general, these managers allocate funding, communicate with insurance companies or government insurance providers, create and measure objectives, listen to the needs of staff and make sure that their hospital, department or clinic is operating efficiently.
When taken all together, this may seem daunting—but keep in mind most healthcare management professionals focus their day-to-day work on a smaller subset of a healthcare facility’s operations. Some focus on billing department operations, while others might have a role dedicated to facilities management or patient scheduling. Much of what’s on their plate will depend on the employer and the type of facility they work in—a small clinic may require a jack-of-all-trades while working in a large hospital could require deeper specialized knowledge.
Technical skills healthcare managers need to succeed
Needless to say, someone who can do all of that needs to have some technical know-how. We talked to the experts and analyzed nearly 350,000 healthcare management job postings in the last year to find out which skills employers are most commonly seeking.2
Just like a hotel or restaurant manager, healthcare managers must determine what kind of resources they need to operate efficiently: bed sheets, employee salaries, IV bags and new equipment all come with price tags. They must communicate with staff to determine each department’s financial needs while not incurring too much overhead. A good manager must be able to determine what needs are absolute and where cutbacks can be made if necessary.
2. Customer billing
Rasmussen University instructor Laura De La Cruz says that client billing is one of the most challenging parts of healthcare management. She says, “It is difficult when people are sick and cannot pay for healthcare. [It] can be heartbreaking.” With rising deductibles, more of the cost burden is falling on patients who cannot afford care. But by working with them to establish payment plans, healthcare administrators working in this area can begin to alleviate that burden while still earning necessary revenue.
3. Quality assurance and control
The concept of quality assurance may have you thinking of conveyor belts and assembly lines instead of hospitals, but there’s still plenty of process and safety review to be done in these facilities. Are processes being billed correctly? Do lab results get back on time? Are safety procedures being adhered to? This need for analytical thinking and corrective management is particularly important in a field where the stakes can be high.
“Healthcare is unique as the room for error is very small or non-existent,” says Alam Hallan, director of pharmacy at Guelph General Hospital. When patient health is at stake, seemingly small details like scheduling and scribing become very important. That’s why it is crucial for managers to constantly review the efficiency and safety of their facilities’ operations.
4. Staff management
Healthcare specific training is critical in this role. From hiring to scheduling, managers need to understand what’s important to the providers they work with. For example, if the organization is looking to cut costs letting phlebotomists go, you need to understand that the process of taking blood is too time-consuming (and expensive) to add to a physician’s duties. You will need to come up with a plan to avoid overburdening providers or an alternative way to reduce the budget. Even if you don’t have a clinical background, your healthcare management courses combined with a strong sense of communication will prepare you to advocate well for your staff.
5. Project management
Like any other business, healthcare has objectives. Whether it’s rolling out a new policy for treating certain patient ailments or implementing a new billing process, effective healthcare management professionals know how to take a look at the big picture and proactively work to avoid bottlenecks or other issues that can hold progress back. They also set realistic goals for implementation and gather information in case plans need to be adjusted along the way.
Soft skills that help healthcare managers excel
Technical skill isn’t the only thing that matters. Employers also want to see well-rounded candidates with a strong foundation of transferable skills and abilities. Here’s what our analysis identified as some of the most sought after transferable skills for healthcare management roles.2
This skill is indispensable in every aspect of healthcare management. Whether you are assessing a budget or creating a schedule, you must communicate with other administrative and clinical staff to understand how your decisions will affect others. De La Cruz, who previously worked as a Children’s Miracle Network director for a local regional hospital, says communication was one of the skills she relied on most often.
“You have to work across departments and communicate with a variety of individuals—this can be challenging!” De La Cruz says.
Depending on your role you may be communicating regularly with a mix of patients, other administrators and clinicians—and you’ll need to be able to adjust for each audience to ensure your message is clear.
If this evokes the thought of that corny group skydiving motivational poster in your breakroom, it might be tempting to roll your eyes at this. But don’t let how universally necessary this skill is hide how important it truly is for this role—it’s an absolutely critical factor for healthcare providers.
Don’t believe us? One National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study found that “more than 70 percent of medical errors are attributable to dysfunctional team dynamics.”3 While medical errors generally fall under the scope of those providing direct patient care, administrative mistakes due to lack of cohesion can be a serious problem. As a healthcare administrator, you’ll need to build a strong team bond within your own focus area and across the organization.
3. Relationship building
This goes hand-in-hand with teamwork—it’s much easier to collaborate when you’ve done a good job of developing strong professional relationships with your peers. While the details of how relationship-building skills can help will vary depending on the specific role you’re in, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see how this can come up.
Say you’re tasked with implementing a new policy that, while not particularly difficult, is a change to the way a team has always done things. You’re bound to find employees set in their ways who could make this policy change a bigger headache than it needs to be. That’s where a good rapport with their managers or even directly with them can pay off—sure there might still be a grumble or two, but it’s a lot easier to get people to go along with a change if they like the person asking for it.
This is another universal skill that can be applied to a variety of scenarios in healthcare administration and management. For example, if you’re working with a frustrated patient who believes they’re being incorrectly billed, you’ll want to be comfortable digging into documentation and following up with the right people in order to resolve their problem. Or maybe you’ll be asked to develop plans for implementing telehealth services into an existing process. You’ll need to be comfortable with researching how others have done this and with gathering information from internal stakeholders in order to come up with a solid plan. No matter the context, the ability to competently and comfortably research information is key.
What do you do when your small clinic’s two medical administrative assistants get sick and call in? Or if an unexpected expense blows a huge hole in your department’s budget? Or if a patient’s insurance provider says a paperwork issue is going to leave them on the hook for a massive expense?
While these examples can certainly be a challenge, the best healthcare administrators and mangers are those who love to take on a challenge. This problem-solving mindset isn’t used just for fixing the obvious day-to-day challenges either—it can also apply to finding ways to make an already strong process 1 percent better.
“The key is to be a motivated problem solver who enjoys the challenge of continuous improvement,” Hallan says.
Develop your healthcare management skills
If you’ve ever spent hours in the waiting room at an ER or were prematurely ushered out of the hospital with less than ideal treatment, you know that management can have a big impact on the quality of healthcare. While medical professionals do the direct work of saving lives, they cannot do so without support—and knowing you’ve done your part can be pretty satisfying.
“Working in the healthcare field is its own reward,” De La Cruz says. “There are daily challenges that make the work interesting, varied and rewarding.”
If you’re interested in a healthcare management career path, the good news is you’ve likely developed some of these healthcare management skills over the course of your life so far. A Healthcare Management degree program can help you round out the rest. Learn more about some of the courses you can expect with our article, “4 Healthcare Management Courses Targeting the Skills Employers Want to See.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed October, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 345,761 healthcare management job postings, Sep, 01, 2018 – Aug. 31, 2019)
3National Center for Biotechnology Information, The ABC of health care team dynamics: understanding complex affective, behavioral and cognitive dynamics in interprofessional teams, [accessed October 2019] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24304597
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.