What Is a Practice Manager? An Expert Look at this Healthcare Management Career
It's no secret that jobs in healthcare administration have grown substantially over the past several years. That growth comes with little sign of cooling off, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 32% from 2019 to 2029.1 With a complex regulatory environment, technology advancements and a large baby boomer population reaching the peak of their healthcare needs, the need for process-oriented business professionals is clear.
So, what is a practice manager? Let’s take a look at some of their responsibilities to get a better idea of what a career in this role would be like.
What does a practice manager do?
In the simplest terms, a practice manager oversees the administration of a medical practice. The type of practice can vary significantly—from a cosmetic surgeon’s office to an addiction treatment center to a general family clinic. But no matter the exact type of facility a practice manager oversees, there are some core duties involved.
According to the BLS, medical and health services managers, a category that includes practice managers, are responsible for coordinating the business activities of healthcare providers. This includes:2
- Improving the efficiency and quality of healthcare services
- Ensuring the practice is compliant with laws and regulations
- Recruiting, training and supervising staff members
- Managing the finances of the practice, such as patient fees and billing
- Representing the facility at investor meetings or governing boards
- Keeping and organizing practice records
- Communicating with members of the medical staff and department heads
- Creating work schedules
You may be wondering how this role differs from other administrative roles like clinical director or healthcare administrator. While there is certainly overlap between many of these titles, a practice manager is typically more involved in the day-to-day operations of smaller facilities—rather than large hospitals. While a clinical director, for example, might help develop professional goals for a team of physicians, a practice manager would help coordinate the funding and scheduling necessary to meet those goals. With that in mind, these roles don’t have a strict legal definition and there’s likely to be significant overlap—sometimes the difference between these job titles is largely a matter of employer preference.
What do practice managers like about the job?
Unsurprisingly, one of the most significant reasons people choose this career path is the potential to work in a role that makes a positive difference. While practice managers do not treat patients, they can do a lot to improve the quality of their care. Practice managers help ensure that providers have all the resources they need, including up-to-date medical equipment, proper staffing and supplies.
Barbara Werner, practice manager at Vantage Plastic Surgery, can attest to the feeling of contributing to a successful procedure:
“When you see a patient come in with their head down—uncomfortable in their own skin—and then see them after the procedure is done, it’s amazing. They’re demeanor changes, and their confidence skyrockets. And you know that you had some small part in that.”
Practice managers can also ensure that patients understand the administrative side of things, including billing, communications, scheduling and records management.
Cecilia Hunt, CEO of JourneyPure, speaks to the experience of seeing this kind of hard work pay off.
“Practice managers generally get a strong sense of satisfaction about seeing everything run smoothly and efficiently, and helping to deliver quality healthcare to patients.”
In addition to the meaningful work of a practice manager, another draw for this career path is the strong earning potential. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for medical and health services managers was $104,280 in May 2020.1 While your potential earnings as a practice manager will certainly vary based on your location, employer and years of experience, it does help to know that these professionals are generally well-compensated for their work.
What's challenging about being a practice manager?
Like any job, being a practice manager has its challenges. One of the most complicated aspects of the role involves dealing with legal regulations, internal policies and lots of stakeholders who may not see eye-to-eye. Whether you’re working in a larger or smaller practice, it can be difficult to get everyone to agree.
Hunt admits, “It is a very challenging role that requires strong organizational skills, analytical skills and problem-solving skills. A good medical practice manager needs to resolve conflicts, manage different personalities and react quickly to unexpected scenarios and problems.”
With so many different opinions, change is often slow moving. This can be difficult—especially if you have a clear vision of your goals. According to Werner, a good practice manager needs to be able to multi-task—and a bit of patience never hurts.
How do I become a practice manager?
The BLS reports that most medical and health services managers have at least a Bachelor’s degree—though Master’s degrees are common and often preferred by employers.1 No matter your educational background, prospective practice managers can expect to need several years of experience in healthcare administration, business management or other related roles.
With that in mind, there’s no perfect path to becoming a practice manager. Some may get their start in medical billing or another administrative functional area, others may have moved into the role after developing leadership and management experience in a direct patient care role. The key, ultimately, is to have a blend of strong administrative expertise within healthcare and people management experience.
Is practice manager the right role for you?
If you have a passion for process, strong management skills and a desire to help people, then the role of a practice manager might be a good fit for you. To learn more about how you can take the next step toward this goal, visit Rasmussen University’s online Healthcare Management degree page. Whether it’s a Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management or a Master of Healthcare Administration, you can find the degree to help you move forward.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed September, 2021] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.