You will make decisions about your career throughout your life. No matter what stage of the decision-making process you are in, we hope that this essay will give you a better understanding of the exciting profession of healthcare management. Healthcare is one of today’s most dynamic and growing fields, with a wide range of opportunities and challenges. Healthcare executives work in a variety of settings, including hospitals and integrated delivery systems, managed care organizations, long-term care facilities, home health agencies, and consulting firms, to name a few. The American College of Healthcare Executives wants to help you make a positive, informed decision about your career. You can count on us as a resource for career advice, resume consultation, continuing education, and other career services.

Thomas C. Dolan, Ph.D., FACHE, CAE
President and Chief Executive Officer
American College of Healthcare Executives


Healthcare: A Changing System

Healthcare is changing more rapidly than almost any other field. The field is changing in terms of how and where care is delivered, who is providing those services, and how that care is financed. These changes are being driven primarily by the growth of managed care. A number of other current trends are expected to continue, including:

  • Integration of healthcare delivery organizations to create accessible, appropriate, and comprehensive care pathways for all people
  • Continual advances in medical technology
  • Collaboration among provider organizations, physicians, businesses, insurers, and others to improve community health status
  • Increased emphasis on disease prevention and wellness promotion
  • An elderly population that will grow exponentially with the "Baby Boomer" generation
  • Better-informed patients demanding high-quality care
  • Pressure from business, government, insurers, and patients to control costs and demonstrate the value of the services delivered
  • Efforts to implement continuous quality improvement initiatives similar to those found in other fields

Career Opportunities for Healthcare Executives

This is an exciting time for healthcare management. The field requires talented people to help introduce and manage the changes taking place. In their roles, healthcare executives have an opportunity to make a significant contribution to improving the health of the communities their organizations serve. As a result of the transformation taking place in the healthcare system, career options for healthcare executives are becoming more diverse. Increasingly, positions for healthcare executives may be found in a wide variety of settings, such as:

  • Ambulatory care facilities
  • Consulting firms
  • Healthcare associations
  • Home health agencies
  • Hospices
  • Hospitals and hospital systems
  • Integrated delivery systems
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Managed care organizations (such as HMOs and PPOs)
  • Medical group practices
  • Mental health organizations
  • Public health departments
  • University or research institutions

Today, an estimated 100,000 people occupy health management positions at numerous organizational levels, from department head to chief executive officer. Requirements for senior-level positions in healthcare organizations are demanding, but these jobs also offer opportunities to improve the system of care giving.

With the growing diversity in the healthcare system, many executives are needed in settings other than the traditional hospital. However, competition is intense at all job levels, and many positions that previously required only a bachelor’s degree now require a master’s degree. Each year, about 2,000 students receive graduate degrees in healthcare management. Salaries for beginning master’s degree graduates generally range from the high-30s to high-40s, depending on the type of organization and its location. If you choose a career in healthcare management, your first job might be an entry- to mid-level management position in a specialized area, such as:

  • Finance
  • Government relations
  • Human resources
  • Information systems
  • Marketing and public affairs
  • Materials management (purchasing of equipment and supplies)
  • Medical staff relations
  • Nursing administration
  • Patient care services
  • Planning and development

Do You Have What It Takes?

What do employers look for in their entry-level managers? Here are some of the criteria:

Academic training/previous work experience

  • A degree in health administration from a school accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education or another degree that may qualify you
  • A commitment to professional development and continuing education
  • Previous positions, internships, and fellowships in healthcare organizations or other business settings

Communication skills

  • Strong written and oral communication skills
  • Ability to develop and present reports and proposals

Adaptability/organizational fit

  • Personal and career objectives that mesh with those of the organization
  • Ability to work well with others, including superiors, subordinates, and peers
  • Attitude and appearance that communicate confidence, maturity, and competence

Dependability, judgment, character

  • Maturity to make decisions and take responsibility for them
  • Honest and ethical business conduct
  • Willingness to make a commitment to the organization

General management skills

  • Leadership that inspires and motivates others
  • Ability to train, delegate, evaluate, coordinate, and negotiate

Where Do You Start?

Begin planning as early as possible for a career in healthcare management. A good scholastic record is important—especially if you want to attend a graduate program for a master’s degree or a doctorate. Many schools and colleges in the United States and Canada offer undergraduate degrees with a concentration in health services management.

In the past, most students chose the traditional route of a master’s degree in health administration or public health. Today, however, students are investigating other options, including graduate degrees in business and public administration, with course concentration in health services management. Some schools offer a joint degree-a master’s degree in both business administration and public health, or in both healthcare management and law, for example.

Graduate programs generally last two years and lead to a master’s degree. They include course work in healthcare policy and law, marketing, organizational behavior, healthcare financing, human resources, and other healthcare management topics. The program may also include a supervised internship, residency, or fellowship.

To learn more about student involvement with the American College of Healthcare Executives, please consult the Online Directory of Student Chapters. To learn more about post-graduate fellowships in healthcare administration, consult the Directory of Postgraduate Administrative Fellowships. You may also obtain information on how to apply as a Student Associate of the American College of Healthcare Executives.


Making Your Career Happen

Here are some general guidelines to help you begin to set and achieve your career goals:

Investigate many educational programs—both graduate and undergraduate—before you make a commitment of time and money. (A list of links to CAHME-accredited graduate programs follows.) Programs vary widely from location to location. Some offer a broad summary of the field, while others provide training in managing specific kinds of organizations.

Develop your people skills. Your success as a healthcare executive will depend on your ability to get along with diverse groups of people: employees, physicians, vendors, governing boards, and the public. Learn how to motivate, negotiate, and manage.

Develop strong quantitative skills. Healthcare executives must understand financial strategies and accounting principles, and they must be able to interpret data.

Stay current on healthcare trends. Be aware of shifting opportunities resulting from changing demographic and reimbursement trends to developments in healthcare policy.

Read about healthcare. You can find interesting articles in local newspapers, national magazines such as Newsweek and Time, and trade publications such as Healthcare Executive, Frontiers of Health Services Management, Journal of Healthcare Management, and Modern Healthcare. Visit university libraries.

Learn about healthcare providers. Nearby hospitals, HMOs, and mental health facilities may offer free publications, health fairs, or community health education programs. If possible, tour a facility or participate in a volunteer program.

Be patient and flexible. You may have to relocate to another part of the country to take advantage of a specific educational program or job opportunity.

Identify your career goals and take steps to attain them. Determine your weaknesses and then develop a plan to correct them. Build on your strengths.

Use ACHE resources. The American College of Healthcare Executives provides access to the Directory of Postgraduate Administrative Fellowships, directories of local chapters, and student chapters, and many other tools to help you network and develop your career.

Rely on the expertise of healthcare organizations.

  1. Some of these resources include:
  2. American Association of Health Plans
    1129 20th St. N.W., Ste. 600
    Washington, DC 20036
    (202) 778-3200
  3. American Association of Healthcare Consultants
    11208 Waples Mill Rd., Ste. 109
    Fairfax, VA 22030
    (703) 691-2242
  4. American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging
    901 E St., N.W., Ste. 500
    Washington, DC 20004-2037
    (202) 783-2242
  5. American College of Healthcare Executives
    1 N. Franklin St., Ste. 1700
    Chicago, IL 60606-4425
    (312) 424-2800
  6. American College of Medical Practice Executives
    104 Inverness Terrace, E.
    Englewood, CO 80112-5306
    (303) 799-1111
  7. American College of Physician Executives
    4890 W. Kennedy Blvd., Ste. 200
    Tampa, FL 33609-2575
    (813) 287-2000
  8. American Hospital Association
    1 N. Franklin St., Ste. 2700
    Chicago, IL 60606
    (312) 422-3000
  9. American Organization of Nurse Executives
    1 N. Franklin St., Ste. 3400
    Chicago, IL 60606
    (312) 422-2800
  10. American Public Health Association
    1015 15th St., N.W., Ste. 300
    Washington, DC 20005
    (202) 789-5600
  11. Association of Behaviorial Healthcare Managers
    60 Revere Dr., Ste. 500
    Northbrook, IL 60062
    (847) 480-9626
  12. Association of University Programs in Health Administration
    2000 N. 14th St., Ste. 780
    Arlington, VA 22201
    (703) 894-0940
  13. Canadian College of Health Leaders
    350 Sparks St., Ste. 402
    Ottawa, ON K1R 7S8 Canada
    (613) 235-7218
  14. Canadian Hospital Association
    17 York St., Ste. 100
    Ottawa, ON K1N 9J6 Canada
    (613) 241-8005
  15. Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education
    2000 14th Street North, Suite 780
    Arlington, VA 22201
    (703) 894-0960
  16. Healthcare Financial Management Association
    Two Westbrook Corporate Center, Ste. 700
    Westchester, IL 60154
    (708) 531-9600

American College of Healthcare Executives

The American College of Healthcare Executives is an international professional society of 30,000 healthcare executives. ACHE is known for its prestigious credentialing and educational programs and its annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership, which draws more than 4,000 participants each year. ACHE is also known for its journal, the Journal of Healthcare Management, and magazine, Healthcare Executive, as well as ground-breaking research and career development and public policy programs.

ACHE’s publishing division, Health Administration Press, is one of the largest publishers of books and journals on all aspects of health services management in addition to textbooks for use in college and university courses.

Through such efforts, ACHE works toward its goal of being the premier professional society for healthcare leaders by providing exceptional value to its members.


Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education

The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education was organized in 1968 to provide accreditation to individual academic programs offering a major course of study in health services administration, leading to a professional master’s degree. CAHME has been granted formal recognition by the Commission on Recognition of Postsecondary Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. The Commission is the only organization recognized to grant accreditation to master’s level health administration programs in the United States and Canada.

CAHME establishes criteria for graduate education in health services administration, planning, and policy; conducts surveys that encourage universities to maintain and improve their programs; determines compliance with the Commission’s criteria; and provides ongoing consultation to health services administration programs. CAHME promotes quality education in health services administration.

The Commission has ten corporate members: the American College of Healthcare Executives, the American College of Medical Practice Executives, the American College of Physician Executives, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the American Organization of Nurse Executives, the American Public Health Association, the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, the Canadian Institute of Health Management, and the Healthcare Financial Management Association.