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What to Consider When Picking a Healthcare Administration Program

A career in healthcare administration or management means making a livelihood out of meeting patient needs. We talked to Anthony C Stanowski, DHA, FACHE, the president and CEO of the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) about the future of this career path and how to find the right educational program.

Anthony C Stanowski, DHA, FACHE

President and CEO, Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)

What are some of the more unique aspects of pursuing a long-term career in healthcare administration and management? 

Healthcare administration combines the ability to distill vast amounts of information into a significant strategy, with the ability to influence key stakeholders by aligning purposes and incentives. You have to inspire people to follow a common mission, with the underlying goal being the care of the sick, the comfort of the dying, and the health of the community.

What role do you see health administration/management professionals playing in the future of healthcare?

The role has become increasingly complex. Healthcare executives have to understand the core parts of healthcare delivery, including provision of care, payment, incentives, and information technology. They need to be politicians that manage a diverse internal workforce that ranges from people with advanced research degrees to those who did not complete high school. All of whom play an important and essential role in the delivery of services. 

They need to be cognizant of individual needs but have everyone work to ensure the mission of the organization is met. They have to be stewards of resources, whether that be the resources of large national non-profits, a small community organization, a small business, like a physician practice, or shareholders in Fortune 100 corporations.

What advice would you give to a student interested in a career in healthcare administration? 

The most important thing is to establish a good foundation by attending a graduate program that provides you with the core competencies you will need to succeed. Top students know that choosing the easy path that simply secures letters after their name will not be a guarantee to success. 

Education is a process, a personal transformation. Picking the easy program is not the answer. 

It’s critical to select a program that meets high standards of accreditation, works with leading academics and practitioners to ensure students are well-prepared to lead, and requires work, sacrifice, and dedication to succeed. Its not easy, but easy things are never the pathway to success.

What factors should students consider when choosing the online degree program that is right for them? 

Take a look at the record of success for graduates. Where are they? What is the placement rate? What is the median salary? 

If a program can’t provide that information to you, be concerned as that reflects that the program is not tracking the success of its graduates. That means the program is not taking responsibility for your success. 

Leading programs, and all CAHME-Accredited programs, know this information and have to report it to CAHME annually.

Ask for the competency model the program uses, what is the model? Is it based on industry standards, such as the National Center for Healthcare Leadership model, the Health Management model (created by organizations like ACHE, HFMA, and others), the Saint Louis University model (which is based on hard research), or others? If it is a home-grown model, ask about from where it was derived.

Look at what the program teaches to. Ask the program how students are assessed relative to the model and how frequently assessment occurs.

Who are the faculty members, what are their backgrounds, and how are they involved in the education process? Many programs use adjuncts to supplement theory-based education with real-world experience. That is a good thing. However, a program taught entirely by adjuncts without doctoral degrees may reflect that student learning is not based on good theory and the scientific method. Look for a program with balance.

What are some steps current and prospective students can take while enrolled in a healthcare administration degree to set themselves up for post-graduation success?

One of the most important elements to success, particularly for students without a lot of experience, is to do a fellowship at a healthcare organization. These one-year experiences, which many graduate programs require for graduation, should give you access to senior management, the board, and a broad range of project experiences under the watchful eye of an academic adviser working in partnership with your preceptor. 

While you may not be paid much for this year, you should be able to access levels of experience that will be helpful to advance your career.

Look at the CAHME websiteto search for programs. CAHME is updating its search capability and in mid-June will include additional information on programs that will help guide prospective students. And note that CAHME is not an association; we are an accreditor. While programs pay to be accredited, if programs do not meet the high standards that are evaluated by an independent group of leading practitioners and academics, they can lose their accreditation.

It’s also important to network or, rather, help people. Join an association, like the ACHE, HFMA, MGMA, or NAHQ. Many of these have local chapters to help create easier and less costly access. When you join, volunteer to help out at a function. And here is a little secret — your first volunteer activity should be operating the the registration desk for an event. If you want to meet everyone, hand them their name tags, and be the first person people meet, this is the best way to do that.

Where do you see the most career opportunities for graduates with healthcare administration degrees today?

We have tracked students who graduate from CAHME-accredited programs for decades. While 44 percent of graduates from our programs go on to work in the hospital/health system, and 15 percent do a fellowship, what has become increasingly clear is that graduates from our programs are going into consulting, insurance, physician practices, the military, biotech, and other industries. You should select a program that will prepare you to enter the career of your choosing. The constant in healthcare is change but having a strong foundation will help you succeed!

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