Health Services Administrator  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotHealth services administrators oversee the general operation of health-care centers, and ensure that patients receive adequate care.

dotHealth services administrators may work in hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies or medical units in prisons.

dotThey may also work at special clinics and public health agencies.

Barbara Wiktorowicz, for example, is the executive director of the Women's Health Clinic. "We're interested in women's health. That's what the clinic stands for," she says.

dotHealth services administration may be one of the most stressful jobs around. These top executives work long hours managing budgets and employees. Stress levels vary, depending on the size of the institution. But those who can handle the pressure of the largest facilities can command large salaries and report genuine job satisfaction.

dotThe health-care industry is renowned for its lack of funding. According to Wiktorowicz, a lot of an administrator's stress comes from funding issues.

"It's high stress because there's so many pressures in health....I think most service agencies would tell you that the demands out there are always greater than what you can meet. We're turning a lot of women away. With two physicians, we can't serve all the women," she says.

dotA health services administrator is in charge of setting policies and managing a health-care system. They oversee services, programs, facilities, staff concerns and relations with other organizations.

dotHealth care is big business, and the people who run health facilities often have titles adopted from big business. Hospital administrators may be called chief executive officers, chief operating officers, presidents, vice-presidents and directors. The title depends on the facility.

dotJust as in business, these executives are responsible to boards of directors, which are made up of either real or figurative shareholders or stakeholders.

dotBehind the scenes, administrators work hard to keep their facilities operating smoothly and efficiently. That means keeping in touch with everything that is going on at the health-care center. Health services administrators have frequent meetings with department heads, physicians, boards of directors and other groups that keep a facility running from day to day.

dotDepending on who's at the meeting, the discussions can cover everything from long-term budget plans for the hospital to how to deal with a shortage of kitchen staff.

dotIn addition to meeting with people, administrators have to prepare and evaluate proposals and communications. These reports can include personnel evaluations, budget forecasts, recommendations and general correspondence.

dotBecause they are responsible for what happens in their facility, it is important that they continually meet with the employees. In general, a hospital administrator works with a governing board and helps formulate general policies. They then direct assistant administrators or department heads on how to carry out the policies.

dotIn contrast, nursing home administrators are involved in detailed management decisions. Long-term residency and smaller facilities allow the nursing home administrator to have some direct contact with patients.

dotHours can be long in this line of work. Although they may have regular office hours, administrators often spend evenings or weekends completing reports or attending meetings. Many health facilities operate around the clock, so administrators must be ready to respond to an emergency at any hour.

dotMost of a health administrator's work occurs at a desk, so it isn't physically demanding. However, they certainly move around to attend meetings or visit medical facilities.

"You have to be a person that can juggle a lot of different things," says Wiktorowicz. "And it's people. It's dealing with people and their lives."

dotIn the U.S., health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are rapidly changing the health-care scene. Some people believe HMO regulations and payment policies encourage layoffs and substandard care -- others believe HMOs are needed to contain rising costs. Health services managers must balance patient and budgetary needs in this rapidly changing workplace.

Winsor Schmidt is the director of the graduate program in health policy and administration at Washington State University. "HMOs are part of the managed care paradigm," he says. "What it means is a significant proportion of the health-care budget is being spent on management and administration, both in the system at large and in individual hospitals."

At a Glance

Work behind the scenes to administer hospitals, homes and clinics

  • This can be a high-stress position
  • You'll deal with personnel evaluations and budget forecasts
  • This senior post requires an MA in hospital or business administration