Health care leadership is integral to the success of any hospital, clinic, or other health care facility. While nurses, doctors, and other front-line workers treat patients directly, health care leaders oversee the strategies, systems, and resources that enable organizations to provide the highest quality of patient care. If you’re interested in pursuing the challenges and rewards of health care leadership, learning about the field’s diverse roles and management styles can put you on the right path.
Health care leadership roles
Health care leadership takes many forms. Professionals ranging from consultants to CEOs decide the policies, processes, and technology that keep health care organizations running efficiently and effectively.
Health care consultant
Hospitals and other health care organizations hire health care consultants for their expert analysis, research, and ability to solve a particular issue that the hospital can’t solve on its own. Sometimes, health care providers lack the time or resources to address a specific business challenge, or they know the business has a deficiency but not how to improve it. In those cases, it makes sense to hire a health care consultant to draw upon their expertise and considerable resources.
What does a health care consultant do?
Health care consultants are experts for hire in the medical community. Common responsibilities and tasks include the following:
● Sharing advice and expert insight on any number of medical subjects based on data, facts, and experience
● Helping hospitals and health care providers make critical decisions that have long-term impacts
● Analyzing the job performance and functions of health care providers and looking for inefficiencies/areas of improvement
● Researching and interpreting health care laws and policies
● Identifying weaknesses in a health care provider’s business model or economic strategy, and then providing solutions for them
Health care consultants aren’t technically in leadership positions in health care facilities; however, they are considered leaders in the industry because of the influence they have and how much they’re relied upon as a resource by CEOs and other health care leaders.
What education is required to become a health care consultant?
The first step to become a health care consultant is usually to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a medically related field, such as nursing or public health. Some health care consultants get their bachelor’s in business, and then later pivot to a medical concentration for their graduate degree. A master’s in health administration or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in health care management are two common types of degrees that health care consultants typically hold. Since the position of health care consultant centers on the health care industry, it’s very rare that their master’s degree won’t have a medical concentration.
What is the salary of a health care consultant?
According to PayScale, the median annual salary of the average health care consultant was about $78,000 as of April 2021. On the high end, health care consultants can earn more than $120,000.
Health information manager
The health care industry has a wide array of patient data, including lab results, blood work, and medical history. For hospitals that serve thousands of patients each year, that data can pile up. The data needs to be not only properly organized and filed for later reference but also securely stored to protect patient privacy. This is where the health information manager comes in. Health information managers ensure that all patient data and hospital reporting are carefully managed and kept confidential from the public. By maintaining that amount of information, they hold a pivotal place in health care leadership.\
What does a health information manager do?
Health information managers oversee medical records that contain patients’ private medical histories. In the age of the internet and a push to transition to a digital system, most health information managers now find themselves in charge of keeping both paper and electronic medical records (EMRs). Other core responsibilities of a health information manager include the following:
● Maintaining and auditing medical records for accuracy
● Updating or designing the medical records system for compliance with the most recent health care regulations
● Analyzing medical record data and looking for trends and/or areas of improvement
● Ensuring that the medical record system is easy to use and accessible to the health care providers who require access
What education is required to become a health information manager?
A bachelor’s degree in health information management is typically the minimum level of education required on the career path to becoming a health information manager. This degree provides the educational foundation for what the job entails with classes such as health services management, health information management, human resources administration, and accounting and budgeting.
Although obtaining a health information management (HIM) certification is not required for all health information manager positions, having the certification can strengthen an applicant’s position. The two types of HIM certifications are Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) and Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA). According to the American Health Information Management Association, both the RHIT and RHIA will prepare you for a career in health information; however, the RHIA is the more advanced of the two certifications and signifies a more commanding knowledge of medical records and patient health information.
What are the career outlook and salary of a health information manager?
Hospitals and health care facilities will always need people to securely maintain their patient records. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for medical records and health information specialists, such as health information managers, is expected to grow by 8% from 2019 to 2029. The projected growth rate is much faster than the projected average growth rate for all occupations due to an aging population that will increasingly be in need of medical services in the future.
According to PayScale, the median annual salary of a health information manager was about $56,000 as of April 2021. On the high end, they can earn more than $78,000.
A hospital administrator is in charge of running a hospital or other health care facility, such as a nursing home or outpatient clinic. The role is widely regarded as one of the most high-pressure and demanding jobs in health care because they must coordinate efficient operations 24/7.
What does a hospital administrator do?
The day-to-day duties of a hospital administrator can vary widely depending on the current needs of the health care facility. They face new challenges daily, so the ideal person is adaptable to any given situation and can multitask. Core responsibilities include the following:
● Developing the health care facility’s goals and objectives and communicating those to the staff for implementation
● Planning and managing the health care facility’s budget and reporting processes
● Overseeing the hiring, scheduling, and management of the health care facility’s doctors, nurses, and other personnel and making sure they are properly trained to provide high-quality patient care
● Maintaining the health care facility’s smooth operation so that high-quality patient care can be delivered in all departments
● Meeting regularly with the heads of departments and hospital management to direct and coordinate how health care services are executed within the facility
● Meeting regularly with insurance companies, vendors, and board members of the health care facility; serving as the facility’s main point of contact on important issues
● Staying up to date on the latest provisions and policy changes in health care that may affect the facility
● Managing crises by overseeing such requirements as the organization of emergency services or the enforcement of safety regulations during disaster response efforts
Besides treating patients, a hospital administrator is directly involved in most activities, making them a keystone figure in health care leadership. They typically oversee the operations of the entire health care facility or hospital. However, in very large facilities in dense metropolitan areas, they may oversee one department or sector of the hospital. Other types of health care facilities that have hospital administrators include birth centers, blood banks, hospice homes, imaging and radiology centers, urgent care facilities, and telehealth centers.
What education is needed to become a hospital administrator?
A few degree paths can prepare you for a career as a hospital administrator. One of the most common is a Bachelor of Science (BS) in health care administration in which you will take courses such as basic illness and disease, health care management, health care accounting, and health law. This degree path is popular if you know early on that you want to be on the administrative side of health care. Another popular degree path is a BS in health sciences.
Although having a master’s degree in a health care-related concentration is not a hard-and-fast requirement, many health care facilities prefer that their hospital administrators have it. Examples include the following:
● Master of Health Administration (MHA)
● Master of Business Administration (MBA) in health care management
● Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA)
● Master of Public Health (MPH) in health administration
What are the career outlook and salary of a hospital administrator?
The career outlook for hospital administrators is projected to grow strongly. According to the BLS, the employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow by 32% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the projected average for all occupations. The projected growth is due to an aging baby boomer population and growing demand for health care services as people are living longer.
The salary of a hospital administrator will vary depending on several factors: work experience, region, health care facility, and education, just to name a few. According to PayScale, the median annual salary of a hospital administrator was about $87,000 as of April 2021. On the high end, some earn more than $150,000.
A hospital CEO is the highest-ranking individual in health care leadership and serves as the head decision-maker of a hospital or health care provider. Unlike the CEO of a traditional company, a hospital CEO will usually have risen through the ranks of the hospital administration system (promoted from hospital administrator, operations officer, or another role) and has a deep medical background. A hospital CEO rarely assumes control of a health care facility without prior experience in health care.
What does a hospital CEO do?
Hospital CEOs are the face of their health care institution and generally shape its mission statement, values, and policies. Although they have full control over the entire hospital system, a hospital CEO will generally delegate the day-to-day operations to a team of managers, hospital administrators, and leaders, such as the chief operating officer (COO), chief medical officer (CMO), chief financial officer (CFO), and chief nursing officer (CNO). The leadership team in turn communicates the CEO’ marching orders to the rest of the hospital staff.
Hospital CEOs have little or no patient interaction, but the decisions they make affect the health care experience of every patient who enters the facility. This certifies them as the absolute pinnacle of health care leadership.
What education is needed to become a hospital CEO?
Typically, hospital CEOs have a deep educational background in addition to many years of experience in health care administration. Most hospital CEOs have an MBA in health care management or MHA. It’s rare to find a hospital CEO with a standard MBA that doesn’t have an emphasis on health care.
What is the salary of a hospital CEO?
Hospital CEOs are going to command the highest salary of anyone in health care leadership. According to PayScale, the median annual salary of a CEO was about $155,000 as of April 2021. On the high end, CEOs earn $300,000 or more. However, it should be noted that these salaries are for CEOs in general, not specifically hospital CEOs.
Leadership styles in health care
Effective health care leadership doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. The medical staff, patient base, and type of health care being provided (emergency care, preventive care, etc.) all play a factor. For example, how a pediatrician’s office (low-intensity environment) is run is different from how an ER (high-intensity environment) is run. Here are seven leadership styles in health care that you should consider.
1. Autocratic leadership
Autocratic leadership is an extremely hands-on type of health care leadership: The person in charge is involved in every decision made within the facility. In fact, this style is so hands-on that the person in charge will delegate little to no responsibility, even if the tasks or decisions are inconsequential. This type of leadership is efficient in situations in which a decision is needed quickly since it’ll come down to a single person to make it. However, it can work against a health care facility if the person in the leadership position is resistant to new or innovative staff suggestions.
2. Democratic leadership
A democratic leader in health care is one who actively listens and considers the ideas and input of staff. Although still in charge of making decisions, democratic leaders are influenced by the wants, needs, and feedback of employees when doing so. Democratic leaders can be convinced to change their mind on a particular issue if the numbers support it. This type of health care leadership works well in environments where health care providers value a “majority rules” approach. The drawback is that the democratic process is slower, which means it’s not suited for scenarios that require quick, decisive action.
3. Transformational leadership
Transformational leadership, sometimes referred to as charismatic leadership, is a leadership style in health care that uses tactics grounded in emotion to inspire and motivate employees to achieve their highest levels of performance. It functions on what are known as the “four I’s”: inspirational motivation, idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, and individualized characterization. Although transformational leadership works in environments such as professional sports where emotion can push an athlete to new heights of performance, it may not be as well suited for health care, except for certain situations that require extreme motivation.
4. Servant leadership
In servant leadership, power is distributed from the person in a managerial position to the employees, giving them far more autonomy compared with that of an autocratic leader. Servant leaders are defined by their tendency to serve others before themselves, making them altruistic. They expect their teams to follow their example, operating under the mindset of selflessness and devotion to ideals and best practices.
In health care leadership, servant leaders are highly collaborative with their teams. They will listen to their ideas, take direction, and foster company growth using employees as a resource. This type of altruism is valuable in the health care field because it means that the patient — no matter what the circumstances — is always going to come first. However, servant leaders may struggle when difficult or quick decisions need to be made that are good for the business but that don’t necessarily serve the people. Successful health care leaders usually have a balance between being business-minded and altruistic.
5. Transactional leadership
Transactional leadership is perhaps the most rigid and militant of any of the leadership styles. In a health care setting, it means that by accepting their role as a nurse, a doctor, or other health care worker, they have agreed to follow the rules, standards, and protocols of the institution. In exchange, they receive a salary. Transactional leadership places particular emphasis on following the rules and respecting the chain of command. Unlike democratic leadership, the input and opinions of the team hold little sway in the decision-making process.
6. Innovative leadership
The values of innovative thinking guide innovative leadership, meaning always striving to be better and never settling for “good enough.” The innovative leader in health care is most valuable in situations that have never been encountered before. Innovative leaders are problem-solvers and creators of ideas. In a health care system, they tend to thrive because they are constantly finding ways to fix or improve their facility. Out of all the varieties of health care leadership, the innovative leader is one of the most highly valued, and situations like the recent COVID-19 pandemic have proven why.
7. Situational leadership
As the name implies, situational leadership is an approach to managing people in which the situation dictates the style. The most adaptive and pliable of any of the health care leadership styles, situational leadership is best suited for health care facilities where a leader needs to wear several different managerial hats. Situational leadership is perfect for constantly changing environments that require a person to go from slow and measured to quick and decisive in an instant.
Why is leadership important in health care?
If you’re new to the field of health care, you may wonder why leadership is important in health care and how good or bad leadership can trickle down to the patient experience. Health care leadership is ultimately going to determine the quality of health care because leaders are the ones who are in charge of building effective teams and ensuring that their facility is a well-oiled machine. Having effective health care providers, modern examination equipment, and easy-to-use patient portals isn’t a result of luck. A hospital administrator or other managerial figure is always improving processes and staff to provide the best patient care.
Take your first step to becoming part of health care leadership
The field of health care is projected to continue expanding rapidly in the coming years. To pursue an exciting health care leadership opportunity in the growing industry, the first step is to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a field of study related to health care. Our recommendation engine can help you find the perfect program for your learning style, schedule, and intended career path.