43 Required Skills to Start (and Advance) Your Career in Healthcare Management

Healthcare management professionals show interpersonal skills, laughing together in a healthcare facility.

In simpler times, doctors, nurses and other patient care providers worked independently and managed their own administrative affairs. However, provider consolidation, changing patient expectations and the increasing complexity of medical billing and compensation have complicated healthcare management, making it impossible to manage healthcare facilities while practicing medicine. Trained health administrators now handle billing, staffing, marketing, and operations management for small private practices, mid-size hospital networks and the largest healthcare systems and integrated care delivery networks.

Healthcare management is a vast discipline encompassing everything related to the business side of medicine. The responsibilities of healthcare managers are both numerous and critical to the success of patient care. Effective healthcare leadership ensures there are enough providers to meet patient needs, resources (e.g., medicine and equipment) to treat those patients and the funds to finance it all.

Career advancement requires not only business acumen but a broad understanding of how the healthcare sphere operates. It's not unusual for doctors, nurses, physical therapists and other allied health providers to launch second careers in healthcare management. Other aspiring healthcare managers work for insurance companies, biotech firms and medical device and drug manufacturers. Mid-career professionals with no experience in medicine can also make this transition by earning an MBA that develops healthcare management skills.

"There is always a skills gap in healthcare management because the healthcare industry is constantly changing, pushing yesterday's skills toward obsolescence."

Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management devotes approximately 40% of the core curriculum in the Online MBA in Healthcare Management to covering the most dynamic issues in healthcare. Coursework includes (but is not limited to):

  • Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare
  • Digital Innovation in Healthcare
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health Law, Rules & Regulations
  • Health Policy
  • Population Health

Students graduate with the evidence-based management skills necessary to address challenges unique to medical environments, running the gamut from foundational baseline business skills and transferable technical skills to highly specialized distinguishing skills. In a marketplace seeking candidates with advanced qualifications, healthcare managers must stand out.

A traditional MBA hones soft skills and technical skills. Case Western Reserve's online healthcare MBA teaches the skills you'll need for leadership roles in clinical practices, hospitals, nursing home facilities and healthcare networks.

Is there a skills gap in healthcare management?

There is always a skills gap in healthcare management because the healthcare industry is constantly changing, pushing yesterday's skills toward obsolescence. Shifts in the regulatory landscape spur demand in new areas. And changing patient expectations move organizations to seek new types of talent.

Take, for instance, the emergence of telemedicine as yet another healthcare option for patients with non-acute issues. Overseeing distributed teams, managing cutting-edge technological systems and ensuring patient satisfaction in a virtual world takes new and different skills than managing operations in a traditional walk-in clinic.

However, it may be more fitting—and less controversial—to consider evolving administrative needs in healthcare fields as opportunities. Leading-edge, multidisciplinary skills are always in demand, so those motivated to grow their skillsets in master's degree programs can remain competitive. Healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, and healthcare management is the fastest-growing subfield of the industry. Becoming a leader in healthcare is less about addressing deficits in yourself and more about developing the management skills you already possess, to determine how you can enhance them and leverage them in clinical settings.

"If you're considering a healthcare management MBA, take inventory of which skills you have, which skills you can develop and which skills you lack."

The most important healthcare management skills

The following skills appear most often in job postings for healthcare management roles. No one career path requires all of them. If, for nothing else, to understand the competition, awareness of how these skill sets fit into the big picture is essential. If you're considering a healthcare management MBA—which covers almost all of the non-clinical skills below, to varying degrees of depth—take inventory of which skills you have, which skills you can develop and which skills you lack.

1. Acute care

Acute care is a branch of medicine that provides short-term treatment for patients with urgent or severe medical needs, longer-term care for patients with serious chronic conditions and comprehensive end-of-life care. The administrative needs of these facilities differ markedly from those of clinics and allied health practices, and medical managers working in acute care settings often earn more than $100,000 per year. As the market for post-acute care continues to grow, healthcare managers and administrators should understand how to develop post-acute care strategies.

2. Analytical skills

Effective healthcare and medical managers look to data for insights into pain points and opportunities for process improvement. They may not perform data analyses themselves but must understand how to use the information generated by patients and processes to identify inefficiencies and other issues. In Case Western Reserve's online MBA, students develop analytical skills through statistics and decision modeling, analyzing relationships between data samples to make inferences and test hypotheses.

3. Budgeting

Financial planning is a necessary part of health administration and can have a significant impact on patient outcomes. Financial security ensures that the resources needed to treat patients are available, and managers with a track record of saving money (without negatively impacting provider performance) command higher salaries. Case Western Reserve's online MBA curriculum covers accounting, financial management and finance issues and applications.

4. Relationship-building skills

The trust-based relationships that healthcare and hospital administrators forge across disparate departments allow them to rally different teams behind short- and long-term organizational goals. In the online MBA core curriculum, students learn about managing people and organizations, covering behavioral science, motivations, team dynamics and more.

5. Business administration and development

All medical managers use general business administration and development skills, but those with specific healthcare management skills are more effective and earn more because they understand how to lead in clinical settings. In "Leadership Assessment and Development," a course in the core online MBA curriculum, students meet with leadership coaches, deepening their self-awareness, emotional intelligence and leadership potential.

6. Care management

Healthcare managers might not participate directly in care management (or case management), but they create and establish protocols for staff to do so. Research shows that effective care management administration reduces hospital readmissions. Skillful oversight by medical managers may also enhance patient safety and lead to better outcomes. Case Western Reserve MBA students learn to identify the challenges that arise in healthcare delivery—and how to address them in ways that improve organizational performance.

7. Clinical experience

Because clinical experience gives administrators a window into the world of medicine that most business people don't have, it is considered a distinguishing healthcare management skill with an associated wage premium. You can gain these skills as a non-provider by volunteering in a clinic, shadowing a doctor or nurse or working in a smaller medical practice before transitioning into roles in large hospitals or health networks. Learning opportunities with Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and University Hospitals are part of the healthcare management MBA curriculum at Case Western Reserve.

8. Clinical research

Clinical research is the branch of health science focused on the safety and effectiveness of medications, devices, diagnostic products and treatments. Healthcare managers with skills in clinical research can work in both patient care settings and for medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and laboratories. Case Western Reserve online MBA students learn about research development and design related to improving population health and disparities. Case Western Reserve is an R1 university and a top-25 medical school for research.

9. Communication skills (written and verbal)

Communication is crucial at every stage of the healthcare process, and it falls to administrators to ensure that information is conveyed concisely in all directions. Earning an online MBA requires (and develops) exceptional communication skills. Listening, in particular, is critically important when you're not physically in the same room as your professors and peers. Because online degree programs attract students from all over, local dialects may impact effective communication. Listen as others speak and, when it's your turn, use clear and concise language. Always keep written communication short and sweet, but especially on group discussion boards.

10. Conflict management

Healthcare managers must have the management skills necessary to ensure that interpersonal and professional conflicts don't decrease productivity or negatively impact patient safety or outcomes. While many students begin the online MBA program with years of professional experience, not all of them have managed teams—and those who have can always benefit from additional training. Case Western Reserve's online MBA covers people management, change management, structures and policies. In turn, students graduate with the ability to adapt their conflict management strategies for any situation that arises.

11. Creativity

Most people don't associate creative thinking with healthcare management skills, but health administrators must be capable of innovation. Sometimes the obvious approach isn't the right one—especially in a field like medicine where unpredictability is the norm. Innovation and entrepreneurship are an essential part of the healthcare management MBA. Students hone their creative thinking skills as they develop new techniques for leveraging the latest technology, partnering strategies and more.

12. Critical thinking

Baseline critical thinking skills allow healthcare leaders to determine the best course of action in any situation by examining data and organizational goals. As Case Western Reserve online MBA students learn about medical malpractice, confidentiality, antitrust laws and how the U.S. medical system operates, they flex their critical thinking skills. Few laws are black and white. Understanding how health policies, rules and regulations impact healthcare organizations and population health requires critical thinking—and viewing scenarios from varied standpoints.

13. Customer service

Customer service is more important than ever in clinical settings because patients have high expectations and increasingly shop around for healthcare providers. Furthermore, customer service skills aren't limited to client-facing roles. Online healthcare MBA students at Case Western Reserve study lean operations in healthcare systems, allowing them to understand not just customer expectations but also how to meet those needs.

14. Data collection

Healthcare managers with specialized competencies related to data collection earn more because continuous data collection and analysis are vital to process improvement. Administrators capable of overseeing Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems and managing informatics are in demand. Deep learning and artificial intelligence rely on continuous data collection—and are central to Case Western Reserve's healthcare management MBA curriculum.

15. Decision-making

Many decisions in clinical environments happen under conditions of relative uncertainty, but health managers nonetheless have to make decisions that are smart, strategic and evidence-based. High-stress environments can provoke fear-based decision-making, and effective healthcare leaders must remain calm and collected in even the most chaotic situations. Case Western Reserve online MBA students explore decision-making related to healthcare management, accruing hands-on experience evaluating clinical interventions and public health policy.

16. Editing

Editing is an important baseline healthcare management skill—even for managers who do little writing. An administrator with editing skills can convey information succinctly, reducing the chances they'll be misunderstood. In an online MBA program, the ability to edit your work is critical. If students didn't already have editing skills before starting the healthcare MBA at Case Western Reserve University, they'll develop them quickly. Students learn to write clearly and effectively and to review each piece of written communication before hitting "send."

17. Goal-setting

Health administrators are responsible for turning an organization's vision into clear, relevant, specific and achievable goals for departments, teams and individuals. Goal-setting isn't just about setting your sights high; it's about developing action plans to achieve those goals (and, if goals are missed, reflecting on why that happened—and how to avoid it going forward). Earning an online MBA is a goal in and of itself. With focus, planning and careful time management, online MBA students develop the deep understanding that every pursuit—from completing a degree to hitting organizational KPIs—is accomplished through a series of smaller, more manageable tasks.

18. Initiative

Leaders in healthcare environments drive change by taking responsibility—even in situations that fall outside their wheelhouse. Their confidence comes from competence, which is why online MBA candidates at Case Western Reserve learn about both the business side and the clinical side of medicine.

19. Leadership

Healthcare managers have to inspire others in clinical and medicine-adjacent settings to deliver the best quality of care possible. Transformational leaders may be more effective in healthcare because they have a talent for inspiring loyalty and building confidence across teams. Case Western Reserve students assess and develop their leadership potential in multiple classes in the MBA Core.

Healthcare management skills related to legal and regulatory compliance correlate with higher salaries because they're essential for administrators operating in medical settings. Health law, the rules governing healthcare workers, health insurance regulation, EHR confidentiality rules and medical malpractice are all covered in the healthcare MBA curriculum.

21. Listening skills

Active listening is a type of listening defined by the intense attention the listener gives the speaker. In healthcare, active listening promotes empathy, motivation and quality of care, and simply pursuing an MBA online helps future medical managers develop those skills.

22. Managed care

In elaborate managed care settings where providers and insurance companies work in tandem, healthcare managers ensure these systems meet goals related to cost reduction, patient satisfaction and quality of care. Managed care skills can involve anything from regulatory compliance in insurance claim processing to process improvement to "triple bottom line" marketing—all of which Case Western Reserve covers in the online MBA curriculum.

23. Medical oversight

Healthcare managers don't create treatment plans but are responsible for overseeing treatment efficacy and quality of care, providers' continuing education and protocol development. Clinical care providers who transition into administrative positions have an advantage in this skill area and may earn more than colleagues with business backgrounds. Case Western Reserve levels the field by teaching students from all backgrounds data-driven methods of evaluating clinical interventions.

24. Mentoring

Mentoring involves coaching, education and inspiration. The mentoring skills students learn in leadership-focused classes in Case Western Reserve's healthcare management degree program will help them nurture new talents in their clinical and non-clinical staff members and enhance their effectiveness as a result.

25. Multi-tasking

This baseline skill is highly valuable in busy clinical environments where it's not unusual for administrators to have their focus pulled in different directions. Students who balance work, academics and personal responsibilities while in an online MBA program are prepared to excel in healthcare.

26. Occupational health and safety

Healthcare management skills related to worker health and safety are essential. Studies have found that providers worried about lapses in infection control, equipment failures or overwork are more likely to make mistakes, suggesting a strong link between administrative occupational health, safety skills and medical error prevention in clinical settings. Online MBA candidates at Case Western Reserve learn to create effective people-focused structures and policies that will help them keep providers safe.

27. Operations management

In medical and laboratory settings, effective operations management—covered in depth in the Case Western healthcare MBA program—is crucial to success. From patient care providers to maintenance personnel, every staff member must adhere to operational procedures and policies designed to ensure patient safety, enhance response times and maximize resource availability.

28. Organizational skills

This baseline healthcare management skill doesn't come with a wage premium. Still, it is nonetheless vital because healthcare managers and healthcare executives have to keep track of people, procedures, schedules and resources. Online MBA graduates tend to possess this skill already because it's one distance learners need to succeed.

29. Patient care

Healthcare managers don't need to be clinicians but they do have to understand the services doctors, nurses and allied health professionals provide. Case Western Reserve's unique experiential learning residency gives MBA candidates a window into how managers and medical staff work together to enhance patient care.

30. Patient safety management

Administrators are ultimately responsible for reducing and preventing medical errors whenever possible and reporting and analyzing errors that do occur. Their job includes overseeing the creation of initiatives designed to enhance patient safety through procedural changes. Healthcare MBA students can explore this facet of administration in the dialogues with experienced managers built into the curriculum.

31. People management

Managing people in the healthcare ecosystem involves more than telling staff members what to do, which is why all Case Western Reserve online healthcare MBA students work closely with leadership development coaches. Skilled leaders are highly attuned to their workers' development, growth and well-being, and they understand how to help them be the best they can be.

32. Performance analysis and appraisal

Evidence-based evaluation is especially critical in clinical settings where patient lives are directly affected by worker performance. Case Western Reserve students learn multiple methods of evaluating performance using decision science and analytics.

33. Planning & Scheduling

Drafting schedules in medical environments is complicated because staffing needs change rapidly. Administrators must know how to plan around patterns of need, optimize schedules to meet organizational objectives and respond to unexpected constraints. Healthcare MBA graduates are uniquely prepared to turn historical data analyses related to cost, efficiency, patient satisfaction and other metrics into realistic short- and long-term plans after practicing this skill while learning statistical and operations research methodologies.

34. Presentation and reporting

Managers and administrators in medical settings regularly have to share information with stakeholders, providers, non-clinical staff and even patients. They must be able to do so in ways that prevent misunderstandings. Students pursuing the online healthcare MBA practice these skills virtually in most of their classes.

35. Preventive maintenance

Oversight of facility management and maintenance is an integral part of operations that may fall to healthcare administrators in some settings—particularly when failure to maintain equipment or grounds might compromise patient or provider safety. Operations management is covered in the healthcare MBA curriculum because it's a vital element of healthcare delivery.

36. Problem-solving and troubleshooting

Healthcare managers are responsible for settling staff disputes, balancing departmental budgets, addressing resource shortages and handling crises as they arise. They must stay calm, objective and solutions-focused regardless of how dire the situation may be. Case Western Reserve MBA candidates learn to identify and address clinical, administrative and operational issues in medical settings using data-driven approaches.

37. Process improvement

Healthcare management skills related to successful process improvement correlate with wage premiums because hospitals, healthcare networks, insurance companies and research labs want managers who can effectively address and fix systems issues in a systematic, structured way. The online healthcare MBA program covers the many managerial issues service providers in medicine face and how to address them strategically.

38. Research

Medical managers need research skills to stay current in evidence-based clinical and laboratory environments where decisions must be backed up by data. Case Western Reserve students see these skills in action in the experiential learning residency and exercise them in coursework related to population health research. As mentioned above, Case Western Reserve is one of the nation's top research universities.

39. Staff development

Administrators in healthcare are responsible for supporting clinical and non-clinical staff members in their professional development journeys. This is especially important on the provider side where continuing education is often a licensure renewal requirement, which is why Case Western University's healthcare MBA curriculum includes coursework related to rules and regulations governing health care professionals in the United States.

40. Strategic planning

This specialized skill is increasingly in demand as healthcare organizations scramble to update technology infrastructure and processes to align with market trends, and medical services managers with demonstrable strategic planning skills earn a salary premium. Healthcare MBA candidates at Case Western Reserve learn to develop strategic and tactical actions throughout the program.

41. Supervisory skills

People management, covered in detail in multiple courses in the MBA Core, is a vital element of effective healthcare administration because it ensures individuals and teams are both focused on organizational goals and meeting granular objectives.

42. Team building, teamwork and collaboration

Healthcare is a team sport, and healthcare administrators are responsible for keeping everyone from executives to providers to maintenance staff operating as a cohesive unit. Team dynamics are covered in-depth in Case Western Reserve's MBA Core because of how essential teamwork is in medical settings, and interprofessional education and team-based learning are core to CWRU.

43. Time management and prioritization

These baseline skills aren't associated with a salary premium in healthcare management but can increase effectiveness, efficiency and productivity in patient care and diagnostic settings when administrators apply them as part of performance management. Healthcare MBA candidates at Case Western Reserve study how the strategic management of systems, structures and policies can make organizations both in and out of healthcare more effective.

How an MBA in healthcare management develops the skills to succeed

Although it is unclear which of the above healthcare management skills are most critical to success, the overall necessity of academic and professional development in this field is beyond debate. Health administrators work in an environment that is dynamic, has no room for error and is governed by increasingly complex rules. Healthcare managers have to help competing forces—e.g., shareholders looking for profits, providers looking for resources and patients looking for miracles—work together in harmony. And the healthcare industry is plagued by ongoing staffing shortages, the changing needs of a large aging patient base, issues related to the security of Electronic Health Records, rising costs and continuously shifting reimbursement models.

The 48-credit curriculum in Case Western Reserve's healthcare MBA program develops leaders with the skills to meet the administrative challenges unique to medicine in the present and to transform the medical healthcare delivery landscape for the better in the future. It is similar to the typical Master's in Healthcare Administration (MHA) curriculum in some ways, but graduates enter the workforce with additional transferable skills, potentially making the ROI of the Online MBA in Healthcare Management even greater. Healthcare MBA candidates also graduate with more resources because the pre- and post-graduation student experience offered by the Weatherhead School of Management includes robust support.

Apply today and in just eight terms, you'll be prepared to execute positive change in a wide variety of healthcare management jobs and to step into some of the highest-paying health administration careers.

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