6 Reasons Clinicians Pursue Second Careers in Healthcare Management

Two healthcare technicians stand behind a shelf in a clinical laboratory.

Provider and facility consolidation is changing healthcare in myriad ways. For example, more doctors, nurses and specialists provide clinical care as part of monolithic healthcare networks than ever before. Many are taking on administrative and managerial responsibilities in addition to or even in lieu of caring for patients. And some have come to the conclusion that they can do more good in rapidly changing clinical environments by pursuing second careers in healthcare management.

These provider leaders are uniquely qualified to address the distinct business challenges that clinical facilities, healthcare networks, insurance companies, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, home health agencies and healthcare-adjacent firms face. They understand that while healthcare is a business with the usual resource constraints and operational concerns, it is also one in which clinical outcomes are a key performance indicator. Healthcare managers who launch careers as providers but go on to earn healthcare management MBAs online or on campus understand how to make decisions based on what’s best for patients without sacrificing the health of their organizations.

Case Western Reserve University's 48-credit hour, two-and-a-half-year Online MBA with a Healthcare Management Track teaches doctors, nurses and specialists how to enhance healthcare system performance and drive change in the top healthcare management jobs. It attracts providers pursuing second careers in healthcare administration because, unlike degree programs that approach the business of healthcare as an MBA elective, it offers students a full standalone Master of Business Administration experience plus a comprehensive healthcare management specialization. It's a dual-domain master's degree that can take a healthcare career in many different directions.

What a second career in healthcare management looks like

Patient care in the U.S. is complicated by an evolving ecosystem of strict rules and regulatory policies that govern healthcare delivery and pay. Many providers who might once have spent their entire careers in clinical practice are opting out by making non-clinical career moves. Some are looking for a change after a decade or two spent in clinical roles. Others are newly minted providers who don't feel their futures lie in the complicated world of patient care. Still others pursue healthcare management MBAs online or on campus because they want to diversify their career options or even earn more money. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for medical and health services managers is about $104,000—which is more than registered nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and other non-physician patient care providers typically earn.

It's not unusual for providers to practice for 10 to 20 years before transitioning into managerial and administrative roles. Other providers choose dual-track career paths involving medical management early in their careers and often do primarily non-clinical work. In both cases, providers can choose from a growing variety of business-focused career paths in healthcare with titles such as health services manager, provider network director, vice president of clinical services, health network CFO or hospital CEO. There are ample opportunities for providers to move into managerial roles. The healthcare field remains the largest employer in the U.S., and positions for administrators outnumber positions for providers by 10 to one.

7 reasons clinicians pursue second careers in healthcare management

Providers who earn healthcare management MBAs online or on campus to pursue careers in management and administration are motivated by various drives, desires and external factors. These include:

Opportunities in healthcare leadership

Healthcare occupations of all kinds will grow by 15% between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS, but jobs for healthcare and medical services managers will grow by 32% over the same period. That's 27,000 new jobs for doctors and surgeons compared to 133,000 new jobs for health management and administration professionals. Part of that growth will be driven by an increasing need for long-term care facilities and in-home care for an aging population, but the better part of it will come down to increasing complexity in healthcare. Medical practices and networks are growing larger and consolidation is creating new administrative challenges. As more providers join group practices, demand for managers who understand what it takes to keep healthcare networks running smoothly will grow. Providers who transition into healthcare management now will be poised to meet that demand.

Consistent schedules in health management jobs

Burnout is a major problem in medicine because it correlates with poorer-quality care and reduced patient safety across clinical disciplines. While some clinicians do achieve work-life balance, others find themselves working increasingly longer and inconsistent hours due to short staffing and snowballing documentation requirements. More doctors are experiencing burnout than ever before—due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic—which is leading some to explore careers in the administrative side of medicine where predictable 40-hour-per-week schedules are common and dealing with emergencies doesn't require working through the night.

A chance to drive top-down change

In a blog post for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Peter D. Wallace wrote that working in healthcare management after spending 25 years in pediatrics challenged him on a different plane because he could see that his work was affecting the lives of more people than he could have reached while working in his private practice. Some providers are drawn toward administrative roles because they feel they can make a bigger, organization-wide impact, helping hundreds of patients versus a handful, or they want to drive systemic change. Healthcare managers who were once providers can help not only patients but also other providers by creating policies and procedures that improve care.

The need for greater provider representation

The voice of providers is often absent in the kinds of corporate meetings where organizational decision-making happens—or only present when providers volunteer their time. Doctors, nurses and other clinicians may be inspired to step into managerial roles so that representing the needs of healthcare professionals and their patients becomes an official duty. They can help healthcare executives who come from business backgrounds understand how to optimize resources without compromising patient safety, create effective quality care initiatives that won't put undue pressure on providers and deal with the ethical issues common in medicine.

Enhanced career flexibility

Some providers pursue healthcare management MBAs online or on campus because they enjoy administrative and clinical work equally and want to transition into hybrid healthcare careers. Their goal in the present isn't to step away from patient care entirely but rather to take on more of the kinds of leadership responsibilities that let them influence what patient care looks like in an organization. Healthcare managers who are providers also have more career avenues open to them. They can always go back to full-time patient care, step into full-time managerial and executive roles or split their time between the two until retirement.

Entrepreneurial ambitions

Providers who want to launch group practices need to understand not only that medicine is a service business but also how successful service businesses operate. Most clinicians don't learn about site selection, healthcare facilities design, operations management, strategic management, staffing, marketing, health economics or analytics in medical school. Some learn how to build and grow practices through trial and error, but it is a struggle that can negatively impact patient satisfaction. Others realize that opening and running a practice takes business acumen and leadership skills they don't have and proactively seek out those fundamental skills in programs like Case Western Reserve's online healthcare management degree.

Demand for strong leadership in a variety of settings

There are clinicians who transition into management and administration because they want to move into different areas of healthcare. Providers don't have to work in hospitals, healthcare networks, group practices or other patient-focused healthcare settings after making non-clinical career moves. There is demand for strong provider leadership in consulting, health insurance, pharmaceutical manufacturing, public health, MedTech, biotech, nonprofits and government.

What challenges do clinicians face when transitioning into management?

Providers who make non-clinical career moves tend to encounter challenges related to the dichotomous nature of the business side of healthcare. Doctors, nurses and specialists who become medical managers and healthcare administrators still feel responsible for patients, but in the eyes of stakeholders, the welfare of the organization should be their highest—or only—priority. Paradoxically, their focus on patients may be why providers make such effective managers. Patient satisfaction and patient outcomes are two key metrics that underlie value-based care models, which means facilities with administrators who prioritize quality of care (versus the bottom line) and provider engagement may be more successful.

Providers who become managers also find themselves shouldering financial and administrative responsibilities they're not equipped to handle. This is where education comes into play. Studies suggest that many providers who pursue second careers in administration and management don't have sufficient training in management concepts or approaches. They struggle to cope with conflicting demands, work with limited resources, adopt a global view of their organizations and accept that change happens slowly. Earning a healthcare management MBA online in Case Western Reserve's dual-core program is one way providers can ensure they're prepared to step into management roles that don't have the immediacy of clinical work.

How an online MBA from CWRU helps clinicians transition into management

The online healthcare MBA offered by the Weatherhead School of Management is a high-touch, hands-on program defined by experiential coursework developed by faculty members at the forefront of innovation and leadership in healthcare. It offers busy clinicians a degree of flexibility that allows them to attend live online classes, complete asynchronous project work and visit Case Western Reserve's Cleveland campus for brief but intensive summer residencies. Providers benefit from not only the healthcare management program's multidisciplinary curriculum but also the university's relationships with leading healthcare institutions such as Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and University Hospitals.

Providers who choose Case Western Reserve's accredited healthcare MBA program receive so much more than a diploma. They receive mentorship from healthcare industry leaders, the support of the Weatherhead community, one-on-one guidance from Student Success Coaches who provide support and the skills and knowledge they'll need to make a successful non-clinical career move into management and administration.

Is a second career in healthcare management the right choice for you?

To answer this question, ask yourself how satisfied you are on your current career path and consider where you see yourself in five, 10 or 15 years. If you don't see yourself as a lifelong patient care provider, the time to start preparing for your transition from medicine to medical management is now. Step one should be talking with a provider leader in your organization or professional network. You can ask them not only why they made such a dramatic career transition but also how they did it. Next, reach out to the CEO or another executive in your organization for an informal chat about the administrative opportunities open to providers and whether your current skills and work experience make you a good fit for leadership roles.

You may discover that the healthcare skills and experience that make you a competent clinician won't help you as you move into managerial positions. Learning more about operations, healthcare finance, organizational behavior, health information technology, information systems, compliance and human resources in a program like Weatherhead's online healthcare MBA can help you address your skills gaps and learn how to run a healthcare delivery system or healthcare-adjacent organization efficiently, effectively and most importantly, with the same level of confidence you exhibit when treating patients.

Apply now and in just over two years of part-time study, you will have what it takes to take your place among the provider leaders working in non-clinical roles to make medicine better. Or, if you still have questions about the career opportunities open to MBA holders in medicine or how you'll benefit from Weatherhead's part-time online MBA program, connect with an Enrollment Advisor at onlinemba@case.edu or 216.352.4965.

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