Rapid growth predicted for health manager jobs

Degrees, quality expertise important

Future health services managers must be prepared to deal with evolving integrated health care delivery systems, technological innovations, an increasingly complex regulatory environment, and restructuring of work.

They increasingly will work in organizations in which they must optimize the efficiency of a variety of related services.

On the plus side, employment of managers is expected to grow faster than average through 2014, as the health care industry continues to expand and diversify.

That's all according to the 2006-2007 edition of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Access directors and managers who would like to take advantage of this growth environment should be prepared with advanced degrees and expertise in quality improvement, suggests Deedra Hartung, MA, vice president in the executive search division of St. Louis-based Cejka Search.

"I can't stress the advanced degree enough for those who go to market and try to be competitive in vying for manager/director positions," she says. "People really want expertise these days. Health care is complex, and [employers] want candidates with strong knowledge, not those who require on-the-job training."

A 2005 hospital CEO leadership survey conducted by Cejka Search and Solucient found that 77% of the top leadership team at "best of breed" hospitals had a master's or doctorate degree, Hartung points out, compared to 56% at "median" hospitals.

"Best of breed" referred to hospitals rated in the top 100 based on a number of measurements, she notes, while "median" hospitals were those just below that level.

Hospitals looking for top executives also are mindful that "the nation's health care agenda right now is all around quality of care, clinical outcomes, and patient safety," Hartung continues. "Just as hospitals are looking for medical executives [with this expertise], they are also looking for nonclinical leaders in the quality arena."

She cited financial incentives put in place by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to reward hospitals for quality care work, noting that facilities in the top 20% of each clinical category can expect to receive Medicare incentive payments.

"Hospitals obviously want to participate in this 'pay-for-performance' program that Medicare has in place," Hartung says. "That requires having people to lead those quality initiatives, and it's a huge undertaking."

As for gaining expertise in quality improvement, she says besides coursework and an additional degree, "there are a lot of conferences devoted to [quality] right now," she notes.

Patient satisfaction is among the quality indicators that are being monitored, Hartung points out, "which starts with the admissions director, the access director."

Issues surrounding the widespread implementation of electronic patient records will be a big part of the technology challenges facing health care managers in the next decade. The BLS handbook notes that recent regulations enacted by the federal government require that all health care providers maintain electronic patient records and that these records be secure.

As a result, health information managers — as well as access managers and directors whose oversight extends into that area — must keep up with computer and software technology and with legislative requirements, it points out. As patient information becomes more frequently used for quality management and medical research, the report continues, the focus must be on ensuring that databases are complete, accurate, and available only to authorized personnel.

Job opportunities for health services managers will be especially good in the offices of health practitioners, general medical and surgical hospitals; home health care services; and outpatient care centers, according to the BLS handbook.

Managers in all settings will be needed to improve quality and efficiency of health care while controlling costs, as insurance companies and Medicare demand higher levels of accountability, the report states. Additional demand for managers, it continues, will stem from the need to recruit workers and increase employee retention, to comply with changing regulations, and to implement new technology.

Management- and executive-level hospital jobs paying a minimum annual salary of $100,000 are listed at the web site of Hartung's firm, www.cejkasearch.com. Up to two new jobs are added daily, and the site averages about 50 jobs.

Senior- and midlevel finance jobs at hospitals are listed at www.hfma.org, the web site of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. A range of openings also is available at www.hospitaljobsonline.com.