Hospitals are complex organizations with lots of different departments, and they require effective management in order to provide the best healthcare possible to their patients. If you have worked in a hospital for a while, you might feel ready to take a step up and become a manager. The qualifications, experience, and skills you will need to be successful in your application for a promotion to manager depend on which department of the hospital you work in—clinical operations, catering, maintenance, and so on. However, there are also some qualities that virtually all managers need in order to be good leaders. Read on to find out how managers are recruited in all the different departments that make up a hospital.
Qualities that all managers need
Anyone who has ever worked under a manager will know that there are certain qualities that make a good manager—and, equally, that certain traits are undesirable in a manager. Here are some qualities that you will need to either possess already or develop in order to be an effective manager:
- Be a good team player. Just because you are going to be leading a team does not mean that you won’t need to work with your team. On the contrary, many people believe that a good manager will be the first to make compromises for the sake of helping out their team members—one of the many aspects of a management style known as ‘servant leadership’.
- Resist the temptation to micromanage your team. While it’s understandable to want to ensure that your staff are doing their job properly, you need to learn to trust them—much like the parent of a teenager, who needs to learn to trust their kid to make good decisions and resist the urge to call them every ten minutes when they’re out of the house. Micromanagers make the atmosphere in the workplace turn sour, which can have a massive negative impact on the quality of the work being done, which is the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.
- Listen to your team. If somebody has a complaint to raise, they’re not out to make your life more difficult—they are facing a genuine issue and need your help to resolve it. Equally, if one of your subordinates makes a suggestion on how to change the way you do things, give it fair consideration—just because the idea didn’t come from you doesn’t mean that it’s not a good one.
- Communicate expectations and instructions clearly, and be patient if there are any misunderstandings. Hospitals are extremely busy environments, and it’s easy for staff to mishear, misread, or misremember a piece of communication if it came at a particularly busy time. Remember that it might be you who made the mistake and apologize if so!
- Let your team know that you have their back. If one of your employees’ performance has declined, don’t be confrontational about it, but start a conversation with them by asking them if everything is okay and if they need extra support in order to do their job as well as possible. This will make the employee in question much more likely to open up to you about the reasons for the decline in their performance, and to be willing to work with you to address them.
The management structure of a hospital
Although each hospital is its own unique organization, most hospitals share a lot of similarities in the way they are structured. Here is what a common hospital management structure looks like:
- The hospital is divided into departments, both clinical and non-clinical. The clinical departments include both inpatient wards and outpatient services, and are generally divided by area of specialization, such as cardiology or neurology. Non-clinical departments include finances, patient records administration, catering, and many more.
- Each department has its own management structure, and bigger departments might be split into several teams. For example, the nursing department might have several teams of registered nurses, each led by a charge nurse; there will then be a nurse manager who oversees all the teams, and a nursing director who sets the vision and strategy for the department.
- The top-tier managers of each department report to the hospital’s core management—usually referred to as hospital administration. Hospital administrators oversee operations in the hospital as a whole.
- Above hospital administrators are chief executive officers and vice presidents responsible for specific sectors of the hospital, for example, vice president of nursing.
- Finally, hospitals are overseen by a board of directors. Depending on the type of hospital, the board might include academics (in teaching and research hospitals run by a university), religious leaders (in hospitals maintained by religious organizations), members of the local community (in community hospitals) or businesspeople (in for-profit hospitals).
How to become a hospital manager: clinical departments
If you are a physician, you can progress into a management role by becoming first a department chair, physician executive or similar and then progressing onto higher positions, such as Chief Medical Officer, Chief of Medical Staff, or Vice President of Medical Affairs. In order to be recruited into one of these roles, you will need several years’ experience as a hospital physician and a clean and current license. You will also need a graduate management degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Health Administration (MHA). Alternative, you could complete the Certified Physician Executive course offered by the American Association for Physician Leadership.
If you are a registered nurse, the next step in your career will probably be to become a charge nurse. You might be able to achieve this position with ‘just’ a bachelor’s degree in nursing and enough experience, but in order to become a nurse manager—the person who oversees a whole nursing unit—you will need to go to graduate school and earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). To progress further and become a nursing director, a vice president of nursing or similar you will need an even more advanced graduate nursing degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Many nurses who aspire to the highest ranks of nursing leadership choose to take an MSN to DNP online course so they can keep their current job and study flexibly alongside it.
If you are a surgeon, you can advance your career and become a chief surgeon, also known as chief of surgery or head of surgery. As chief of surgery, you will oversee surgical operations in all departments of the hospital, ensure compliance with regulations, develop policies and goals and report to hospital administrators, chief officers, and the board of directors. To become chief of surgery, you will need years if not decades of experience working as a surgeon. You might not need to complete another degree, as it is pretty widely recognized that surgeons are some of the most highly educated medical professionals, given the length of surgery residencies.
How to become a hospital manager: non-clinical departments
The career path for management of non-clinical departments in a hospital will differ from department to department. As a rule, the more healthcare-specific your work is, the more likely it is that you will need additional qualifications in order to progress from a non-management role to a management one. For example, it’s possible to become a health information technician with only a higher education certificate, a diploma, or an associate degree, but in order to progress to the role of health information manager you will most likely need a bachelor’s degree in the field. In contrast, you may not need a degree to become a manager in the catering or maintenance departments.
How to become a hospital administrator
As mentioned above, hospital administrators are responsible for managing the day-to-day running of the hospital as a whole. Unsurprisingly, given the huge scope of the role, employers like their hospital administrators to have several years of management experience under their belt before applying to work in hospital administration. Most hospital administrators start out as assistant administrators, and then progress in their career once they are confident in their knowledge of the job and what it entails.
The vast majority of hospitals require hospital administrators to have an appropriate master’s degree. This could be a generic business administration degree, such as an MBA, or—preferably—a degree specific to healthcare administration, such as an MHA. There are also MBAs with a specialization in healthcare management, which are a ‘middle of the road’ option, with some courses specific to healthcare management and other more generic, transferrable ones. These programs usually take two years full-time to complete and can also be pursued part-time.
How to become a hospital CEO
The same qualifications necessary to become a hospital administrator—such as an MHA or an MBA with a specialization in healthcare management—will also enable you to rise through the ranks of hospital leadership and obtain the position of Chief Executive Officer or another C-level role. In order to succeed as a hospital CEO, you need a wide variety of skills related to management and leadership. The most important among them is perhaps the ability to see the ‘big picture’ of where the hospital is at now and form a vision of what it should transform into, as well as creating a plan for how to achieve that transformation.
Like CEOs in any other kind of organization, the CEO of a hospital has oversight and responsibility for each one of its departments. Being able to see how all the parts of the system work together is key to figuring out where improvements need to be made. If you aspire to become the CEO of a hospital or another kind of top-level hospital administrator, you should practice systems thinking, which is a holistic approach to strategic planning and problem-solving based on looking at a system as a whole and taking into account how its parts interact, as opposed to analyzing the parts in isolation.
Advantages and disadvantages of becoming a hospital manager
There are several advantages to becoming a manager in healthcare. These include:
- higher salaries
- the chance to influence how the hospital operates
- decreased chances of having to interact with difficult patients
However, some people also identify disadvantages, such as:
- the increased stress which often comes with increased responsibility
- having to spend lots of time in meetings and replying to emails
- increased amounts of paperwork
If you are a doctor or a nurse considering taking your first step toward becoming a healthcare manager, it’s also worth asking yourself whether you are willing to spend much less time performing day-to-day clinical work. It’s likely that you went into your profession because you like helping your patients get better, and you will have experienced the incredible sense of fulfillment that comes from saving someone’s life. As a manager, you will still be contributing to saving lives and improving health and wellbeing—after all, if nobody wrote hospital policies or organized nurses’ shifts, the whole hospital would come crumbling down—but you will no longer be on the frontiers of delivering healthcare. You should weigh up your priorities very carefully before deciding to commit to a career in hospital management.
People who work in hospitals, especially clinicians, are very highly educated, and there is often a requirement for gaining even more education in order to progress into a management position. Working in healthcare is a long game, with residencies to be completed, professional licenses to be obtained and maintained, and never-ending requirements to complete more professional development hours. This is all for the benefit of patients, however, and it’s partly what makes medical professionals so trustworthy in the eyes of the general public.
If you have worked in a hospital for several years and have an aptitude for leadership and big-picture thinking, making the move into hospital management will give you new ways to be fulfilled at work. Make sure, however, that you are okay with giving up the day-to-day interactions with patients you have in your current job, as hospital managers spend the majority of their time dealing with internal affairs rather than treating patients.