Whether you’re currently in an online healthcare administration degree program or thinking about enrolling in one, having the right set of professional skills is essential to your career success. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until you’re out in the workforce to develop those crucial professional skills. They’re the same ones you can learn in your online HA program. We’ve put together this guide to help you do just that, with descriptions of the hard and soft skills you can learn now to succeed both academically in your online healthcare administration program and in your career as an HA professional.
5 Soft Skills for Healthcare Administration Students
Soft skills are those that have to do with what might best be described as personal characteristics or attributes. They are sometimes referred to as “people skills.” Soft skills are often thought of as less important than hard skills because they are harder to measure and can’t always be easily taught. They can be nurtured and developed, and they’re most certainly instrumental to professional success in healthcare administration. Here’s a look at five of the most important soft skills for healthcare administrators.
Leadership is what healthcare administration is all about. This soft skill encompasses and impacts all of the others. Leadership has its own unique skill set that includes:
- Effective communication skills, both written and oral
- Conflict resolution skills
- Training and mentoring skills
- The ability to assess and constructively correct the work of staff members throughout their courses of employment
Most importantly, healthcare administrators must possess the leadership skills required to inspire and motivate their employees to do their best work and to provide the highest quality of care possible to their patients.
Teamwork skills are an essential part of effective leadership but deserve to be singled out due to the crucial role they play in healthcare settings where successful teamwork in patient care can literally mean the difference between life and death. Important teamwork skills include the following abilities:
- Create and implement team missions and goals and assess and modify those goals along the way
- Identify the unique talents and strengths of individual team members
- Engender team member cooperation, collaboration, and respect
- Actively listen to staff concerns and invite their suggestions for improvement of team practices
3. Problem Solving
A fundamental component of healthcare administration practice is solving problems. It’s what HA professionals do all day long. Problem solving is not just one skill, however. Solving problems requires the simultaneous employment of several skills, most importantly:
- Analytical reasoning: the ability to breakdown a problem into its component parts and discern patterns within them
- Critical thinking: making logical and well-reasoned judgments
- Creativity: the ability to see beyond traditional approaches to problems and apply new ideas)
- Initiative: the ability to step up and take action on a problem on one’s own
- Perseverance: the determination to not give up on solving a problem when things get tough
4. Strategic Thinking
Strategic thinking and planning are the ongoing process of applying current knowledge to formulate and document an organization’s intentions. Healthcare administrators must be able to drive the process, which typically consists of several components, including:
- Mission statement
- Vision statement
- Statement of specific organizational objectives and strategies to be used to meet those objectives
- Statement of initial strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
- Action plan
As the initial plan is carried out, with the leadership of the healthcare administrator, team members will assess the effectiveness of their plan and make necessary adjustments to assure success in meeting the plan’s stated goals.
Empathy is the ability to recognize, comprehend, and intuitively experience the thoughts and feelings of someone else. It is obviously a critical skill for front-line medical workers and healthcare staff who interact directly with patients, but it’s also an important one for the leaders in healthcare organizations as well. Empathy allows healthcare administrators to better connect with their employees, resulting in greater loyalty to their organizations and commitment to their jobs. Empathy is thought to be partially a genetic trait, but it is mostly a skill learned in early childhood. However, anyone can help cultivate their empathy by doing the following:
- Practice listening to others
- Learn about other people’s experiences and determine how they apply to your own life
- Make an effort to know and understand people better
- Consider things from other people’s perspectives
Other Important Soft Skills
There are plenty of other important soft skills to develop as healthcare administrators. Among them are adaptability and flexibility, determination and perseverance, a strong work ethic, and stress management. It also doesn’t hurt to simply have a positive attitude. You’ve probably noticed by now that many soft skills tend to bleed into one another, but that’s their nature. You’ll find that by focusing and working on any one of them, you’ll naturally be strengthening your abilities in others.
5 Hard Skills for Healthcare Administration School Success
Hard skills can be thought of as the specific, tangible skills required to perform particular tasks or to be effective in a particular job such as healthcare administration. In the simplest terms, hard skills are those that can be taught through formal education and training programs. Here are five hard skills you should strive to acquire through the coursework in your HA degree program.
A solid grounding in business is fundamental to healthcare administration practice. Healthcare is, after all, a services business. Healthcare administrators need competency in a number of specific business areas, including:
- Budgeting and financing
- Asset management
- Public relations and marketing
They must also be adept in the areas of human resource management (including the hiring and training of personnel) and organizational hierarchy and structure. To help develop their business acumen, HA students will complete a substantial amount of coursework in a several business-related subjects, such as:
- Healthcare economics and policy
- Managerial accounting
- Healthcare financial management
- Marketing and planning
- Grant writing and fundraising
- Professional development
While business skills are crucial to competent healthcare administration, so is a foundational understanding of medical and patient care issues and practices. These include:
- A working vocabulary of basic medical terminology
- Knowledge of the diagnoses, treatments, and prevention measures for injuries, diseases, and conditions.
Healthcare administrators must also possess knowledge of the specific functions and responsibilities of the various healthcare occupations of their workers (doctors, nurses, technicians, etc.) Finally, HA professionals must possess a solid understanding of the specifics of the healthcare industry such as:
- Healthcare systems and facilities
- Healthcare insurance
- Human resource management
- Coding and billing practices
Technology is and will continue to be the major driving force in the progression of healthcare services throughout the world, and it is absolutely mandatory for all HA professionals to be literate in healthcare-related technologies. The sheer number of work processes within a healthcare organization today is astounding. They include:
- Electronic health records
- Medical coding and billing software
- Networking and communication programs
- Medical imaging technologies
- And many more
Healthcare administrators are responsible for the implementation and management of all of these. Constant changes and advancements in technology mean that HA professionals must additionally avail themselves of continuing education and training throughout their careers.
4. Legal and Ethical
Every decision by a healthcare administration professional must be made in consideration of a number of important issues, not the least of which are those involving law and ethics. Healthcare administrators, therefore, must be well versed in all applicable healthcare-related federal, state, and local laws and regulations and be able to competently apply them in a range of ever-changing situations and circumstances. The application aspect is one that can only be mastered through experience, which is why HA degree programs offer coursework in healthcare law and ethics that features multiple hypothetical cases simulating real-world practice conditions.
5. Project Management
Another major responsibility of healthcare administrators is the creation, development, and management of specific projects within a healthcare facility or services organization. Successful project management calls upon healthcare administrators to apply a number of specialized competencies in order to meet project goals within budget and on time while maintaining given standards of quality. Specific skills developed in HA project management courses include:
- The ability to manage the various phases of a healthcare project, from initiation to closing
- Interpersonal, conflict resolution, and other team management skills
- The ability to defend and explain management decisions to team members, project stakeholders, and the general public
Other Important Hard Skills
Additional hard skills for healthcare administrators include:
- Language skills
- Presentation skills
- Proposal writing skills
- Technology skills (MS Office, QuickBooks, database management, graphics, social media, etc.)
Healthcare administrators may wish to expand on their competencies by obtaining one or more professional certifications. Certification examples include:
Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) (IT and informatics)
Certified Healthcare Financial Professional (CHFP) (finances)
Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) (quality control)
Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (cHAP)
Certified Professional in Healthcare Risk Management (CPHRM) (healthcare management)
4 Critical Skills for Online Healthcare Administration Students
There are plenty of advantages to earning your healthcare administration degree online, including the convenience of scheduling your coursework at times that best fit busy work and life schedules. Online study brings with it a several challenges to anyone new to the format. Your success as an online HA student will depend on your development of a number of skills unique to distance learning, four of which are described below. The good news is that developing these important online academic skills will pay off in your HA careers as well.
1. Self-Discipline and Self-Motivation
Asynchronous coursework is a big plus of online degree programs, but one big disadvantage to it is that, unlike traditional on-campus courses, there are no fixed class times. That means you alone are responsible for logging on and getting your coursework done on time. An asynchronous course format doesn’t mean you won’t have deadlines for completing assignments, quizzes, etc. To be successful as an online student, you must develop a strong, dependable mindset of self-discipline and self-motivation.
2. Time Management
Closely related to self-discipline and self-motivation are time management skills. In terms of an HA degree program, time management refers to the ability to most effectively schedule and control your time to accomplish your academic goals. The major steps in effective time management are:
- Developing a clear understanding of the details and deadlines of each course assignment as soon as you receive it
- Creating a written schedule for getting all coursework done
- Prioritizing your short-term course and long-term program goals
- Setting up a regular schedule for working on your coursework and sticking to it
Remember, nothing will aide in your success as an online HA student more than effective time management.
3. Online Communication and Active Class Participation
It’s easy to forget or downplay the importance of interaction with others when you’re doing your coursework exclusively online. That would be a big mistake, however. From the very start of your degree program, make it a priority to familiarize yourself with your learning management system and all available methods of communication between yourself, your instructors, and your classmates. Then, be sure to use your communication resources to actively participate as much as possible to collaborate, do research, and offer advice to and receive feedback from others. It’s also critical to never hesitate to reach out for help.
4. Mental and Physical Health
You might be surprised to see this one as part of a list of online study skills, but online learning is a predominantly sedentary venture that can pose a serious drain on both your physical and mental energy. So, be sure to insert time in your study schedule to step away from your computer to move your body and clear your mind. Doing so will substantially improve your productivity and help assure your ultimate academic success.
Insight from Healthcare Admin Graduate Hector Rodriguez
A recent graduate of the online executive master’s in health administration program at the University of Central Florida, Hector Rodriguez is employed as a long-term care ombudsman for the United Way of Tarrant County, Texas, where he advocates for residents in long-term care facilities. Hector has also worked with older adults at the Alzheimer’s Association and Austin Groups for the Elderly (AGE) of Central Texas. In addition to his EMHA, Mr. Rodriguez holds a bachelor’s in political science from Texas A&M International University. He currently resides with his family in Fort Worth, Texas.
What were you hoping to get out of your EMHA degree program? In what areas were you looking to get your knowledge and skills up to speed?
You know, going back to my undergrad degree, my major was in political science and my minor was in sociology. The only business class I took was macro and micro economics. And that really is not business, you know. So, I really wanted to get into a program that had sound financial classes and professors because that was my Achilles heel.
Your background was primarily in care, not business, which is a part of a big part of what healthcare administration is?
Right. I wanted to come out of my program having a very sound understanding of finances. Life changes from one day to the next. Who knows, maybe one day down the road, I’m the CEO of a hospital and I have to understand finances. And even with care, there’s always a business aspect to that. Now I have that skill. I can read a budget and understand it, read a financial statement and understand that. So, that was the biggest thing that I really wanted to get out of my program, and I strongly suggest to anybody interested in an MHA program who hasn’t taken a business class to take one. Even if it’s at the local community college.
Did you find yourself developing any soft skills in your MHA program?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, the first class I took in my UCF program was leadership.
What did you learn in that class that helped you with your leadership skills?
I learned to be sincere and to be and to be genuine. You know, you gotta walk the walk when you talk to talk.
To lead by example?
Exactly. You have to have emotional intelligence. That’s what that class was mostly about. Another area is adaptability. We are an online program. We literally have people on the other side of the world, and people on the East and West Coasts, and in the middle. Not everybody is going to be able to meet at the same time. And it was a bit of a struggle at the beginning, but then we all started to know each other and all started to learn. So that was a good way to learn adaptability and to be flexible.
Are there any other soft skills important for healthcare administration?
Communication was another thing. You know, we had nurse practitioners [in the class], we had administrators, and they’re all trained to think their own way. So, you’ve got to learn how to communicate with each of those kinds of people, how to get to them and convey your ideas. In the end, the one that benefits from all of this is the patient.
It all comes back to the quality of care?
Do you have one or two pieces of advice you’d like to pass on to prospective healthcare administration students, particularly those considering an online program?
I think first and foremost is to research programs. Don’t just get into any program you see first. Research them, compare them. Find one that fits and addresses what you want to learn. That’s what worked for me. And also, perseverance. I don’t do all nighters. I’m not that young anymore. But there were times I was working late at night, one to two in the morning, making sure that I got stuff turned in. I think perseverance really got me through all that.
Also, once you get into the program, listen to your classmates. You will learn a lot, not just from the professor in the actual curriculum, but the students as well. Open your mind and just take it all in. And just learn.