Health Care: Management Skills You Need

Health Care manager in conversation with a colleague.

A lot of the time, when people think about the topic of management and organizational leadership, they do so in a universal manner that doesn’t distinguish between the type of professional setting where those management principles are being applied. Whether it’s an accounting firm, tech startup, media group or countless other environments, management is management. Right? 

Not really. 

While there are undoubtedly areas of overlap when it comes to management across the broad spectrum of business and industry, there are nuances and distinctive realities that do vary, especially when it comes to health care management skills and what it takes to succeed in that particular type of business environment.

“It can easily be argued that health care is the most complicated industry in the world,” says Mark Dame, Director of the Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management Program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Health Professions (TTUHSC SHP). “When you think about, with rocket science, part of what they try to do is send things to Mars. Well, they’ve done that. They’ve gotten it done. With health care, we haven’t yet figured out how to make it work around the world. We haven’t gotten it done and it just keeps getting harder and more complicated.”

It’s this high level of complication and seemingly neverending cycles of systemic changes that make health care management a different type of endeavor than managing in other types of professional settings, Dame says.

In Health Care Change is Constant, Effective Management is Critical

Advances in technology have been a driving force behind recent changes in the health care industry and the health professions. Examples of these changes include things like the transition to Electronic Medical Records (EMR); the continued prevalence and growth of telehealth and telemedicine; and the impact that the Internet of Things (IoT) is having on the industry in the form of mobility solutions, next-generation facilities and automated patient care workflow, to name just a few. 

At the same time, even with these impressive technological advances, health care facilities of all types also are putting a heightened emphasis on the quality of patient care being delivered. So while, on the surface, it may seem as though the implementation of new technologies is all about streamlining and cost-cutting, the opposite is true — it is very much about improving the level of care to the patient. 

All of this is significant in the world of health care management. But technological advances affecting the health care industry is just one part of the equation. There are a number of areas that distinguish managing in a health care environment from managing in most other types of workplace settings. 

What Sets Health Care Management Skills Apart?

There are many different management skill sets that it takes to succeed regardless of the type of organization in which you may be working. Some of these include strong written and verbal communication skills, excellent leadership abilities, organization and multi-tasking abilities, strategic planning, analytical skills, and necessary business acumen to ensure a healthy bottom line. 

But there are several aspects of health care management that, if not entirely unique to the industry, are at the very least relied upon at a much higher level than most other professional settings. 

Health Care manager at desk.

“Most of the time people don’t realize how complicated the health care industry is,” Dame says. “It’s always great when I get feedback from students about how much their eyes were opened to so many things they hadn’t thought about. And many of these students enter the program with some level of experience working in health care. When we talk about these issues and unique challenges, it definitely doesn’t scare them away, it’s something they embrace. They want the challenge. That’s always great to see.” 

One of these challenges is that the health care manager, who is in a supervisory position, works daily with highly-respected experts in the medical field, such as physicians and nurses and other highly skilled medical professionals. That can create a unique dynamic for health care managers and a need to bridge the unique skill sets of different members of the health care team. 

“In a typical business setting, when you’re a manager it’s very clear that you’re in charge, whether it’s an entire organization or a department,” Dame says. “In health care, you’re going to be working with high-level professionals, whether it’s a physician, respiratory therapist, nurse, or other medical specialists who are experts in their particular field, but they may not fully grasp the business side of things. So you need to have really good communication skills to effectively bring your expertise into those types of circles.” 

In fact, over the course of his career, Dame has operated multiple malpractice companies related to medical practice and patient care in the health care industry. He says breakdowns in communication are one of the biggest reasons health care organizations that are sued ultimately lose their case. 

The Impact of Multi-Site Management in Health Care 

Another big differentiator between health care management and management in other types of environments is that, more and more, health care managers today are responsible for running the operations at more than one physical site. 

“The issue of multi-site management is a big one and can have a big impact on health care managers,” Dame says. “It may be a situation where you manage the respiratory therapy departments at three different hospitals. Or you might manage operations at two or three rural clinics. Either way, when you’re managing at different sites it can be a different kind of challenge because every location has its own culture, its own staff, a distinct setting all its own. So not only do you need to be familiar with all of those dynamics, but you also need to make sure that the same systems, policies, and procedures are in place and working in those unique environments. Yes, the culture and people vary from site to site, but the policies usually don’t.” 

Additionally, health care managers who are in charge of multiple sites do have travel considerations. And in a state like Texas, the distances between sites can be more expansive than other states. 

Navigating Personnel Issues as a Health Care Manager 

Dealing with personnel issues is a daily reality for managers at every type of business operation. But Dame says this is another area that sets health care management apart, simply by the nature of the profession. 

“Personnel issues like recruitment and retention are a big part of the job,” Dame says. “You always want to get the best team assembled that you can get, and then keep them happy. But it’s a different game in health care. Burnout among physicians and nurses is a very real thing, and it happens at a higher rate than most other professions. So that’s definitely something that plays into the life of the health care manager. There’s always the chance that you’re going to lose a key player on your organization’s team, and you need to be ready to deal with it.” 

In fact, according to a 2019 report by Health Leaders Media, although the most recent statistics indicate that the rate of physician burnout has dropped over the past five years, it’s still highly disproportionate compared to the general workforce. Statistics also show that 36.4% of physicians reported emotional exhaustion, compared to 24.8% of the general workforce. 

The report also states that “Although the improvement is good news, symptoms of burnout remain a pervasive problem, and its prevalence among physicians continues to be markedly higher than in the general U.S. working population." The field of nursing, too, yields one of the highest risks of burnout according to nurselicensure.org, as a result of a variety of factors. 

All of this means that personnel issues such as recruitment and particularly retention are key issues that are encountered by the health care manager in ways that may differ from typical business managers. 

Managing the Bottom Line in Health Care 

As with personnel issues, effectively managing the bottom line and ensuring financial stability is a key responsibility for managers in all types of organizations and business operations. But this, too, is an area where the health care manager typically encounters a different type of experience. 

“Again, health care is a really complicated industry where things are constantly changing. And one big area this happens is in the finance side of things,” Dame says. “The rules with regards to insurance and getting paid never seem to stop evolving and to be honest, this can add some pressure when you’re a manager if you’re not staying on top of the changes.” 

The Realities of Health Care Management in West Texas 

Serving in the role of a health care manager in Texas and, specifically, West Texas also brings with it a variety of unique aspects. 

Rural areas and small towns throughout West Texas continue to lose access to necessary health care services, Dame says. As a result, health care managers throughout the region need to be even more cognizant of the important role telehealth plays in the lives of patients, and have the ability to oversee the technologies involved. 

And again, living and working in West Texas also means that if you as a health care manager are in charge of multiple sites, there’s a good chance those locations will be spread out from one another geographically. But what’s often overlooked and, in some cases not even considered, is the strong sense of pride and fulfillment that health care managers experience working in and around the town in which they live. 

“People find it incredibly rewarding to serve in this type of role in their community,” Dame says. “The people coming into their facilities for care are their neighbors, family, and friends. They take a lot of pride in the role they play when it comes to meeting the health care needs of their community. It’s different in West Texas. We do get students from bigger cities. I had four students from Houston; they all worked at the same hospital yet when they got into the course, they found that they’d never met and didn’t know each other.” 

TTUHSC-SHP’s Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management Program 

The Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management Program at TTUHSC-SHP is uniquely positioned to empower motivated individuals with a distinctive set of skills to succeed as managers in a health care setting. 

The program typically draws working professionals who either currently or have been employed in some type of health care role. “We’ll get lab techs, radiology techs, nurses, respiratory therapists, ultrasound techs —  most of the time, it’s people who are out in the field with a full-time job and oftentimes a family, who want to move up and lead a department or a small clinic or practice,” Dame says. “They’re trying to better themselves and break into that first supervisory position. And this program offers a pretty ideal path for them to do it.” 

Since the bachelor’s degree in health care management program is an online program, it allows working professionals to complete their course work and earn their degree without having to sacrifice their current job or their everyday family obligations. 

The program’s flexibility and convenience are matched by a level of quality characterized by a faculty of accomplished experts who bring in a wealth of real-world experience. 

Dame started his career in health care services research and then transferred to health care operations. He had health care leadership roles since 1988 serving mostly in hospital but also with experience with a large multi-site physician-owned practice as well as overseeing an international business. 

In addition to extensive health care management experience, the program’s full-time faculty are doctoral-level scholars who thrive in their positions as teachers and mentors to their students. “That’s one of the great things about this place,” Dame says. “We’re here to serve the students. It’s incredibly student-oriented, they get all kinds of one-on-one advising. I think people sometimes assume that since it’s an online program that it’s going to be impersonal — but that’s far from the case here. We know our students very well and do everything we can to position them to succeed.” 

If you think you have the skills it takes to succeed as a health care manager and want to take a closer look at the B.S. in healthcare management program at TTUHSC-SHP, we’re here to help. Contact the Office of Admissions and Student Affairs at 806-743-3220 or email us at health.professions@ttuhsc.edu.

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