"After being in healthcare for a long time, it's usually the best clinicians who get promoted into management jobs," says Merri Moody, dean of the graduate school of Health and Human Services at St. Mary's University of Minnesota (www.smumn.edu). "Unfortunately, they don't have all the best tools."

Topics and concerns

Healthcare administration includes knowledge of management, budgeting, accreditation and regulation, business and healthcare ethics, staffing, communication, information technology, insurance reimbursement and more.

"We really have to pay attention to how we spend the patient dollar, and we have to be accountable for how we spend that patient dollar as well," Moody says. "Not everybody has insurance, and we have to compensate for how we are going to have enough money on an institutional level to take care of the uninsured."

St. Mary's, which is based in Winona, offers a Master of Arts degree in Health & Human Services Administration at its campuses in Minneapolis, Apple Valley and Rochester. Most classes are offered in the evening to cater to adult learners.

"We operate mostly with adjunct faculty here," Moody adds. "Our faculty is people who work in the industry."

Healthcare MBA

Another route into healthcare administration is the healthcare MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree, which the University of St. Thomas offers at its Minneapolis campus and online (www.stthomas.edu). Students in this 27-month cohort program meet on campus only twice each semester, according to Jack Militello, professor of management and director of the Healthcare UST MBA program.

"We keep promising people they'll have control over time and space," Militello says. "It's focused on a discipline, within the context of healthcare. That kind of draws people together."

Most people attracted to healthcare administration already work in the field, and there's room to move up, according to Militello. Estimates show that 40 to 50 percent of the current healthcare CEOs will retire in the next 10 years, he says.

St. Thomas' program has attracted physicians, nurses, pharmaceutical reps and those in the medical device industry. Of the 300 who expressed interest last year, 25 were admitted.

"Because we're small and we stress service, we're very, very close to our students and our alums," Militello says. "For older people who are professionals, I think this idea of service really matters."