Work experience now or later?
October 19, 2012 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Future healthcare-administration graduate: Should I try to get administrative experience while I'm in school or stick with patient-care jobs for now?

I recently posted a question asking about career options. I decided to go the Healthcare Admin route. I looked up some job postings and most require a degree AND experience.

I'll have the degree part down in a few years. I recently took an STNA course to help with my job search, but now I'm wondering if it's better to look for an administrative job - not necessarily in healthcare, just any administrative job - so that by the time I graduate I'll have the experience part down.

Here are my options as I see them:
1) Remain in the patient-care part of healthcare until I graduate. I'm happiest with this option in the short-term but I'm also worried that I'll graduate and not have the necessary experience to move into an administrative position.
2) Work as an STNA and volunteer with administrative duties. I'm worried this won't hold enough weight because I won't be able to volunteer much and work at the same time; I'm guessing a few hours a week at most.
3) Look for admin/admin assistant/clerical jobs so that by the time I graduate I'll have the experience and the degree. I'm kind of meh on this option because I don't want to leave the STNA field, but I also know once I graduate I want to have the qualifications to do something else. I also worry that since the administrative work likely won't be healthcare-specific this won't really count.

If you hire in the healthcare admin area or you have experience in it, what would you suggest? Most of the healthcare administration positions I was looking at required 2-5 years of experience and I'm worried that once I graduate I'll still have to start over with an entry-level admin position that I'm qualified for now. My foot is in the door in the healthcare area but is it better to focus on administrative duties for now?

Thank you in advance for any insight.
posted by Autumn to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Dude, totally stay in patient-care. Here's the deal: it's much, much easier to incorporate basic admin/clerical tasks into an existing role than it is to incorporate another, more specialized role (such as patient care) into an admin job. Also, there is such a vast range of skills/experiences/talent in the admin/clerical sector that you're not going to see requirements which are as strict as within the patient-care realm... in other words, no one's gonna say, "Damn it, I want you to have at LEAST 300 hours of faxing-and-filing-stuff experience, Autumn!" Things are a bit "looser" in that regard.

My suggestion? Slowly and casually learn on the job. Ask existing admins if there's anything you can do to help, if there's anything they can teach you, if they need you to finish anything up for them while they grab coffee and a danish.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:56 PM on October 19, 2012

I think staying in the healthcare industry makes more sense if you want to remain in the healthcare industry. Like julthumbscrew says, you can pick up the basic admin/office stuff anywhere, even where you are now.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:39 PM on October 19, 2012

Stick with the direct care job for now. That experience will be invaluable no matter which area you pursue in healthcare administration. An understanding of what happens on the front lines is really important if you're going to be helping manage the behind-the-scenes aspect.

In hospitals where I've worked, nursing assistants were often cross-trained to be unit secretaries, so you might want to find out if your employer is willing to do this. If you're already an internal employee, it's more cost-effective to use you in multiple roles (provided you don't work overtime), so this would be a good way to get a taste of the administrative aspect of health care.
posted by constellations at 8:58 PM on October 19, 2012

Those who are working in the trenches of patient care in the health-care industry will appreciate your having experience doing just that when you are an administrator. Stick with the patient care, it will inform your perspective down the line when you are no longer involved in that aspect of health care.
posted by kuanes at 4:42 AM on October 20, 2012

Having worked on the front lines in my industry, I find that I have more credibility and make more informed decisions now that I am a consultant. I've been there, done that, know how long things really take, understand what shift work is like, &c. You can pick up admin skills along the way.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:46 AM on October 20, 2012

Best answer: In health care, clinical experience COUNTS, big time. Do not stop doing clinical work in favor of generic admin work. Hiring managers in health care will almost always give preference to candidates with health care experience, and clinical experience is double bonus.

If you want to grow your admin experience, volunteer to serve on committees. If you work in a hospital, there will be a thousand committees on everything from multicultural day to quality improvement to employee satisfaction, and they are always looking for clinical volunteers. They often try to pull from the RN ranks, but a sharp and willing to serve NA is a real asset. Once you're on a committee, show up and volunteer to take on things you feel reasonably sure you can complete. Committees (sometimes called councils, task forces, etc.) are formed at both the department level and the organization level - volunteer for whatever is immediately available.

Also, you need to get clear on your goals. "Health care administration" can mean a lot of things. I'm in a master's in healthcare administration program, and when we talk about "health care administration" we mean non-clinical leadership roles in health care. What you're talking about (I think) is more admin assistant work in the health care setting. It can be confusing if you're coming from outside the industry, but the term "healthcare administration" is often interpreted to mean leadership roles. Lower level admin roles are distinguished by their area (patient accounts, patient access, health information management, etc.). "I'm looking for an admin role," signals the kind of work I think you are talking about. "I'm interested in healthcare administration," sounds more like you're targeting a VP role (which you may be in the future, but not necessarily right now!).

I started working in hospitals over 10 years ago as an executive assistant, and have grown an interesting career through a diverse set of increasingly responsible "administrative" jobs (in both senses of the word).

tl; dr: You don't need clinical experience to be successful, but it is a tremendous asset. Also, be thinking about your long-term goals and the education you will need to support that. For anything interesting, you'll need a bachelor's degree. To really move up in leadership, you'll need a master's.
posted by jeoc at 7:00 PM on October 20, 2012

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