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Women in Healthcare Administration: Attaining Leadership Roles

Home > Women in Healthcare Administration: Attaining Leadership Roles
Women working in health care fields today do not encounter the same challenges that their mothers and grandmothers did. As with other sectors, society has come a long way in rectifying inequalities in the health care workforce.

Women are stepping into new leadership roles, and the face of health care is far more diverse than it was fifty or even ten years ago. Nearly 80% of healthcare workers are women. In the area of health care administration specifically, the number of women in executive roles continues to grow.

However, women are still under-represented in the highest areas of health care leadership. In addition, according to a 2008 report by the Journal of Healthcare Management, there is still inconsistency in salaries received by men and women working in healthcare administration.

According to a survey conducted by the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), women executives are more likely than men to work as a department head or other staff member. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to fill roles such as chief executive officer (CEO), president, or vice president. Over a fifteen-year period represented by ACHE's surveys, the proportion of female CEOs did not improve significantly. Similarly, over that fifteen-year period, the salary gap between men male and female healthcare executives did not diminish significantly.

Another study, conducted by the University of Michigan, examined the gender of chief hospital administrators in the United States. The 100 hospitals used in the study were hand-picked for their progressiveness and high quality. Only 24% of chief administrators at these hospitals were women. Over 60% of the hospitals employed only one or no women chief administrators. Only 15 of the hospitals had a female CEO.

What might be the reasons for women's underrepresentation in top healthcare administrative roles, as well as for the discrepancy in salary? According to the Journal of Healthcare Management, current research seems to indicate that "gender differences in mentoring and leadership succession planning are key barriers that need to be addressed." Perhaps healthcare needs to invest more time and effort toward mentoring opportunities and leadership development for women.

In the absence of an infrastructure that provides opportunities for women to move into top administrative positions on par with their male counterparts, women have been creating these opportunities for themselves. The "A-team" was created in the mid-1980s when a small group of female healthcare professionals decided to develop a strategy to help one another attain top administrative positions within their healthcare organizations. In a few short years, nearly half of the women were CEOs. Today, dozens of similar groups provide support, concrete guidance and key information to female healthcare professionals.

Regardless of the present gender imbalance in healthcare administration, men and women all have to go through the same programs, pass the same exams, and gain the same types of experience in order to qualify for administrative roles. Women who are just starting out in healthcare administration can give themselves a head start by planning their career goals, while staying flexible to the changing needs of the health industry.

For example, women who want to become nurse administrators and advance significantly in their career will need a Master's degree in Nursing, so it makes sense to plan their educational path in the most efficient way possible. Nursing degree programs include many options, such as LPN to RN, LPN to BSN, RN to BSN and RN to MSN. The appropriate degree program should be selected in the context of one's ultimate career goals, rather than momentary convenience or cost.

Many women are choosing online healthcare administration degree programs to achieve the needed educational qualifications to move into management roles. This is a wise move, as online degree programs typically take less time to complete and frequently offer more personal attention and a higher caliber of practical content.

As healthcare administration starts to overcome the key barriers that have contributed to the decade-spanning stagnation of women's roles, more leadership roles will become available for female healthcare workers. In order to be prepared for those roles, women entering health care should focus on attaining the best education possible.


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