Healthcare Administration Careers: Later in Life
By Christina Thielst, FACHE
US Census data projects a 67% increase in the 65+ population between 2015 and 2040, resulting in one in five Americans being 65 or older. This has huge implications for demands upon the healthcare system and there will not be enough younger workers to fill the need as millions of baby boomers leave the workplace. However, there is a bright spot and opportunity for those wanting to continue to work as they age. An AARP study finds that 35% of U.S. labor force participants will be age 50+ by 2022, compared to just 25% in 2002.
Older adults have something to contribute to the healthcare delivery system and it goes beyond their life experience. Some have completed careers in other fields and are looking to remain actively engaged in the workplace, applying their skills and expertise in other industries. Others have healthcare experience, but are interested in transitioning to more flexible work options, such as part-time, per diem, temporary, project-based or working remotely.
Today’s older workers represent the youngest of the Greatest Generation and the baby boomers who started reaching retirement age in 2011. As a group, they have a strong work ethic and are loyal, engaged and dependable. Their institutional knowledge, professionalism, broad networks and low turnover rates are attractive to some employers. Others will find value in their leadership, detail-orientation and skills of listening and problem solving.
Today’s older workers represent the youngest of the Greatest Generation and the baby boomers who started reaching retirement age in 2011. As a group, they have a strong work ethic and are loyal, engaged and dependable.
The aging baby boomers will contribute to increasing demands upon the healthcare delivery system, but they will also take their place in the pool of human capital. They can contribute by working as part of a team on special projects across the healthcare organization or alone in specific jobs. Some of these roles will be in business development, community outreach, fundraising, accounting, information technology, disaster planning and health promotion. A few opportunities that are particularly well-suited for older adult workers are highlighted below.
Paramedical Examiners – Employers are increasingly adopting initiatives to improve employee health and reduce insurance costs. In addition, lower unemployment, economic recovery gains and improved consumer confidence will lead to growth in the life insurance market. Both of these require paramedical examiners who can conduct basic medical and mental screening tests, perform basic physicals and record health histories for new life insurance policies and during corporate health fairs and other promotional events. They are ideal for anyone with some prior clinical background, or those willing to gain the necessary training.
Medical Office Management – Even with all of the mergers and acquisitions to build larger healthcare systems, small to medium size practices will continue to exist. These physician practices will need administrative support more than ever, especially with office operations, managing medical records, billing and other traditional functions. However, the new emphasis on population health, especially among primary care practices and clinics, also presents opportunities for monitoring data and tracking patients with specific conditions. This could include monitoring compliance with preventative screenings and testing, or organizing promotional campaigns.
Coders and Health Information Management – The expansion of electronic health records is creating remote work options that are attractive to older workers. Analysis, extracting, abstracting and coding information can often be performed remotely from a home office or while traveling. The more technical functions, such as coding, will require training for those new to the role.
Disease Registries – Another area in medical records appropriate for remote work opportunities involves the management of databases of patients supporting clinical research or tracking patients with specific conditions. Tumor and cancer registries are probably the most familiar, but registries for immunizations, Alzheimer’s, Lupus, ALS, marrow donors, rare and other diseases also exist.
Patient Advocates and Navigators – Escorting patients and their family caregivers through the complexities of healthcare systems and helping them navigate through departments of large facilities is a growing area. These positions require a level of maturity and life experience that conveys empathy and ability to be assertive, if needed, to advocate for a patient. When people are not feeling well, are scared or just frustrated, they won’t always be at their best. As a result, these roles also require individuals to be able to deal with difficult behaviors.
Supporting Senior - A range of administrative and supportive roles will be required to support the Silver Tsunami of aging baby boomers. This will include traditional business functions, advocacy, planning and leading recreational, physical and wellness activities or providing assistance with the management of household affairs. Environments will include independent living communities, assisted living and nursing facilities.
There are some myths about older workers related to costs and productivity and historically some discrimination of employees over age 50. However, given the data presented above, employers can no longer afford to ignore older workers. In fact, the University of Massachusetts Medical School has realized a 50+ workforce has only resulted in minimal increases in total labor costs and these have been far outweighed by productivity. This is indeed good news for those looking to work in healthcare later in life.
Christina Thielst has experienced the evolution of the healthcare system over the last 30 years as both a hospital administrator and consultant. She received a bachelor’s degree in social science/management from Louisiana State University and a Master’s of Health Administration from Tulane University, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and is a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.