Supporting Roles in Healthcare Administration

By Christina Thielst, FACHE

Bureaucracy in an organization can actually help a company to benefit from the specialization of labor.  In healthcare organizations, this structure is most often oriented around executive leadership, the medical staff, nursing, financial services and operations.

Learn more about our healthcare degreesNurses and doctors rely upon their training and skills to care for their patients, but they also rely upon co-workers with specific expertise in ancillary and support departments to provide the facilities and other services needed for a comprehensive approach to care.  These supporting roles are important because they enable nurses, physicians and other providers to fulfill their roles at the point of care – on the units of hospitals or in the treatment rooms of a clinic.

Ancillary and support functions usually fall under the leadership of an operations executive and they provide the more typical career paths for healthcare administrators who don’t also have a clinical background as a nurse or physician.  In addition to opportunities at individual care facilities, such as a large medical group or hospitals, there are also support and ancillary roles at the health system, network and corporate levels.  These layers of administrative roles help create multiple paths for advancement.
Ancillary services clinically support the diagnosis and treatment of patients and fall into three categories: diagnostic, therapeutic and custodial.

Diagnostic – Services are commonly provided in offices, hospitals, clinics or freestanding diagnostic testing facilities and include laboratory, pathology, imaging, audiology, pulmonary and other testing.

Therapeutic – Services are provided in offices, hospitals, clinics or freestanding treatment centers and include pharmacy, surgical operations, respiratory care, dialysis and therapies addressing rehabilitation, physical, occupational, speech, nutrition, behavioral, radiation and other needs.

Custodial – Services are sometimes provided by departments of a hospital, but can also be provided in freestanding facilities that may or may not be affiliated with the hospital.  Custodial services include skilled nursing facilities, hospice care and home health programs.

Administrative responsibilities within these areas can include coordinating facilities, equipment and staffing, budgeting, scheduling, improving performance, marketing services and ensuring appropriate utilization, compliance with regulations and safety practices.

Support service roles tend to be more administrative and have greater opportunities for non-clinicians than those described above.  Areas of specialization include housekeeping, facilities planning and maintenance, clinical engineering, materials management, information systems, human resources, guest services, security, dietary, communications and community outreach.   The individuals in these positions are responsible for meeting the expectations of stakeholders, such as patients, physicians, nurses, executives and others who rely upon their services.  This can include some of the same responsibilities of those working in ancillary departments, as well as implementing policies, allocating resources, participating in planning workgroups and ensuring a safe and clean environment of care.

“CSU provides students with expert instructors and access to program advisory board members via Blackboard spaces. This team of industry professionals provide our students with a wealth of volunteering positions and other opportunities in the field.”

Positions and roles range from staff-level to coordinators, supervisors, managers, and after significant experience, executive.  With increases in authority, come higher expectations for performance and increases in responsibility and pay.

Health administration positions in both ancillary or support areas usually require at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s degree.  Some entry-level positions may only require an associate degree. Your best resource is a college or university with a strong Healthcare program.

Brina Hollis, PhD, CAHIMS, Columbia Southern University’s Program Director for Healthcare Administration, offered, “CSU provides students with expert instructors and access to program advisory board members via Blackboard spaces. This team of industry professionals provide our students with a wealth of volunteering positions and other opportunities in the field.”

A great way to experience some of these areas in healthcare is to volunteer at a local hospital and request assignment in the department of most interest to you.  Test the waters and see if you really like the work and environment and determine whether it is a good fit with your abilities and interests.  If not, look at other ancillary and support areas of the hospital to identify others that seem to be attractive.  Volunteering also provides an opportunity to learn by doing and apply theories from your education in the actual workplace. 

Christina ThielstBIO:
Christina Thielst has experienced the evolution of the healthcare system over the last 30 years as both a hospital administrator and a 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.