Top Trends In Today’s Healthcare Job Market

Only the nimble will survive


By: J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FHFMA, FAAHC, CMPE
Chairman and CEO, Tyler & Company, a member of Signium International
Atlanta, Georgia

As published in Western Pennsylvania Hospital News, September 2011.

After more than 33 years working in healthcare executive recruitment, one thing is certain – change.

Imagine an inverted pyramid. Within the top and widest part lies the evolution of the U.S. healthcare industry with reform, mostly governmental. As broad as its contents, this layer encompasses everything from healthcare access and delivery to quality and payor mix. Changes in this area impact the next level of our pyramid, the midsection. Within this layer are the organizations that service the industry. They are health systems, hospitals, physician practice groups, insurance companies, third-party administrators, etc. Transformations in the midsection affect the tip of our inverted pyramid – the ranks.

Current and proposed changes in the healthcare and insurance sectors continue to disrupt career paths. Reform tightens the belt and squeezes our midsection into further and accelerated consolidation. These alterations favor larger health systems and fewer free-standing hospitals and independent physician practice groups; the purchase of non-profit organizations by for-profit ones; and a reduction in the construction of new hospitals. So what top healthcare job market trends do these create?

  1. Emphasis on centralized or system-level positions, affecting acquired hospitals and physician practice groups. Consolidation renders redundant local-level boards, CEOs and their colleagues in finance and strategic planning especially. That is, treasury, reimbursement and billing functions generally are handled at the corporate level, as is strategy.

  2. Increase in compensation. Higher compensation rewards longer hours, more stress and an increase in responsibility, notably at the corporate level.

  3. A demand for hospital-level physician-practice managers. Although hospitals purchase physician practice groups and consolidate this manager position, we are starting to see a demand for physician practice managers at the hospital level as few existed. Moreover, the acquisition of practices by hospitals opens a new career path for practice managers who may morph into hospital executives.

  4. CEO role functioning like the traditional COO position. While some CEO functions of acquired hospitals and physician practice groups become redundant with the advent of a system CEO, local operations still may vary and/or be necessary to effectively manage at the ground level.  

  5. Cutbacks in opportunities for senior-level management due to flatter organization models. 

  6. An increase in the supply of C-suite executives. Layoffs and refusals to take nicks or steps back in responsibilities cause the supply of senior leadership to outweigh demand. 

Understanding the above, you can no longer plan your career with certainty. All employment is temporary, and jobs are difficult to win. Many executives are taking steps backward in roles and compensation to stay employed. Despite these realities, opportunities exist for change agents. Risk taking is rewarded. For example, career paths that branch into other healthcare-related sectors are becoming more popular. Sectors include hospitals, managed care, physician group practices, consulting, suppliers and vendors, pharmaceuticals, public health and associations. 

Differentiating yourself from your competition never has been more vital. Get credentialed early in your career; an MBA is essential. Look into becoming a Fellow of or credentialed by the association that matches your profession. A few are American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), American College of Medical Practice Executives (ACMPE), Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). Undergo a 360-degree assessment to determine your strengths and areas for improvement – as your subordinates, peers and supervisor(s) see them.

Another tip is to review Competency Models at healthcareleadershipalliance.org and strengthen your core competencies. Although general characteristics are professionalism, leadership, communication skills, organization and analytical skills, and technical knowledge and skills, you may be surprised to learn that mastering communication is crucial when stakes are high. As health systems grow and free-standing hospitals thin out, the skills required to succeed in a hospital-level C-suite vs. system-level C-suite are changing. You have to be flexible, adaptable and nimble.

Whether you move onward and upward, accept a lateral position, downgrade in responsibilities and pay, or take a healthcare-related job, change is inevitable. You have the power to make it good 

J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FHFMA, FAAHC, CMPE is Chairman and CEO of Tyler & Company, a member of Signium International.  Signium International is an executive search firm with 40 offices in 26 countries serving clients in the Americas, Europe/Middle East/Africa and the Asia Pacific regions. Tyler may be reached at + 1 770 396 3939 or ltyler@tylerandco.com.