Australia’s healthcare system was at capacity, even before most of us had heard of COVID-19. With an ageing population that’s also a growing population, we were already experiencing an increased demand for healthcare services across the country. This need has triggered a skills shortage that has only intensified during the pandemic.
As Australia’s largest employer, health services across the country are crying out for health professionals. This environment presents both a challenge and an opportunity for health professionals who are planning a move into management, or already find themselves there.
The job of a health services manager is a wide and varied role that is almost as unique as the individuals who perform them. While the core abilities of leadership and problem solving remain constant – the variables of location, health specialisation and community make health services management a profession of many colours.
While hospitals employ many health services managers, numerous health services are located outside of hospitals and capital cities – often in regional areas. In our response to COVID-19, we’ve realised that telecommuting or working from home, is a real possibility, which is also making these regional areas a more popular place to live. Already many individuals and families have made a tree change, so it’s likely that the demand for health services in regional areas will only increase.
Another factor that’s expected to increase demand for health services over the next year is the mental health impact from COVID-19. Forecasts for emergency department presentations have increased by 28 per cent as a direct result of the pandemic.
The health services managers role has traditionally been to plan, organise, direct, control and coordinate the professional and administrative functions within a health service. While this has always been a challenging role that requires a health professional with advanced qualifications, it’s a role that’s becoming both more demanding and more in demand.
A career in health services management in Australia
Professor Joanne Travaglia is the Director of the Centre of Health Services Management at University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Acknowledging that workplaces differ, Travaglia believes the essential purpose of a health services manager is the same, whether you work in a hospital, or in the wider health services.
“The role of health services managers is to contribute to the improvement of the health of populations and individuals,” explains Travaglia.
Meanwhile, Travaglia says health services managers must be, “safeguarding the quality and safety of care, recognising and responding to the needs of vulnerable individuals and populations, and ensuring the best use of resources.”
To this end, UTS’s online Master of Health Services Management promises to arm you with the skills to navigate the politics, policy and data in health and social care.
Research supports Travaglia’s view that the key functions of health services management are essentially the same. A study by Liang et al. (2020) compared the skills required in Victoria’s healthcare system with those of New South Wales and Queensland. Across all three states they found that “the essential tasks for higher level managers are consistent across health and social care sectors.”
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, those tasks include:
- providing overall direction for the health service
- developing, implementing and monitoring procedures, policies and standards for health and administrative staff
- managing clinical services and health programs
- monitoring and evaluating the effective use of resources
- budgeting and financial management
- collaborating with other health services providers and funding bodies
- advising government bodies
- representing the health service in negotiations and public relations; and
- managing human resources.
What this means is that with the right qualifications, a health services manager has the potential to apply their expertise and skills to any hospital or health service, in any region of Australia.
Caren Harrison has worked her way up from nursing and is now a health services manager who has applied her management proficiency in two vastly different organisations – and two very distinctive locations. Until recently she was the Manager of Base and Clinical operations with the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia in Cairns. After nine years with the organisation, Harrison was looking for something more accommodating of family life.
She found her next health services management job while on holiday with her husband. It was 2,194 kilometres due south at Mudgee Hospital, New South Wales.
"It's a different environment, but the same set of challenges. It's remote health, we don't consider ourselves to be remote, but in fact we are," Harrison says.
Mudgee Hospital was nearing the end of a two-year long redevelopment when Harrison arrived. The project brought a lot of the region’s health services together, while adding new services to the region in a facility that was very new. Leading and managing change like this is becoming increasingly important in the health services manager’s role.
"I love change, I know some people consider change to be unnerving and I have to bear that in mind, but I see change as our opportunity to try something different," Harrison says.
What are the top skills of a health services manager?
The tasks that are common across all health services manager roles align strongly with Henri Fayol’s theory of management. In a nutshell the theory posits that organisational efficiency is increased when managers are competent in forecasting, planning, organising, commanding, coordinating and controlling. But, as Travaglia points out, the ability to carry out these tasks isn’t enough to be successful in health services management.
“Health services managers work in challenging and exciting environments. They require all the ‘standard’ competencies of managers, as well as the specialist skills required to manage staff from a variety of disciplines and professional backgrounds in the same direction.”
Travaglia reminds us that this all happens, “in a highly political environment which is constantly under public and media scrutiny, and which involves a deep understanding of social, cultural, economic, demographic and technical forces.”
Here are four main types of healthcare management skills:
Often referred to as soft skills, interpersonal skills rely on your emotional intelligence to influence others. They include leadership skills, relationship skills and the capacity to help others or delegate tasks to them.
You may use these skills to collaborate with other medical services managers, support your team through challenging times, or maximise the effort of volunteers.
When she was acting manager of Bega Valley Health Services, Vickye Coffey oversaw the annual volunteers’ day at Southern NSW Local Health District. Like many healthcare and welfare services at capacity, volunteers play a vital role here as auxiliary workers, patient support, pastoral care and transport drivers. Coffey was keen to remind them that they are valuable members of the team.
"It's fitting that volunteers be publicly recognised for their dedication, passion and skill. They embody the best qualities in our community, and they're a role model for others," says Coffey.
UTS Online’s Master of Health Services Management offers a sub-major specialisation in Leadership to promote your interpersonal skills.
Until recently, the computer skills required for health services management probably included proficiency with email, the Microsoft Office Suite and a patient management system. However, the digitisation of the workplace has created a lot of health information in the form of data, that creates its own management challenges.
You will still be expected to use analytical tools and techniques from business disciplines including finance, marketing and operations management. However, you will also be expected to use the tools and techniques of data analysis for planning.
The digitisation of patient data also raises privacy issues which can be amplified when transferring health information between incompatible systems. Understanding the risks, consequences and most importantly, responsible use of patient data, is essential.
UTS Online’s Master of Health Services Management offers a sub-major specialisation in Digital Health to upgrade your information management skills.
Information management skills
In research conducted by Slipicevic and Masic (2012), information management skills refer to your ability to gather information and analyse it. While this may include digital information, it’s also information that you gather from professional development, professional literature and even conversations or meetings within your organisation.
You need to be able to assimilate the information that you collect, organise and interpret to be able to put it to use. Then you may need to call on your skills in change management when it comes to implementing those learnings.
UTS Online’s Master of Health Services Management offers a major specialisation in Quality and Safety. It gives you the knowledge to apply planning and evaluation techniques, understand data and data sources, and assess systems for innovation.
When you’ve listened with an open heart and decided on a course of action, there are some special skills that will assist a successful outcome – goal setting and entrepreneurial skills.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Primary Health Services Manager of the Latrobe Community Health Service, Karen Pettifer put both skills to work. With only one testing site that also required a doctor’s referral, Pettifer heard the community calls for more testing facilities. Under a tight timeframe, she worked with government, retailers and other health services to help her health services team to make a difference.
"There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure we've got a safe testing site for the community," says Pettifer.
"There has been a really positive approach between Latrobe City, Latrobe Regional Hospital, Kmart and lots of staff at Latrobe Community Health Services as well."
UTS Online’s Master of Health Services Management offers a sub-major specialisation in Planning to bring stakeholders like these together and ensure your action skills achieve their goals.
Healthcare management: key insights
With higher skills and responsibility comes higher salaries. Health services managers can expect to earn an average salary of around $112,000 per year.
Taking the step up to health services management is something that can be achieved through experience and on-the-job training. However, almost a third of health services managers across Australia already have a postgraduate qualification.
Health services management roles can be found in hospitals and specialist health services across Australia. The majority of jobs are on the east coast of the country, with Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria accounting for almost 80 per cent of all employment.
In terms of industry, almost 80 per cent of health services managers are working in organisations that provide healthcare and social assistance. Another 10 per cent are focussing on public administration and safety. As a management role, the transferable skills of health services managers can also be found in administrative and training organisations as well as a variety of other industries.
Date source: Job Outlook
How do I become, or develop as, a health services manager in Australia?
If the health services managers we’ve looked at in this article are anything to go by, the path to becoming, and developing as, a health services manager is not necessarily a straight line. But, as the key insights demonstrate, a postgraduate qualification will put you in the company of a third of all health services managers.
UTS Online’s Master of Health Services Management is a part-time course that you can complete 100 per cent online. So, you can continue working and study in times and locations that are convenient to you. That means you can apply your new skills immediately and focus your efforts on getting the right work experience to achieve your goal.
Built by health professionals for health professionals, this program gives you the opportunity to tailor your career interest with specialisations in Quality and Safety, Digital Health, and Leadership or Planning.
With a variety of roles that are as unique as the people who perform them, this qualification will help you find your perfect health services management match.