If you're passionate about quality health care, you might be happy with a career either in nursing or health administration. There are significantly similarities between these two fields, and some nurses ultimately become administrators. However, administrators oversee the operations of a health-care facility and may never interact directly with patients. Nurses, by contrast, are involved in their daily care.
Health administrators work primarily with "big picture" issues such as staffing, determining budgets, setting policies and dealing with public relations. As an administrator, you might be charged with establishing policies for nurses in your hospital and monitoring for compliance with these policies. Nurses, however, work directly with patients by administering tests, consulting with doctors about diagnoses, providing support and guidance for dealing with challenging illnesses and offering assistance with basic tasks such as bathing and using the restroom.
At minimum, nurses need an associate degree, but some nurses choose to pursue a bachelor's, master's or even doctoral degree. Nurses with advanced degrees often have training in a specific field of nursing. For example, to become a nurse anesthetist, nurses have to gain a master's degree. Nurses with doctoral degrees may serve as nursing instructors or conduct research. Health-care administrators typically have degrees in management or health-care administration. Some facilities, however, hire lawyers or business consultants. You'll generally need at least a master's degree to become a health-care administrator.
Nursing is a licensed profession, which means you can't begin practicing immediately after graduation. Instead, you'll have to seek a license from your state's board of nursing, and will have to take a licensing exam. While health-care facilities require licenses, health-care administrators generally do not. The only exception to this rule is if your state requires that your facility's administrator have a specific education or background.
Nurses sometimes become health-care administrators. Georgetown University, for example, offers its master of health administration program through its school of nursing. The University of Phoenix offers a dual master's degree in nursing and health administration. Some nurses opt to pursue doctoral programs in health administration to become administrators, while other nurses pursue degrees in nursing administration in preparation to oversee the daily functions of nurses at a health-care facility.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.