Healthcare employers need the same finance professionals that manufacturing and service companies do, such as accountants, auditors, analysts, compliance professionals, treasurers and CFOs. There's also demand for such specialists as claims adjustors and fraud investigators.
But for finance pros, the transition into healthcare requires some preparation. Acquiring industry knowledge through additional training will enhance your resume and help you compete in this complex field.
While you can use your experience in a finance position such as cost accounting to help you transfer into a similar role at a large healthcare company, it's simpler to make the jump early in your career, when you're "at a level that doesn't require the judgment needed in analysis and forecasting," says Jane Wilbershide, chief financial officer for Schaller Anderson, a Phoenix-based healthcare consulting firm.
Here are some other strategies to help you break into the fast-growing and rewarding healthcare arena:
Bone Up on Your Chosen Healthcare Niche
Like finance, healthcare has many niches. Choose your targeted employer type first -- hospital, medical practice, insurance firm, government or long-term-care facility -- and then contact the trade association serving that sector to enroll in courses or certification programs that will give you specific industry knowledge.
For instance, the Healthcare Financial Management Association offers a certification program, seminars, e-learning, audiocasts and courses, such as the two-day "Fundamentals of Healthcare Financial Management" class.
If you like to do a bit of everything, try practice management. As the manager of a healthcare practice, you would help a group of physicians cope with changing reimbursement rates and rules, marketing, human resources, information and risk management, business operations and planning, says Andrea Rossiter, senior vice president for professional development for the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). The MGMA offers a certified medical practice executive designation that takes about two years of self-study to complete, she adds.
Ferret Out Healthcare Fraud
If you're an auditor who enjoys puzzles, consider fraud examination work for a health insurance company or government agency, says Louis J. Saccoccio, executive director of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA).
"If you're the type of person who's interested in law enforcement and investigations from the financial side, it's interesting, because you work with finances and numbers, but also with people and the schemes that they come up with, some of which are pretty imaginative," he says.
In addition to a four-day session for novice fraud investigators, NHCAA offers an accredited health care fraud investigator designation.
Find a Stepping-Stone Job
Another way to get into healthcare is to use your finance background to move laterally into a company that provides services to the healthcare industry, such as Schaller Anderson, which consults to HMOs. Once there, you can expand your industry knowledge and later move more fully into healthcare.
"We would take an early careerist for one of our corporate functions, but not in healthcare plan management consulting," Wilbershide says. "We would work with them and provide opportunities to expand their knowledge base.
Get an Advanced Degree
An advanced degree can also help you get into healthcare, but be sure to earn the right one. Job candidates with MBAs are more desirable than those with a master's in public administration or master's in healthcare administration, Wilbershide says. "Oftentimes, the people coming out of public administration are better trained for public policy roles," she adds. "The master's of healthcare administration programs are for operations people, rather than financial people.
To find advanced-degree programs, visit The Association of University Programs in Health Administration.
Once you land a job in healthcare, you're likely to find plenty of opportunity. Nearly $2.2 trillion -- 16.2 percent of US GDP -- was spent on healthcare in 2007. By 2015, healthcare spending is expected to hit 20 percent of GDP. "The Baby Boomers are starting to drive those numbers up," Wilbershide says. "Don't be discouraged if you're pursuing opportunities and you don't get them because of your lack of industry knowledge. Keep trying. There are going to be companies like ours that are interested in talent and [are] not as parochial.