Between a complex regulatory climate, aging baby boomer population, and technological pressures, healthcare providers large and small face mounting challenges. In response, more and more organizations are turning to qualified healthcare consultants to help them effectively adapt to changing industry tides.
What is the role of a healthcare consultant?
Healthcare consultants are independent professionals or firms that provide counsel or project management expertise to physicians, hospitals, drug manufacturers, medical device companies, insurers, and other players in the healthcare field. This counsel may pertain to a variety of operational areas, including:
- Strategic management matters including facilities planning, mergers and acquisitions, and overall strategic direction.
- Financial management issues such as budgetary controls, capital investments, and cost-effectiveness of treatments and services.
- Human resources issues such as employee training and development and recruitment and retention strategies.
- Information technology (IT) strategies including electronic health record (EHR) adoption, analytics, and the implementation of software-supported medical devices.
Management consulting has become a $20 billion business in America’s healthcare sector, growing faster than all consulting areas in 2015 at a rate of 9.5%. Increasingly, this niche is becoming global in nature, with one research firm estimating an annual global market growth of 7%. Many U.S.-based firms have offices throughout the world.
The education requirements for healthcare consultants vary. An entry-level position at a large consulting firm can often be obtained with a bachelor’s degree. Senior positions may require work experience and a graduate degree. No specific credentials are required to pursue a career as a healthcare consultant. However, professionals can gain a competitive advantage by earning specialized certifications such as those offered by the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants and the Institute of Management Consultants.
The makings of a successful healthcare consultant: 10 traits
Healthcare consulting can be a competitive industry, and getting ahead requires more than a “looks good on paper” resume. There are a number of qualities that set the stage for a thriving consulting career. Individuals who are interviewing or applying for a consulting position should focus on highlighting the following traits.
- Ability to work independently
Healthcare consultants must have the self-discipline to complete assignments on-time while providing exceptional service to clients. Motivated self-starters with a strong work ethic are great candidates for this type of work.
- Ability to think critically
As a healthcare consultant, it’s not enough to blindly carry out a task requested by your client or boss. Rather, you should understand the “why” behind the task, be able to find the logical connection between ideas, and analyze the information to arrive at a conclusion or decision. Those with an analytical mind (i.e., people who tend to think before they act) are more likely to follow a methodical process and produce a quality outcome.
- Excellent communication skills
Consulting professionals must be able to relay ideas and information effectively to clients; this includes translating technical concepts into a language that is appropriate for lay audiences. Consultants should also be comfortable conducting presentations and interviewing external subject matter experts when necessary.
- Strong leadership skills
While a consultant should be a proficient team player with the ability to collaborate, leadership capabilities are essential. Clients want consultants with the skills to lead teams of people as well as develop and implement strategic plans from start to finish.
Since consultants are often tasked with solving difficult problems, it helps to be a problem-solver by nature. A competent consulting professional is persistent, creative, and driven to do what it takes to resolve a challenge.
- Ability to multitask and work under pressure
As a healthcare consultant you will typically be involved with a variety of different projects for multiple clients—all at once. Good time management skills, flexibility, and the ability to set priorities are all a must. Thanks to factors like tight deadlines, unexpected roadblocks, and demanding clients—stress levels in consulting can be high. A successful consultant is able to stay calm and focused to keep a project moving forward.
When it comes to building trust with clients, it’s vital to provide deliverables that are free of spelling and grammar errors as well as factual or mathematical inaccuracies. In addition to delivering error-free work, you should include details (e.g., numbers) that support how you arrived at a certain conclusion. This demonstrates to the client that you’re thorough and lends credibility to your recommendations.
Successful consultants want to understand more than the “what” and the “how”; they want to understand the “why.” If you’re interested in entering the field of healthcare consulting, you can’t be afraid to ask questions—continuously. Posing questions to your client helps you gain a deeper understanding of their issues so that you can provide more value.
- Eagerness to learn
Much of a consultant’s expertise is gained by learning on the job. New consultants are often trained under an apprenticeship model, which means they learn through the mentorship of more experienced staff members. A positive and receptive attitude goes a long way in building career-boosting relationships with colleagues.
- Willingness to travel frequently
Being in the consulting profession can mean having to travel much of the time. While teleconferencing is gaining popularity, most healthcare consultants must still commute to the client’s location to handle project needs. Unexpected issues and last-minute changes also require a consultant to be flexible.
Consultants are expected to play an instrumental role in the shifting healthcare landscape, which makes it a promising professional path. A career in this field can offer a stimulating mix of challenge and rewards—and it’s also lucrative. The annual salary for a management consultant in the U.S. averages more than $90,000.
If healthcare consulting piques your interest, understanding the nature of the job and knowing what companies look for in a candidate can help you determine if it’s a good fit.
Julie Potyraj is the community manager for MHA@GW and MPH@GW, both offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. For several years, she served as a community development specialist in Zambia coordinating youth empowerment programs and reproductive health education. She is currently an MPH@GW student focusing on health communications. Follow her on twitter @jpotterRay.