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How do I get a graduate job in healthcare operations and management?

Find out how to get into a career in healthcare management, learn about the skills and training you'll need and explore options such as the NHS graduate scheme.
You need a strong customer-focus: in a healthcare setting the most important customer is the patient.

Healthcare operations and management is all about keeping hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, ambulance services – in fact, every single facet of the healthcare system – running smoothly, effectively and to budget. An army of professionals work hard behind the scenes to make sure that patients and staff are happy, IT systems are working, healthcare buildings are safe and figures are adding up. More than 2.2 million people work in the UK health sector, which makes the healthcare sector a fantastic place for graduates to embark on a successful and fulfilling management career.

What’s more, your views will be counted upon and your management skills will be put to good use improving the working lives of clinicians and the treatment of patients.

What kind of work can I do in healthcare operations and management?

You don’t need a health-related degree to work in healthcare management. It covers a huge range of options so, whatever your degree, there is bound to be something to suit you. Healthcare organisations recruit graduates with leadership potential to manage areas such as:

  • estates and facilities
  • finance
  • human resources
  • ICT.

Where could I find work in the healthcare sector?

The majority of the UK public use the National Health Service and while it’s certainly a major graduate employer, there are other options. Alongside the NHS there is also a growing independent sector offering private care to patients and looking for high-calibre graduates. The private sector runs services such as care homes for the elderly, or adults and children with mental health, learning or physical disabilities, as well as many hospitals and clinics.

Four of the largest independent healthcare organisations in the UK are Bupa, Spire Healthcare, BMI Healthcare and Nuffield Health Hospitals. Other healthcare employers include voluntary organisations, the armed forces, large companies and universities.

How can I get a graduate healthcare management job?

There are two main entry routes that will give you that first step on the healthcare management career ladder:

1. Join a graduate scheme. The NHS graduate management training scheme has options to specialise in finance, HR, healthcare informatics and general management. You could also join the NHS Scotland management training scheme, NHS Wales Graduate Management Scheme, or find a place on a graduate scheme run by a private healthcare organisation.

2. Apply directly for an entry-level job vacancy in the area you’re interested in. Each NHS trust is responsible for its own recruitment, as are private healthcare organisations, so you will need to think about where you want to work as well as what you want to do. You may then get the opportunity to train on the job. Training may be available in-house or in-service for those who take up supervisor or assistant manager positions and a range of organisations, inlcuding the Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM) and the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), offer general supervisory level courses.

What does the recruitment process involve?

The NHS strongly recommends that you make use of its online suitability self-assessment tool to see if you are a good match for its graduate scheme before you apply. You’ll then have to fill in an online application, take a number of online aptitude tests, attend an interview and take part in an all-day assessment centre. When applying for an individual job vacancy, you’ll need to apply with an application form – rather than a CV and covering letter – for most positions.

In both cases, check the requirements and draw attention to relevant skills in your application. It’s also worth remembering that the NHS will make several pre-employment checks – for example you may need to provide proof of your qualifications and roles involving patient contact may require criminal record checks.

You can practise psychometric tests online in preparation for the assessments you may be set as part of the recruitment process for a job in healthcare operations management.

What qualifications and skills do I need?

Many areas of healthcare operations and management simply require a good degree but it is beneficial to have a related qualification (such as a numerate degree for a position in finance).

Most jobs in healthcare involve working with others so you will need to show employers that you are friendly, approachable and a team player. You need a strong customer-focus: in this setting the most important customer is the patient. If you want to climb to the top of the management tree in the NHS, you may need to be prepared to make tough decisions – with tight budgets you can’t always afford to take on every form of treatment or every new project. This requires leadership combined with empathy and good judgment.

In the public healthcare system, employers will also be looking for evidence that you hold similar values to that of the NHS: the commitment to help people and try to improve their lives.

What are the benefits of working in healthcare operations and management?

Working for the NHS brings benefits such as good holidays, training, occupational health and counselling services and automatic membership of the NHS Pension Scheme. Benefits in the private sector will depend on the organisation you choose to work for but they are likely to be similarly competitive.

The NHS graduate scheme offers a starting salary of around £23,000. In the NHS, salaries are determined by set pay bands, so if you start your career in an  assistant or executive entry-level position rather than by gaining a place on the graduate scheme, you will always know where you stand and what the potential is for salary increases in your role. Pay for management roles varies significantly depending on the level of responsibility involved, ranging from around £22,000 to close to £100,000 in senior positions. Private healthcare employers have their own salary systems – you might find they pay slightly higher wages.

Last, but by no means least, you’ll find there’s a real commitment to promoting equal opportunities and a good work/life balance in the healthcare operations and management sector – in the NHS, government legislation is in place to ensure it happens.