Health Unit Coordinator

When a patient is admitted to a hospital or long-term care facility, it is assumed that they will be receiving care from nurses and doctors. However, families and patients may not realize that hospital admission and stays are administratively complicated and are overseen by health unit coordinators.

Health unit coordinators work behind the scenes in hospitals, clinics, outpatient clinics, and care facilities to ensure a patient has everything they need during their stay at the facility. Duties for health unit coordinators include preparing a hospital room for a patient, ordering supplies as needed, coordinating medical procedures, and supervising the stay. This is a critical administrative role that ensures the hospital stay can be as uneventful as possible.

While some health unit coordinators complete on-the-job training, it is becoming an industry standard to complete a health unit coordinator education program. These programs vary in length and scope from an online self-paced certificate to an associate’s degree. Typically, the more education a student completes in this field, the better chances they have for employment, higher earnings, and future advancement. 

An optional step health unit coordinators can take that can also help with employability is to earn a certification through the National Association of Health Unit Coordinators (NAHUC) Certification Board. Some employers may even require applicants to already hold this certification. NAHUC certification demonstrates a high degree of competency in patient care coordination, order management, and customer service.

Continue reading to learn the necessary steps to enter this essential healthcare field, including types of degrees, program admission requirements, and top schools.

Health Unit Coordinator Specializations & Degree Types

The primary education for health unit coordinators is a certificate or diploma. These programs are relatively short and can be completed in as little as a semester in some cases. There are longer, more involved programs such as an associate degree, which provides students with more in-depth preparation for this career. 

Some health unit coordinator programs offer additional certifications such as medical customer service. Often, these additional certificates can be completed concurrently with the health unit coordinator program.

Admissions Requirements for Health Unit Coordinator Programs

Admission requirements for health unit coordinator programs vary based on the level of the program. Simple certificate programs that can be completed entirely online may have no admission requirements, while full-time in-person associate degree programs may require a high school diploma or GED. Generally speaking, health unit coordinator programs are relatively easy to enter as this is considered entry-level healthcare work.

Health Unit Coordinator Program Accreditation

Educational program accreditation is an important factor to consider when choosing a health unit coordinator program. Accreditation assures students, employers, and patients that a program has met rigorous quality standards of faculty, facilities, and curriculum. 

Currently, there are no programmatic accreditation organizations for health unit coordinator programs. Therefore, students should ensure that their school has some level of accreditation. The primary accreditation for most programs is regional accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting bodies recognized by the Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

On-Campus Health Unit Coordinator Degree Programs

Anoka Technical College

The intense one-semester health unit coordinator certificate program at Anoka Technical College prepares students to provide exceptional customer service to customers. Students must complete six classes in order to earn this certificate. Required coursework includes medical terminology, computer technologies for communication, medical office procedures, and electronic health records. In addition, all students must complete a critical thinking course to help them learn the skills they need to make sound decisions when working as a health unit coordinator. 

Although most students complete this certificate in one semester, there are part-time options available to accommodate students who have other obligations. While this program is just a certificate, courses completed for this program can be transferred to other degree programs at Anoka, including an associate degree. 

  • Location: Anoka, MN
  • Duration: One semester
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $202.48 per credit 

GateWay Community College

There are several program completion options for aspiring health unit coordinators at GateWay Community College. Students in this program can complete a stand-alone certificate as part of a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program. The certificate can be completed with just 16.5 semester-credit-hours, although some students can choose to complete up to 20.5 depending on the elective they choose. Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the NAHUC certification exam.

In addition to health unit coordination, students can earn a certificate as a patient care associate. While this is a similar track to health unit coordination, it includes additional education in patient care that may be necessary for a CNA certificate. Graduates of this program will know how to transcribe doctor’s notes, order lab tests, manage patients’ charts, and maintain HIPAA compliance. 

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Duration: One semester or more
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $1,882 to $2,785 for the certificate program

City College of San Francisco

One component that sets the health unit coordinator certificate program at City College of San Francisco apart is the required 20 hours of on-the-job training. While this may not seem like an extensive internship, it does provide valuable hands-on experience students wouldn’t get otherwise. Graduates of this program work in nursing homes, health facilities, and hospitals, providing exceptional patient care services. 

There are only two courses required to complete this course: basic life support and health unit coordination. Currently, there are no prerequisite education requirements. However, there are extensive health requirements, including a negative tuberculosis screening or test, proof of immunizations, and a current physical. Current medical insurance is also required. 

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Duration: One semester
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $360 per credit 

Bellevue College

Bellevue College offers a longer and more comprehensive health unit coordinator certificate than other schools. This is a 63- to 73-quarter-credit-hour program that takes five quarters to complete.

In this program, students will learn how to prepare charts for hospital admittance, transcribe doctor’s notes, order lab tests, and communicate with nursing staff. Upon completion of this program, students will be able to sit for the NAHUC certification exam. This certification is currently required in a neighboring hospital, and Bellevue predicts it will be required by more facilities in the near future. 

In order to enroll in this program, students must be admitted to Bellevue (for credit), have basic computer skills, and pass a placement exam into English 101 at a minimum. Most students complete the health unit coordinator emphasis in this certificate program, although there is an optional administrative medical assistant emphasis students can choose. 

  • Location: Bellevue, WA
  • Duration: Five quarters
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $299.12 per credit 

Clover Park Technical College

With realistic classroom and clinical training, Clover Park Technical College’s health unit coordinator certificate graduates are ready to enter the workforce. Competencies students gain in this program include human relations, communication, supply management, and patient record maintenance. In total, students must complete 44 quarter-hours of coursework in order to earn this certificate. While this makes for an intensive two quarters, students can choose to complete this certificate in a more flexible part-time format. 

Required coursework for this certificate includes anatomy and physiology for health unit coordinators, introduction to health unit coordinating, introduction to communication in the health unit coordinator role, and legal and ethical aspects of unit coordinating. There are online information sessions students can attend in order to determine if this program is a good fit. 

  • Location: Lakewood, WA
  • Duration: Two quarters
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $297.69 per credit 

Online or Hybrid Health Unit Coordinator Degree Program

Western Governors University 

For students who are looking for a more advanced degree, the online bachelor’s of science in health services coordinator at Western Governors University can be an excellent choice. Graduates of this program are well suited to both entry-level work, as well as more senior roles as health unit coordinators. 

In addition to being an outstanding academic program, other factors that set this program apart include affordability, generous scholarships, and a strong track record for graduate employment. 

Western Governors University charges tuition per six-month period versus per credit or semester. This means motivated students can complete their coursework quickly and save a significant amount of tuition expenses. Since this program is offered entirely online, students can complete their coursework at their own pace, be it quick or slow.  

  • Location: Salt Lake City, UT
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Tuition: $3,475 per six months

Charter College

The online health unit coordinator certificate at Charter College can be completed in as little as ten months. This is a flexible program with all of the courses being taught virtually. This allows students to complete their work at their own pace and on their own time. There are less rigorous part-time options for students as well. Topics covered in this program include the fundamentals of healthcare delivery, patient care, hospital unit management, medical insurance, and records management. 

Upon completion of this program, students will be eligible to sit for the NAHUC exam. While this exam is typically complete at the closest Charter College location, it can be proctored at most testing facilities or even virtually. A computer is included in the cost of tuition to help students complete this online program,  

  • Location: Vancouver, WA 
  • Duration: Ten months
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Tuition: $18,000 for the entire program

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College’s online health unit coordinator certificate prepares students with marketable skills for entry-level work as medical clerical workers. This certificate can be completed in just two semesters of part-time study. In total, students must earn a minimum of ten credits in three classes and one lab. The majority of this program is offered online; however, students must complete an on-site unpaid clinical observation in their final semester. This observation can be completed at a site near the students. 

The required classes for this program are medical terminology, orientation to health records, and health unit coordinator training. The medical terminology course is comprehensive and can be too rigorous for some students. Students who need more flexibility can take two slower-paced medical terminology courses instead. 

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Duration: Two part-time semesters
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $337.28 per credit 

Milwaukee Area Technical College

Milwaukee Area Technical College offers a one-year technical diploma in healthcare unit coordination. Students can choose to complete this program on campus or through flexible online learning. 

Upon graduation, students will have the skills to provide high-quality patient care, transcribe medical records, and general healthcare clerical support. Successful students will already have strong communication skills, empathy, good work habits, and an understanding of confidentiality. 

To complete this program, students must earn at least 19 semester credit hours of coursework. Required classes include medical terminology, the culture of healthcare, and written communication. Students who want to earn additional credentials can also complete a healthcare customer service certificate while earning this diploma.

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $687.90 per three-credit class

University of North Georgia–Dahlonega

The online certified health unit coordinator program at the University of North Georgia–Dahlonega is a self-paced program. Upon registration for this certificate, students will receive all course materials so they can work through it at their own pace. However, this does not mean that students must complete their work alone. There is ample support, including faculty office hours and designated student peer support advisors. 

Topics covered in this program include cultural diversity, critical thinking, medical terminology, and information communication. This program adequately prepares graduates to sit for the NAHUC exam and even includes a voucher for the cost of the exam. 

  • Location: Dahlonega, GA
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $1,399 for the entire program

How Long Does it Take to Become a Health Unit Coordinator?

It takes on average six months to complete the education required to become a health unit coordinator. There are both longer and shorter programs, so students can choose an educational path that suits their career aspirations. Generally speaking, the longer the program, the better opportunities for advancement. 

How To Become a Health Unit Coordinator – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

The majority of employers require health care unit coordinators to have completed high school or earned a GED as a minimum level of education. A high school diploma or GED demonstrates a commitment to completing an educational program and a base level of work ethic. Aspiring health unit coordinators should focus on health, science, and communication classes. 

Step 2: Complete Health Unit Coordinator Education (Varies) 

While health unit coordinator education is not required, it is highly recommended and can help with employment and advancement opportunities. Programs vary in length from one semester all the way up to a two-year associate’s degree.  

Step 3: Obtain Certification or State Licensing, if Required (Timelines Vary)

Health unit coordinator certification is not mandated, although it may be required by many employers. Most health unit coordinators earn certification through the NAHUC. State licensing is not required for health unit coordinators. See the certification and licensure section below for further details.

What Do Health Unit Coordinators Do?

Health unit coordinators primarily work in hospitals, although they can also be found in clinics, medical offices, and long-term care facilities. They are essential members of large healthcare delivery teams. While day to day responsibilities can vary based on place of employment, typical duties include:

  • Communicating with various departments in a facility to coordinate a patient’s admission to a hospital room
  • Ensuring that a room in a hospital or care facility has all the necessary supplies for a patient
  • Booking procedures and transportation for admitted patients
  • Transcribing doctors’ medical notes
  • Maintaining supply lists and reordering as necessary
  • Entering patient information into electronic health records and maintaining the confidentiality

Health Unit Coordinator Certifications & Licensure

Currently, there are no state licensing requirements for health unit coordinators. However, should the scope of a health unit coordinator role involve extensive direct patient interaction, it may fall under the scope of medical assisting and may be subject to state licensing. Professionals in this field should consult with their local licensing boards and human resources department to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. 

Certification as a health unit coordinator is voluntary, although highly recommended as many employers require it. The most common certification health unit coordinators earn is through the National Association of Health Unit Coordinators (NAHUC) Certification Board. This NAHUC has been around for 30 years and assures employers, patients, and other healthcare workers that certificate holders have demonstrated competency in health unit coordination. 

To be eligible for NAHUC certification, candidates must have graduated from high school or have a GED. In addition, applicants must currently be employed as a health unit coordinator or have completed a health unit coordinator education program. The exam costs $205 and consists of 120 multiple-choice questions that must be answered in two and a half hours. The exam covers order management, communication/customer service, professional development and coordination of health unit, equipment, and technical procedures, 

How Much Do Health Unit Coordinators Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), health unit coordinators are classified as medical secretaries and administrative assistants. The 597,100 medical secretaries and administrative assistants in the US earn $39,000 per year on average. Here are the percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $27,000
  • 25th percentile: $31,370
  • 50th percentile (median): $37,350
  • 75th percentile: $45,620
  • 90th percentile: $54,600

Health Unit Coordinator Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a health unit coordinator. 

Become a Medical Assistant

Medical assistants provide administrative and clinical support to various healthcare teams. They often have extensive patient interaction, including taking vitals, gathering medical history, assisting with medical procedures, and collecting specimens for lab tests.  

  • Typical Education: Certificate or diploma 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) for Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA) from the National Healthcareer Association, Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), National Certified Medical Assistant (NCMA) from the National Center for Competency Testing, Registered Medical Assistant (RMA) from the American Medical Technologists

Become a Phlebotomist

Healthcare professionals whose exclusive job is to draw blood for lab tests are called phlebotomists. Typically, phlebotomists work in diagnostic laboratories, although they can also be employed at hospitals and clinics. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate or diploma
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Medical Technologists (AMT), National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT), and the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification (ASCP-BOC)

Become a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists are responsible for establishing and maintaining a sterile field for surgery or other procedures. Other duties include ensuring the proper tools for a procedure are available, maintaining inventory, and ordering surgical supplies. 

  • Typical Education: Certification
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board of Surgical Technology
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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