From legislation overhauling the country's health care system to personnel shortages, health care in the United States today is besieged by unprecedented change.

Financial challenges. Patient safety. Quality concerns. Access to care. Technology advances.

The issues facing the health care industry are more urgent and more complicated than ever. That means the demand for strong leadership has never been greater.

Today, more than 333,000 people work in health care administration, planning, directing, administering and managing medical services and facilities and that number is expected to grow. They work in hospitals, medical practices, nursing homes, insurance companies, wellness centers, government agencies, corporate headquarters, pharmaceutical companies, consulting firms, and more.

Positions range from entry-level and middle management positions such as medical records assistant, health service administrator, managed care coordinator, or financial analyst to advanced positions, including human resources director, director of emergency services, chief compliance officer, chief operating officer, and many more.

While titles and roles vary significantly, health care management professionals all contribute to the same goal: helping to make health care better.

Amidst the challenges of the health care industry are tremendous opportunities for an exciting career. Here are five reasons why enrolling in an online health care management degree program and a career in health care management is a great choice.

Reason 1: Health care is a hot industry.

Health care is the largest industry in the United States. According to the most recent government statistics, health expenditures have grown to $3 trillion, accounting for 17.5 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With health spending projected to grow by 5.8 percent per year to 19.6 percent of the GDP by 2024, that trend isn't changing soon.

As a result, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations: by 17 percent by 2024. Employment and staffing firm Robert Half identified health care as one of the hottest industries, adding 37,000 jobs in just the first month of this year.

Reason 2: You'll have the opportunity to make a difference.

According to Dr. Janet Porter, who has more than 35 years of experience as a hospital administrator, including six years as chief operating officer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, what binds health care administration professionals is a desire to contribute to society or to a community.

"People discover healthcare administration as a profession from a variety of avenues, but they have that innate sense that they want their lives to be about doing good for others."

Medical personnel on the front line of patient care need the support of administrators planning, directing, coordinating and supervising the delivery of health care. Health care managers drive change and help health systems work more efficiently, which impacts patient care. They advocate for policy changes to help the poor and to broaden the availability of preventive care, stay on top of technological advances, and work to keep costs down while still meeting high standards for care.

Reason 3: Career options are vast.

As in most business organizations, there are two types of management professionals in health care, each with distinct roles: generalists and specialists.

Generalists, such as such as a hospital director or chief administrative officers of a medical center, manage or help manage entire organizations, systems or facilities. With broad knowledge base in health administration, they oversee many aspects of planning, coordination and care.

Specialists, on the other hand, oversee specific departments, services or functional areas. Are you more of a numbers person? Perhaps a financial position in health care is for you. The same goes for government regulations, information technology, marketing, public affairs, medical staff relations, and planning and development. The health care field needs experts in all of these specialized areas, and more.

You'll also be able to work in an environment that suits you. Maybe a big hospital or pharmaceutical company is your goal. Or it could be a small clinic or visiting nurse organization. Each of these settings offers a different experience, and you'll find the right one for you.

Reason 4: Earning potential can be lucrative.

While many health services managers work more than 40 hours a week, as well as evenings and weekends, most are well compensated, particularly in state, local and private hospital settings. According to the most recent BLS statistics, the median annual wage for medical and health services managers was $92,810. Senior health care executives with years of experience can earn significantly more.

Median annual wages in the top industries are:

State, local and private hospitals $99,930
Government $98,310
Physicians offices $86,050
Home health care services $81,940
Nursing/residential care facilities $76,730

Reason 5: You'll always learn something new.

In an environment that's constantly changing, a career as a health care professional means you will always be learning something new. Certifications are highly regarded in the health care management field and can increase your earning potential. Three of the most prestigious are:

And you don't have to wait to complete a degree to get started. You can volunteer at a hospital, work as a receptionist at a clinic, attend local workshops on health care topics like HIPAA and the Affordable Health Care Act, and join professional organizations like the Saint Leo Health Care Management Association.

Clearly, the time couldn't be better to prepare for an exciting and meaningful career in the booming health care industry. In addition to being one of the most resilient industries during times of economic downturns, with so many options and opportunities, it's also one of the most versatile and employable degrees available today.

Are you already working in health care management? Why do you think it's a great career? Please share in the comments.

Image credits: Shahril KHMD and retrorocket on