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For-Profit vs. Non-Profit: Finding the Right Facility for Your Career


As 2019 comes to a close, you may be thinking of hitting the reset button on your nursing career. Whether it’s a change in location, furthering your education, or working for an institution that better aligns with your values and beliefs, you can start off the new year by exploring new career opportunities. As you explore the job market and consider taking on a new role in the healthcare industry, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether you want to work for a for-profit or non-profit institution. While most healthcare facilities are considered for-profit, the alternative comes with its fair share of pros and cons.

Take a closer look at what it’s like to work for a non-profit vs. for-profit healthcare facility.

What Is Non-Profit Healthcare?

There are three types of healthcare facilities: non-profit, for-profit, and those run by the government. Non-profit and government institutions are not motivated by financial earnings. Instead they focus on patient outcomes and advancing the field of healthcare by researching new treatment methods and techniques.

For-profit institutions and health systems are similar to other businesses. They need to make money in order to be profitable, balancing total costs against their reported income. This isn’t to say that for-profit institutions are only interested in money. There are several federal regulations in place to ensure for-profit institutions have their patients’ best interests at heart. For example, a hospital may not receive funding from the federal government if their patients are readmitted too quickly.

The main difference between for-profit and non-profit institutions is the way they are run. For-profit health systems are typically overseen by a board of shareholders. Like any other board, shareholders receive dividends based on profits. Some boards and CEOs may focus more on profits than bettering the community at large. For-profit institutions also need to pay property and income taxes, while non-profit institutions do not. Instead of collecting profits, non-profit institutions are largely funded through private and public donations.

The State of Non-Profit Care

Some states set strict guidelines for for-profit health systems, while other states have tried to ban them outright. For example, Connecticut currently only has one for-profit hospital and 28 non-profit hospitals.

There’s been a great deal of debate in recent years over the value of for-profit healthcare. Many patients, activists, and politicians believe the U.S. healthcare system should be non-profit in nature, so institutions put the health and safety of their patients above profits. However, free market advocates argue that for-profit systems increase competition and the overall value of care received. The number of non-profit healthcare facilities in the U.S. has been on the rise over the last couple decades. There were 371 non-profit hospital systems in the country as of 2016.

Many intuitions and health systems have a history of converting from a non-profit model to a for-profit model, or vice versa. If a non-profit institution is struggling to attract donations, administrators may decide to convert to a for-profit institution as a way of keeping the lights on. There are no laws preventing hospitals from converting to a for-profit model.

While there are many differences between for-profit and non-profit care, as an employee, you may have trouble discerning which decisions are the result of administration changes and which are the result of external factors, such as changing reimbursement rates, legislative changes, and shifting technological trends.

The Pros and Cons of For-Profit and Non-Profit Institutions

As a nurse, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons of working for these two types of facilities. From your perspective, you may not notice much of a difference when switching from one to another. At the end of the day, you’re still going to do your best to take care of your patients, regardless of who’s signing your paychecks.

However, for-profit institutions tend to offer more profitable healthcare services than non-profit institutions, such as open-heart surgery and other notoriously costly procedures, rather than less profitable services such as psychiatric emergency care and substance abuse treatment. For-profit intuitions will often adjust their operations based on the profitability of services rendered.

Think about what kinds of services you’d like to provide as a nurse when choosing between for-profit and non-profit institutions. If you’re looking to provide care to low-income patients or serve underprivileged communities, working for a for-profit institution may not be for you.

Non-profit institutions may be working with limited budgets, which means you may need to do more with fewer resources. Both non-profit and for-profit institutions may push their employees in order to meet certain fundraising or profit goals.

For-profit institutions also tend to be larger and more complicated than non-profit systems. If you’re looking to stay small, non-profit is probably the way to go. However, working for a for-profit institution may give you access to a broader range of experiences than working for a non-profit.

Just because you decide to work for a for-profit institution doesn’t mean you’ll need to put profits above the health and safety of your patients. Every facility is different, but knowing the differences between for-profit and non-profit care can help you make the right career move. Keep these ideas in mind as you begin the next chapter of your career as a healthcare provider.


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