Hospitals require a large, varied selection of goods to run. Everything from medical equipment and medical supplies to paper goods and office supplies need to be procured from vendors before they can be used in the facility. It is the job of the hospital purchasing agent to buy these goods and to maintain adequate inventory levels. Depending on the size of the hospital, a purchasing agent may specialize in just one area, such as purchasing food and supplies for the hospital's cafeteria, or the agent may make purchases for several to all of the departments within the facility.
A hospital purchasing agent attempts to garner high-quality, useful goods at a low price. Through practical job experience, agents gain expertise regarding the different suppliers that offer the types of products their hospital uses. When making a decision on what to buy, purchasing agents consider the price, reputation and availability of different products before settling on a vendor. The purchasing agent may need to negotiate with a vendor representative to gain favorable pricing and payment terms. To know how much to buy, the agent studies usage reports and considers the current inventory of a given product. Some items are purchased frequently and on a regular schedule, such as syringes or hand soap, while other items are bought only periodically, like a surgical table or defibrillator to replace a broken, out-of-date or obsolete item.
The hospital purchasing agent is responsible for a significant amount of paperwork, most of it done on a computer. Agents use spreadsheets, reports and other documents to keep track of inventory numbers and to place orders with vendors. They also spend time researching and processing special order requests from different departments within the hospital.
A hospital purchasing agent works in an office environment, spending the majority of time on the computer. Agents also use the phone frequently to make contact with vendors and people within the hospital who use the products, but much of a hospital purchasing agent's work is solitary in nature. The work of a hospital purchasing agent can usually be done in a traditional 40-hour work week, though overtime is sometimes required.
Hospitals may prefer to hire purchasing agents who have a bachelor's degree in business; however, many hospitals consider applicants with a high school diploma. On-the-job training is an important aspect of this job. New hires need to learn medical terminology and become familiar with the uses of medical equipment so they make informed procurement decisions. Additionally, they need to familiarize themselves with the needs of the food and beverage, janitorial/materials, administrative and other departments within the hospital. Being skilled on a computer is essential.
A hospital purchasing agent needs to be analytical, resourceful, detail-oriented, organized, quick and adaptable. Agents should additionally possess strong communication and negotiation skills. They must be able to juggle competing demands and deal with interruptions.
Indeed.com reports the average salary of a hospital purchasing agent at $52,000 as of April 2010. This type of work usually comes with a strong benefits package.
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