If you want to work in the field of healthcare, but you don’t want to hold a clinical role, then you may want to consider healthcare administration. In this role, you will have a strong and direct impact on the health outcomes of people, but you will do so through managing the business side of healthcare, rather than providing direct bedside care. While certain healthcare facilities accept bachelor’s degree holders, there is a strong commitment towards improving the overall educational attainment of all those who work in the field. Hence, a master’s degree is more suitable, and it will also help you to increase your earning potential.
However, the question then becomes which one of the many master’s degrees that are out there you should choose. There are so many, in fact, that you may feel slightly overwhelmed. The three most common ones, however, are the MBA (master of business administration), the MHA (master in health administration), and the MPH (master of public health).
So what is the difference between these three degrees?
Master of Health Administration (MHA)
The MHA degree is the most commonly held degree for people who work as healthcare executives. The focus of the program is strongly on the actual operation of healthcare facilities. The curriculum focuses solely on healthcare, which includes marketing, business planning, business development, conflict resolution, supervision strategies, and management. In most cases, those who enroll in an MHA course, already have a background in healthcare, with most holding a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) degree.
The MHA program focuses strongly on actual healthcare policies. It is a reasonably new degree program that has been created because there is now such a strong demand for healthcare administrators and managers. The degree is known under different names, including Master of Healthcare Administration and Master of Health Services Administration.
During the degree program, you will generally find that the faculty are practical healthcare practitioners, which is one of the things that really sets it apart from the MBA. You will also have to complete internships and specific mentorship programs that focus specifically on healthcare administration. This means that, once you have completed the program, you will already have strong and relevant experience. Graduates usually take on positions that focus on improving healthcare financing, healthcare delivery, and healthcare policy. As a graduate, you will be respected for your in-depth knowledge of healthcare issues, which is more specific than that obtained by MBA degree holders.
An MHA program generally takes two years to complete for a full-time student. Many, however, choose to study online and study part-time, which does mean that it will generally take them slightly longer to finish it.
Master of Public Health (MPH)
The MPH program usually doesn’t have a strong focus on healthcare administration, although you can choose it as a specialization. Generally, you will focus on global public health issues (things such as domestic violence and HIV), environmental health, and epidemiology. While you will touch on management techniques, those aren’t at the heart of the program. As a graduate, you are more likely to work for a public health agency, or within health education and policy, community service, or research. The degree is relevant both for those with or without a clinical background.
The MHA and the MPH do have substantial similarities. The biggest difference, however, is that the MPH focuses more strongly on actual health. While you will take part in some administrative classes, you will look more strongly at topics, such as law, biology, and biostatistics. You will help to prevent public injury and disease, promoting the good health of the entire population. After graduation, you are likely to find employment in nonprofit organizations, federal health departments, research centers, and laboratories. You will also help to create, implement, manage, and review healthcare policies.
The MPH program is particularly suitable for those who already have an administrative background. You may already be employed in a field such as psychology, business, or law. It will usually take around two years to complete an MPH program if studied full-time, although, as with the MHA program, you have the opportunity to study online and part-time as well.
Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Healthcare
Finally, there is the MBA. You could choose to study towards a generalist MBA, or you can specialize in a healthcare administration or healthcare informatics concentration. An MBA program, even with a concentration, only has a light focus on healthcare. Instead, the focus is on human resources, strategic planning, macroeconomics, and microeconomics. You will generally share classes with people from a wide range of backgrounds, including manufacturing, consulting, finance, and accounting.
If you do choose a healthcare concentration, you will have a slightly stronger focus on the administration of healthcare facilities in particular. The emphasis, however, is on marketing, accounting, and finance. You will also have to complete a number of elective courses, and this is where the healthcare administration focus will come in.
Essentially, the MBA program is suitable for people who want to manage the business of healthcare. The degree is very popular with people who currently have clinical roles, including doctors and nurses. One of the reasons why people choose this program is that it provides them a much better business preparation, emphasizing this element in a far stronger way than in either the MHA or the MPH.
The MBA also takes two years to complete, and can often be completed online. It is classed as the most prestigious of the three degrees, something that is often also reflected in the price of the degree. One of the reasons why it is so prestigious is because you will be equipped with transferable skills that can be used across all types of industries.
Which Program Is Right for You?
Choosing between the MHA, MPH, and MBA in healthcare can be very difficult. What matters most is finding out what your specific interests actually are. If you have a passion for finance, the MBA is right for you. If you want to drive policy, you should choose the MHA. If you want to improve communities, then the MPH is the better choice. Either way, however, you will always be prepared for a fascinating and rewarding career.
A quick summary of the difference between the three programs can be presented as:
- The MHA focuses on healthcare administration and is suitable for people who already work in administration.
- The MPH is perfect for people who want to work in nonprofit sectors or public policy.
- The MBA is perfect for the business-minded people and for those who are considering a career outside of healthcare at some point.
The three programs overlap in many ways. This is why you should really consider all three programs when you are comparing various universities and colleges. Take a look at the curriculum and the program outcomes in particular to find the one that is most suitable to you.
In terms of job prospects, any of these degree programs will set you up for an excellent career. It is estimated that around 75% of managers at mid-level in the healthcare industries hold an MBA. The top level executives, on the other hand, hold an MHA in 75% of cases. The remainder are those who hold the MPH, MHA, or MBA. As such, the MPH is perhaps the least popular of the three degrees, but this is because it is so industry specific.
Resources and References:
Occupational Outlook Handbook: Top Executives – Job outlook for top managers. (BLS.gov)
Occupational Outlook Handbook: Medical and Health Services Managers – Job outlook for health services and medical managers. (BLS.gov)