Healthcare Roles for Recent Graduates of Advanced Programs

One of the characteristics that makes the healthcare field so appealing is the wide range of specializations to be found at all levels.

Earning an advanced degree can open doors to exciting possibilities, and is increasingly expected for applicants to leadership and executive roles.

The most pursued degrees for healthcare leadership positions are the master of healthcare administration (MHA), the master of public health (MPH), and the master of business administration (MBA).

But these three degrees are very different from one another; it should be no surprise therefore, that they are generally intended to help prepare you for quite different roles, despite overlap in curriculum.

Discover what to expect from each of these advanced healthcare degrees, along with the corresponding entry-level careers for recent program graduates.

Careers for a Graduate with a Master of Health Administration (MHA) Degree

The curriculum of the MHA degree has the most content that is specific to the logistical operations of a healthcare system with one or more hospitals. The program generally offers courses that include hospital planning and engineering, the economics of healthcare, human resources in healthcare, and medical terminology.

Some degrees may also include content on healthcare entrepreneurship, medical start-ups, and telehealth program development. Most individuals that apply to these programs have already spent time working in healthcare, but it’s not necessarily a requirement for all programs, though it does improve the odds of being accepted into most of them.

After obtaining an MHA degree, one of the most coveted roles for an experienced healthcare employee would be Hospital Administrator, which is the title often used in place of Hospital President. This would put you on the trajectory to move into the executive levels of leadership within the next five to ten years, in which you may be responsible for managing multiple hospitals or a group of clinical practices.

It is increasingly expected that applicants for an executive role would have not only the requisite experience but also would hold this type of advanced degree, due to the comprehensive and highly specific nature of the accountabilities that are part of this type of position.

Another highly coveted role sought after holders of this degree would be Director of Operations or Director of Financial Operations. While these are more specialized than the role of the previous example of Hospital Administrator, they are also pathways that can help move one upward to the executive leadership roles in healthcare.

Ideally, a role in management that you enjoy, that you have the skills needed to excel, and that offers opportunities for ongoing learning and development, will be the most likely to push you upward to the executive roles sought.

Careers for a Graduate with a Master of Public Health (MPH) Degree

The MPH has a reasonable degree of curriculum overlap with the MHA degree, but generally, the MPH is designed to prepare one for a very different type of career, albeit also one within healthcare.

The MPH degree coursework commonly covers topics such as epidemiology, biostatistics, health administration and policy, and health behavior. Building upon the statistical focus, most programs will have additional courses that cover research methods or applied linear modeling.

One perspective on comparing the MPH to the MHA is that the MPH is focused on the macro-scale, and the MHA on the micro-scale, with both degrees focused on the overarching goal of improving healthcare delivery in some fashion.

It helps to consider the term public health”—it is, quite literally, the health of the public. If you pursue the MPH, then you want to positively impact public health in some way. There are two primary avenues one can take after receiving the MPH degree, which are surprisingly different despite overlap. Both approach the goal of meaningful change within public health sphere, but from different avenues.

The first avenue is that of public policy development and dissemination. As many of us saw during the pandemic, there is quite the need for more trained contributors in public health policy for handling communication about how people can make the best decisions for their health states.

But those in the healthcare policy field don’t only contribute during a pandemic; public health covers all health issues impacting the public, which includes both chronic and acute diseases. It may be health issues impacted by personal choice, or by environmental causes. It may be about access to available programs that can help improve one’s health state. It may be about how research is conducted on subjects, exploring the nuances of ethical care. Generally, these are government roles, but not always.

Healthcare systems, teaching hospitals, and community programs also frequently employ individuals in similar roles to support the development and dissemination of effective messaging or manage medical research, among other activities. Two particularly desirable roles in this pathway would be a Health and Safety Engineer for a private company, or a Public Policy Analyst working for the government.

The second avenue is a research role, designing and running or overseeing studies centered around some aspect of healthcare. Many physicians within academic institutions hold this degree in addition to their medical degree because it helps improve skills necessary in obtaining funding for projects, in running successful studies, and being able to clearly disseminate research findings and understand their relevance within the larger picture.

Remember that healthcare research is not limited to physicians for leadership roles. Many biostatisticians hold this degree as well. Their role is critical in the study data analysis, and they are frequently a co-author of the research manuscripts and abstracts for which they perform these analyses. Biostatistician salaries can be generous, making this an especially coveted role found within this pathway.

Careers for a Graduate with a Master of Business Administration (MBA)

The MBA is the most relatively generalized of the three degrees explored here, but as the healthcare field becomes increasingly complicated from new technology and changing attitudes about care, the generalized applicability is becoming increasingly valuable for many roles.

The healthcare sector is in many ways becoming more like a traditional market governed by the forces of consumer demand, which is quite different from the healthcare sector of the past. While the pandemic expedited this change, it was not necessarily the cause behind the shift. Many of the forces behind this transformation were well underway before the onset of the pandemic—telemedicine, care management programs, and more portable health insurance are all innovations that have existed for some time now. But the pace of their growth has now exploded in a way never previously seen in history.

MBA programs are increasingly offering a healthcare specialization, which entails completing three to five healthcare-specific courses as part of the degree. Some argue that this only has relevance to those without any previous healthcare experience and that the added benefit for those with multiple years under their belt is minimal.

Indeed, the MHA degree offers far more robust information specific to healthcare operations. That said, the MBA degree offers terrific flexibility upon its award, particularly considering the huge number of medical start-ups that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic, and the very consumer-focused approach to care provision that patients are increasingly coming to expect.

An MBA can be quite complementary to help bring different perspectives to the table, which can lead to more effective problem-solving, and ultimately help improve a sector that has not historically been known for its great efficiencies.

One of the coveted positions sought after receiving an MBA degree for workers in the healthcare sector would be Director of Innovation or Director of Telehealth Programs. These roles benefit from outside-of-the-box thinking to overcome some of the traditional inefficiencies of care provision, while still working within the constraints of a larger healthcare system.

It should be emphasized, however, that these roles are very hard to land without experience in the healthcare field to go along with the MBA degree, regardless of whether the MBA had a healthcare specialization or not.

Conclusion: Entry-Level Careers for Those with Advanced Healthcare Degrees

One way to expand your scope of experience in your current role is to look for opportunities involving collaboration with two or more specializations in the sector.

Another approach is to ensure you are actively looking for trustworthy mentors. Your supervisor should not be your mentor, but they can be a resource for support and ideas. Depending on the nature of your role and the length of your experience, you may find asking your supervisor about opportunities for involvement with special projects to be successful—just make sure that you aren’t doing them at the expense of your core responsibilities. This can be trickier in roles that are hourly and not salary compensation, but still possible, and still very valuable to pursue.

Regardless of which of the three degrees you choose to pursue, and which of the roles you personally most strongly desire, obtaining an advanced degree can open new doors for you in your healthcare journey one way or another.

Elizabeth Bradford Kneeland, MBA
Elizabeth Bradford Kneeland, MBA

Elizabeth Kneeland is a writer and entrepreneur living in Philadelphia. As a small business owner, she spends much of her time creating content, researching markets, and refining financial models. Her career has straddled novel operational and financial modeling, and traditional academic research within the healthcare sector, providing her with a unique perspective on programmatic development. She built the first for-profit telemedicine program for the University of Pennsylvania Health System in 2015. She also has helped build and scale sleep medicine startups in the U.S., China, and Taiwan.

Kneeland has co-authored publications in peer-reviewed journals on topics ranging from device validation to clinician-level educational interventions and has been an invited speaker at medical conferences throughout the U.S., China, and Taiwan. She has most recently contributed to discussions on healthcare technology as a research analyst focused on analytics, real-world data, and patient privacy legislation.

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