Guide to CAHME-Accredited Healthcare Quality and Safety Degree Programs


In short, yes, there are currently four CAHME-certified programs in this field! Before we examine the difference between accredited and certified (as well as the program options), let’s look at why there’s been an explosion of patient care quality and safety degree programs in the U.S.

Although the expansion of the healthcare industry was predicted, it has become the leading career sector in the United States much faster than expected. An article in The Atlantic compares healthcare today to the steel industry of the 20th century. Data shows that the number of healthcare employees in 2017 surpassed both manufacturing and retail, two of the largest employers in previous decades (January 2018).

The Atlantic cites globalization and automation as the two biggest reasons for the decline of manufacturing and retail and points out that healthcare is immune to both factors. This means that the growth of the healthcare industry is only expected to continue. With a rapidly aging population fueling the increasing need for qualified healthcare providers, the demand for knowledgable healthcare leadership professionals will also be needed to ensure that healthcare facilities can provide quality care while maintaining patient safety. Healthcare quality and safety managers ensure that care is delivered efficiently for patients and providers.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have specific data for healthcare quality and safety occupations, it does show data for a related career, that of medical and health services managers. Opportunities in this field are expected to swell 18 percent nationally between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the national average (BLS 2019). Entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree and less than five years of professional experience and the average annual salary for a medical and health services manager is $99,730 (BLS 2019).

CAHME Accreditation vs Certification

How can healthcare quality and safety professionals and the healthcare organizations that hire them assess the quality of educational programs? The answer lies in program accreditation. Since 2014, the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)—the industry standard for healthcare program accreditation—has been working on establishing a process for the accreditation of graduate programs in quality and safety.

A task force of scholars has developed standards and competencies that will lead to the accreditation of graduate programs in this discipline. Currently, CAHME offers program certification as a stepping stone to program accreditation to ensure the highest quality of professional standards. This means that while there are currently no CAHME-accredited programs in healthcare quality and safety, CAHME has identified educational programs in healthcare quality and safety which meet certification standards. There are four CAHME-certified programs in healthcare quality and safety and seven other universities have earned the title of “founding program” through CAHME.

CAHME has certified three online master’s degrees that are focused on providing students with theoretical knowledge and practical experience in healthcare quality and safety. The aim of these programs is to prepare professionals to improve the quality of patient care through optimized organizational efficiency while navigating industry regulations.

Read on to learn more about four CAHME-certified, founding programs in healthcare quality and safety.

Online CAHME-Certified Healthcare Quality and Safety Programs

George Washington University

George Washington University offers an online MS in health sciences in healthcare quality and a graduate certificate in healthcare quality. Listed as one of the founding programs in healthcare quality and certified by CAHME, this 36-credit program aims to empower healthcare professionals to lead developments in healthcare and successfully navigate safety improvement challenges for domestic and international healthcare markets.

Graduates from this program are prepared to lead healthcare management organizations, apply quality improvement processes, and lead research initiatives to improve healthcare quality and patient safety.

GW’s program attracts current healthcare professionals who want to work in leadership roles in healthcare settings. Graduates from this program go on to work as clinical directors, clinical nurse auditors, healthcare managers, quality and safety specialists, quality improvement nurses, and healthcare quality analysts.

Admissions requirements for this program include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally-accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Additionally, a personal statement describing previous healthcare experience, future career goals, and previous collegiate, professional, and community experience increase a candidate’s admissions profile.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • University Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $35,280
  • Program Length: 24 months

Drexel University

One of the founding member institutions of the CAHME, Drexel University offers a fully online master of science in quality, safety, and risk management in healthcare. Students in this program are prepared to become future leaders of healthcare organizations by improving safety and managing risks for patients and staff members. This interdisciplinary program includes virtual simulation experiences in state-of-the-art laboratories, which helps students gain real-world experience through simulated high-stakes professional challenges.

Graduates from this program are able to demonstrate critical thinking skills and use data-driven results to advance health policy issues. Through clinical experience, students learn how to use current healthcare technologies and theoretical practices to evaluate the efficacy of care standards and patient outcomes. Graduates are also prepared to contribute to scholarly research in the field of patient safety through peer-reviewed journal publications. The program is divided over four ten-week quarters, and students can take one to two courses per quarter.

To be considered for admission into this program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university and a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher can waive the letters of recommendation requirement. Previous experience in healthcare is not required but can strengthen an applicant’s chances of admission.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • University Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $997 per credit
  • Program Length: 12 to 36 months

Thomas Jefferson University

Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia offers fully online programs in healthcare quality and safety. With two degree options, a one-year graduate certificate and a two-year master of science, students can choose a program that best matches their career goals and schedules. This CAHME-certified program offers three master’s degree tracks: domestic (for students aiming to work in the United States), international (for students who want to apply fundamentals of healthcare models from other countries), and management (for students focused on combining healthcare quality and safety knowledge with their MBA degrees).

This program attracts professionals from a variety of healthcare roles including: clinical physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, healthcare and health insurance administrators, healthcare risk managers, healthcare information technology specialists, and government healthcare professionals. Reduced tuition rates are available through partnerships with professional organizations such as the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ).

Coursework in this program is focused on preparing graduates to deliver high-value healthcare through leadership skills. A capstone project is required of all graduates, and students receive guidance from faculty mentors during the final stage of the master’s program.

Admissions requirements include a GPA of 3.0 or higher in undergraduate or graduate coursework, competitive standardized test scores near or above the 50th percentile, and a resume that shows professional expertise in the relevant field of healthcare.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • University Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,310 per credit
  • Program Length: 12 to 24 months

University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago offers two fully online programs: a master’s of science in patient safety leadership and a graduate certificate in patient safety, error science, and full-disclosure. The master’s program is certified by CAHME and designed with practical learning tasks for students to apply their knowledge in a variety of patient-safety occupations. The graduate program features a three-day, on-site residency in Chicago to give students experiential learning and networking opportunities.

The master’s degree program is split into four parts: introduction, immersion, application, and contribution. In the first three parts of the program, students take three courses per semester in subjects such as patient safety, error science, communication and collaboration, organizational leadership, and economics and policy. During the final “contribution” part of the program, students are expected to contribute to the academic knowledge base of the field by writing a capstone project with help from faculty mentors.

To gain admission into this master’s program, students must have completed a bachelor’s degree, and some previous graduate coursework is preferred. A cumulative GPA of 2.75 during the last 60 hours of coursework is a minimum requirement for admission. A strong commitment to the field of patient safety is also required; however, previous work experience in healthcare and GMAT or GRE scores are not required for admission.

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • University Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $770 per credit-hour
  • Program Length: 24 months
Rachel Drummond
Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).

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