MHA vs. Master’s in Health Sciences Programs

Pursuing a fulfilling career in healthcare does not necessarily mean becoming a physician, nurse, or clinician. The robust American healthcare system relies on a wide range of skills to fill critical roles, including those in administration. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2016) predicted that more than 70,000 medical and health services manager jobs would be added around the country between 2016 and 2026—a 20 percent explosion in opportunities, which is much more robust that the expected average growth across all occupations during that same period (7 percent).

Healthcare administrators and managers make patient care work possible by coordinating the administrative goals of a facility or a department, improving efficiency, and ensuring that healthcare organizations are successful in their business goals. People who work in healthcare administration can have a variety of titles and levels of responsibility. One of the most popular degree choices for aspiring administrators is the master of healthcare administration (MHA).

Of course, not all aspiring leaders in healthcare want to be administrators. Others prefer to maintain more hands-on responsibilities in a lab by leading research projects, pharmaceutical or medical device trials, advanced disease studies, or other functions. For these more clinically or scientifically oriented leaders and professionals, pursuing a master of health sciences (MHS or MSHS) may be preferable to the MHA, although it’s important to note that the MHS degree offers some education and administrative specializations as well.

Read on to discover what distinguishes these two popular graduate degrees for high-level healthcare professionals.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Master of Health Administration vs. Master of Health Sciences

MHA MHS

Time to Completion

When attending full-time, most students can complete a program in two years. Flexible programs that are designed to be part-time typically take longer to complete. Also, most schools put a cap on the number of years a student can take to complete a program (e.g., five years maximum). Please note that many part-time programs are designed to accommodate working professionals. Similar to the MHA, in most cases, a full-time student can complete a program in two years or less, and a part-time student can expect to take more time up to a maximum (e.g., five years).

Potential Specializations

While specialities exist in MHA programs, they are less common and less diverse, focused largely on administration and management as it relates to the healthcare industry, such as:

  • Data management
  • Executive health policy and management (designed for experienced, working professionals)
  • Financial management
  • Health policy analysis
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Healthcare strategies
  • Management, operations and leadership
  • Population management
  • Senior services
  • Quality of care
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two types of degrees is the variety of specializations available under the health sciences umbrella. Following are just some of the concentrations that are available at the master’s level in the health sciences field. Please note that while the bulk of MHS concentrations are clinical or research-oriented, there are some focused on leadership and education as well:

  • Aging
  • Athletic training
  • Biostatistics
  • Cancer epidemiology
  • Clinical and translational research
  • Clinical microbiology
  • Clinical research administration
  • Demography
  • Dietetics and imaging
  • Disease management
  • Environmental health
  • Executive leadership
  • Generalist
  • Health economics
  • Health professionals education
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Immunology
  • Management and leadership
  • Mental health
  • Microbiology
  • Oncology
  • Public health
  • Regulatory affairs
  • Reproductive biology
  • Social factors in health

Coursework

Coursework in MHA programs is designed around major concepts in healthcare management including course titles such as:

  • Healthcare management
  • Health information systems
  • Legal issues in healthcare delivery
  • Financial accounting for health care organizations
  • Comparative international health systems
  • Epidemiology for healthcare managers revised
  • Healthcare economics
  • Information systems in health services management
  • Medical group management
  • Long-term care administration
  • Management and marketing for healthcare transformation
  • Navigating the regulatory maze

It is important to note that many MHA programs also include a final capstone project in the last semester summarizing key concepts.

Coursework will vary extensively, depending on the specialty a student pursues. Some common course titles (not applicable to all specializations) will include:

  • Public health perspectives on research
  • Biostatistics
  • Research ethics
  • Health informatics
  • Epidemiology
  • Cultural competency in healthcare
  • Psychosocial strategies for the healthcare provider
  • Writing for allied health professionals
  • Epidemiology
  • U.S. health policy

MHS programs may also include a capstone project or clinical practicum. Also, some schools such as Johns Hopkins University offer MHS programs through varied departments, depending on their specialization (e.g., biochemistry and molecular biology, environmental health, clinical investigation, etc).

Tuition

Tuition for MHA programs depends on the institution as well as whether a student chooses to attend an online or on-campus program; online programs tend to cost less. Tuition for MHA programs can range from as little as $3,780 per year to more than $36,000, not including fees and living expenses. The lower range includes state schools that require state residency for the lowest price. Tuition for MHS programs runs slightly higher than MHA programs, although it often depends on the institution as well as whether a student chooses to attend an online or on-campus program.

Tuition for MHS programs can range from as little as $8,000 per year to more than $52,000, not including fees and living expenses. The lower range includes state schools that require state residency for the lowest price.

Career Opportunities

An MHA degree may prepare students to obtain or advance their position in the administrative role in health care. MHA graduates can go on to have jobs such as:

  • Hospital manager
  • Healthcare consultant
  • Health services manager
  • Financial manager

There are also many career settings where an MHA degree can give its holder a significant career boost, including nursing homes, group physician practices, health insurance companies, hospice care facilities, and hospitals.

There are many career opportunities for students with a MHS degree, although specific roles will depend largely on the student’s specialization. Graduates of MHS programs can seek careers in:

  • Cancer research
  • Healthcare management
  • Epidemiology
  • Public health
  • Academia

MHS graduates may also continue their academic focus by pursuing a Ph.D. in their chosen field.

Online Programs

  • The George Washington University
  • Nova Southeastern University
  • Cleveland State University
  • Rutgers The State University of New Jersey School of Health Professions
  • On-Campus Programs