What is an MHA (Master of Healthcare Administration) Degree?

A master of healthcare administration (MHA) can set a graduate apart from the pack, making a person eligible for higher paying jobs with more responsibilities. Potential roles for those with MHAs include health administrator, health service manager, healthcare manager, and even chief executive officer. Professionals in these roles have significant and broad responsibilities that can include the management of facilities, services, budgets, programs, partnerships, and staff.

Those looking to advance their careers in healthcare can benefit from an MHA, especially if they plan to take on an executive or operational role. Even those with experience purely in clinical roles can transition over to one with leadership responsibilities.

With an MHA, students learn a variety of essential skills such as how to efficiently collect, maintain, and analyze data. Those who choose an informatics path (some MHA programs offer an informatics specialization, most require the completion of at least one informatics course) can become highly-trained health informatics specialists, clinical analysts, or clinical informatics managers with the goal of lowering costs, improving patient outcomes, and boosting communication.

MHA programs also teach students how they can make a positive difference in healthcare organizations and patient outcomes. They learn how to approach healthcare administration from patient-centered, policy, and business perspectives, as well as how to make lasting changes in high-quality healthcare for patients.

Many programs are taught by active healthcare administration professionals who supply students with insider knowledge and perspective. Students can prepare for executive-level decision making through the exploration of complex moral and ethical issues, and because they learn the skills necessary to lead healthcare organizations in patient-centered care, they can help manage costs at the same time.

An MHA is sometimes confused with an MBA—a master’s of business administration. An MBA is considered a generalist degree, with programs that are designed to broadly apply to a wide variety of industries and professional contexts. All MBA programs feature a similar core curriculum that addresses fundamental business needs, opportunities, and challenges as leaders. Additionally, MBA candidates can also choose to specialize in specific fields, sectors, or concentrations such as healthcare, human resources, and finance.

An MHA, on the other hand, is a tailored degree that delves more into the specific needs, opportunities, and challenges of the healthcare industry. Courses cover topics like finance, accounting, policy, law, management, and marketing, but all with a focus on healthcare applications. Like an MBA, the program consists of real-life examples, case studies, projects, presentations, tests, and instruction materials; however, in MHA programs, they are specifically healthcare-related rather than general business.

Since healthcare is a heavily regulated field with many practical and professional challenges, an MHA is considered ideal for healthcare professionals seeking advancement into leadership and executive positions.

Students have a variety of options when it comes to earning their MHA. They can choose from an on-campus or online program, or a mixture of the two (i.e., hybrid or blended programs). Some curriculums are accelerated or full-time, while others are part-time. There are also specialization options available in areas such as population management, senior services, data management, and other areas.

Benefits of Earning an MHA

One of the biggest perks of obtaining an MHA is the potential for a higher salary. The median pay for medical and health services managers was $98,350 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017).

Opportunities for medical and health services managers are expected to grow 20 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations (7 percent). This growth is attributed in part to the aging population, which is leading to an increased demand for healthcare services.

Without a doubt, an MHA can help professionals advance in their careers. Sometimes experience alone is not enough. Management roles in healthcare, not to mention executive roles, often require a Master’s.

An MHA can help graduates achieve more responsibility on the job as well, putting them in line for positions that could dictate the future of a healthcare organization. The decisions MHA graduates make in these positions can affect the careers of hundreds of people as well as the lives of thousands of patients. Because healthcare is such a serious business, it takes a well-equipped individual, versed in the nuances of healthcare policy and practice, to run a healthcare organization.

What to Expect from an MHA Program

From accelerated and executive to full- and part-time, there are many avenues students can pursue when considering which MHA program is best for them.

Full-time programs can be completed in as little as one year, while part-time programs—which are ideal for working professionals—can be completed in two or three years and often up to five or six. Accelerated programs are just what their name implies: a fast track to graduation. Topics cover the same curriculum but at a quicker pace, usually within 12 to 18 months, and most require some combination of healthcare experience, a healthcare-specific undergraduate education, and a full-time commitment.

An executive MHA is an environment where students learn, alongside highly experienced peers, to be visionaries in their field, even when faced with a fast and profound change in the following areas: technological advancements, economics, ethical situations, finance, policy, and management. These programs generally require applicants to have several years of leadership experience within healthcare.

In general, MHA programs range from 36 to 64 credits and provide instruction in:

  • Ethics of healthcare
  • Healthcare law
  • Health policy
  • Research methods for the health professions
  • Epidemiology and community health
  • Managed healthcare
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Risk management
  • Healthcare quality management
  • Health services research
  • Financial management of healthcare organizations
  • Healthcare organization
  • Accounting for healthcare organizations
  • Capstone course and/or field experiences

Additionally, some MHA programs offer concentrations, including specialized coursework in:

  • Data management
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health systems management
  • Healthcare strategies
  • Human resources
  • Informatics
  • Health policy and administration
  • Nursing home administration (senior services)
  • Population management

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