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

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A master of health administration (MHA) can set a graduate apart from the healthcare employee 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. These professionals are responsible for all aspects of the healthcare industry, including 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 operations role. Even those with experience purely in clinical roles can transition over to one with leadership capabilities.

With an MHA, students learn a variety of essential skills such as how to efficiently collect, maintain, and analyze data. They 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 health 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.

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.

Differences between an MHA, MBA, and MPH

When on a path toward healthcare management, three big degrees will often come into a healthcare professional’s radar: the master of health administration (MHA), the master of business administration (MBA), and the master of public health (MPH). Although each can lead to some of the same positions in healthcare leadership, there are distinctive differences.

Future managers consider MBA in healthcare programs as management degrees with a healthcare focus. 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. MBA candidates can also choose to specialize in specific fields, sectors, or concentrations like healthcare, which add about two or three elective courses to the core curriculum.

Future healthcare leaders can think of a master of public health (MPH) degree as a healthcare research degree with a sprinkling of management. Because the MPH has a focus on population health, MPH students study things like epidemiology, environmental health, public health biology, health policy and ethics, statistics, medical ethics, global health, and disease prevention. Leadership coursework, if included, often focuses on capacity to manage scientific research and influence public policy.

An MHA is a leadership degree tailored to create professionals qualified to meet the specific needs, opportunities, and administrative challenges of the healthcare industry. Courses cover topics like finance, accounting, policy, law, management, and marketing. Like an MBA, an MHA program uses real-life examples, case studies, projects, presentations, tests, and instruction materials. Like an MPH, the MHA degree focuses specifically on examples that are related to and impact healthcare.

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 average annual pay for medical and health services managers was $115,160, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019).

According to the BLS (2019), opportunities for medical and health services managers are expected to grow 18 percent nationally between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations (5 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. Even with decades of experience in the healthcare field, it can be difficult to progress further in the industry without a master’s degree.

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 and competitive business, it takes a confident and decisive individual 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.

An executive MHA is a highly competitive environment where students learn 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

On-Campus, Online, and Hybrid MHA Programs

With the growing number of MHA programs available, students have a range of options to choose from in terms of how their education is delivered.

Students who thrive in a traditional classroom setting can choose on-campus programs. Busy professionals who need more schedule flexibility, cannot stop working for school, or for those who can’t relocate for an MHA program may want to consider an online program. Students seeking the flexibility of an online program with the networking opportunities of an on-campus program may find themselves at home in a hybrid program. Here are a few examples of programs offered on-campus, online, or in hybrid formats.

University of Cincinnati – Online MHA

The University of Cincinnati offers a 100 percent online master of health administration designed to train busy working professionals to become the next generation of executive healthcare leaders. This 40-credit-hour program is delivered asynchronously, does not require any prior work experience, can be completed as a part time program, and also does not require GMAT or GRE scores for entrance.

Coursework in the program includes global health systems, evidence-based decision making for managers, emerging issues in health systems management, and total quality management.

University of Southern California – Hybrid MHA

The University of South California (USC) offers a hybrid online/on-campus executive master of health administration for seasoned clinical professionals with a minimum of five years experience at the mid- to senior-level who wish to lead within the global healthcare industry.

The course content of USC’s 36-credit-hour program is delivered online, and coursework includes leading people and health care organizations, managing the organization’s financial health, operations management accountability, and quality care concepts. The on-campus part of USC’s program includes two five-day on-campus residencies where students will discuss the future of healthcare industry, life in the C-suite, current and future trends, and the evolution of healthcare leadership.

University of Minnesota – On-Campus MHA

Since 1964, The University of Minnesota School of Public Health has offered a top-ranking full time master of healthcare administration (MHA) that fully integrates business acumen with the complexity of the needs of health care delivery. This full-time, 60-credit, 21-month program is accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). It is delivered in a cohort-model, and requires students to complete a hands-on summer residency with a healthcare organization.

Coursework in the program includes managerial accounting for health services, innovation of healthcare services, and healthcare management ethics, among other classes.

Becca Brewer
Becca Brewer
Writer

Becca Brewer is the co-founder of Limitless: An Adventure to Build a Better Future on a Thriving Earth. Limitless exists to inspire people to join the millions across our planet who are already taking small and mighty steps to heal our earth in their everyday lives. To move people into action, Becca and her travel partner, Léandre Deryckere, share the life stories of earth healers, take photographs of our thriving earth, and impart what they learn as they develop environmental projects within the principles of gift economy as they travel the planet without motorized vehicles. You can follow the adventure on Instagram at @LimitlessEcoAdventure and join the project at Limitless.Eco. In her life before Limitless, Becca earned a master of education in human sexuality, where she connected with other graduate students earning dual degrees in social work, counseling, and sex therapy.

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