Master’s in Health Administration Degree Programs
Think about the hustle and bustle in the average doctor’s office. Phones ring constantly. The paperwork seems endless. And no matter how quickly staff works, there’s always another patient to see.
Now scale that activity up to a hospital, a pharmaceutical company, or a regional multi-wing medical center with a nationally-recognized cancer treatment department. With a Master’s in Health Administration (MHA), you can be the glue that holds it all together.
Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics say that through 2031, there could be around 56,600 new health services management positions open every year. But considering the median income for those positions is reported to be just over $101,000 annually, it’s likely to be a competitive job market. If you’re interested in getting ahead in that race, read on to learn what you can do with an MHA, how to earn one, and how to pick out a degree program tailored to you.
What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration?
People with Master’s degrees in healthcare administration (MHAs) often hold high-level management positions within their organizations. However, each type of organization comes with different responsibilities based on the staff they employ, the populations they serve, and the services they provide. Here are just a few directions you can take with an MHA.
Along with care-based departments (the ER, neonatal unit, cardiology, etc.), hospitals also contain a number of internal departments vital to their day-to-day functions. This includes teams of professionals dedicated to:
- Research and grants
- Legal matters
- HIPAA compliance
- Records management
- Human Resources
- Insurance coding
With their blend of medical and business knowledge, people with MHAs often oversee one or more of these teams in a hospital. However, hospital administrators also serve on Boards of Directors or hold other executive-level positions.
Long-term Care Administration
Nursing homes, assisted living communities, and many other types of senior care facilities are often referred to as long-term care (LTC) facilities. LTC and nursing home administrators foster coordination between different departments and handle administrative affairs like budgeting, hiring, and safety regulation compliance.
Corporate Health Program Administration (Wellness Program Administration)
Along with providing insurance, many employers have developed their employee wellness programs based on their employees’ health needs. Administrators in this context might gather information about the workforce, gather resources based on their needs, and find creative ways to bolster employee engagement. According to the CDC, 91.8% of corporations with over 500 employees maintain wellness programs.
Though their focus is narrow, pharmaceutical companies can be just as complex as any healthcare community. There are grants to pursue, FDA regulations to adhere to, and years and years of research and development to manage ethically. On top of that, pharmaceutical administrators must also keep an eye on supply chains and market needs.
State and Federal Government Administration
America’s health infrastructure is overseen by a vast network of regulatory agencies: the CDC, FDA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and multiple regulatory bodies in every state. Public health administrators help these organizations carry out any number of tasks including disease prevention, licensing, research, and regulation enforcement.
Medical Equipment Manufacturing
Medical equipment administrators oversee how medical equipment is designed and manufactured, work with healthcare facilities on their equipment needs, and ensure patient safety through company technologies.
Health Policy and Advocacy
Though health policy administrators often work with legislators to draft patient-centered health laws, they also help private healthcare providers and non-profit agencies create policies that serve their populations best. This might include overseeing research teams, organizing community health initiatives, and lobbying for more accessible healthcare for the country’s vulnerable populations.
As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, health crises respect no borders. International development administrators work with governments and private medical companies to bring groundbreaking medical research to every corner of the planet. Sometimes, they work with organizations like the Red Cross to bring medical services much of the world takes for granted to places where they’re needed most.
Find your calling and explore more career paths in health administration.
How to Get a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration
Because a master’s degree can lead straight to a specific career path, it’s important that your first step be to choose the right program for you. Most programs have a slate of core courses required by all students, with the option of additional specialty tracks, concentrations, or specific pathways.
Programs typically take two years to complete with a full course load, but many now provide the option of extra flexibility in the form of part-time coursework. Programs often require an internship and/or capstone project to demonstrate your cumulative learning upon completing the coursework.
How to Choose a Master’s Degree Program
A Master’s in Healthcare Administration is an investment of time, money, and effort. To get the most out of that investment, you’ll want to consider how each program meets your immediate needs and supports your long-term professional goals.
When deciding between MHA programs, follow these tips to narrow your search:
- Look into accreditation. In the highly-regulated field healthcare administration, earning a degree from an accredited institution can tell employers that your education is consistent with industry standards. Two of the main MHA accrediting agencies in the US are the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) and the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA).
- Consider specialty or concentration offerings. Some MHA programs let students pick an area of emphasis. These can include medical records management, public health, human resource management, or nursing home administration. Not all students will choose a concentration, but if you have defined career plans, it may prove beneficial.
- Investigate tuition fees and financial aid Financial aid can come from a number of sources: private and federal loans and grants, school-specific aid programs, and even employer-sponsored reimbursement programs. Utilizing a combination of these resources may put an MHA well within your budget.
- Explore connections to specific healthcare institutions. Some MHA programs work directly with local healthcare systems to foster internship opportunities, fund research, and create career pipelines for graduating students. These relationships may give you some unique educational and potential job opportunities.
Online Master’s Programs
With the growth of online learning, more accredited schools offer online Master’s in Health Administration programs than ever before. While this makes advanced degrees more accessible, it raises an important question: what are the advantages and disadvantages of online vs. in-person programs?
Advantages of online Master’s programs:
- Flexible pace and timeline. Many online MHA programs let students earn their degrees on a full-time or part-time basis. And even though there may be some live virtual classes, there may also be a handful of asynchronous lectures students can watch on their own time. For working students, this flexibility can make career advancement a real possibility.
- No geographic constraints. Even though many MHA programs have similar classes, some offer specialties that aren’t widely available. With online courses, students interested in these areas don’t have to relocate to get a career-relevant education.
- Fewer costs. Online degree programs don’t often come with the on-campus living, commuting, and relocation expenditures associated with in-person programs. This can keep an MHA well within your budget.
- You can keep working while you go to school. Working while earning an MHA can cut down on loan costs, but it has another advantage, as well. Students already working in healthcare can take their lessons and apply them to their careers quickly. In some cases, this might lead to earning credit hours towards graduation.
Disadvantages of online Master’s programs:
- There may be fewer opportunities for one-on-one instructor time or networking.
- Online students often need well-developed time management skills to balance courses with work and family obligations.
Many institutions are overcoming the drawbacks of online schooling through hybrid programming. This means some classes can be completed online and others are in-person. For some programs, students only have to be on campus for a few specialty sessions that might include networking events or lectures from industry leaders.
After picking out a few online and in-person MHA programs, it’s time to investigate admission requirements. These will vary between programs, but most grad schools look at similar criteria.
Common Master’s in Health Administration program admission requirements include:
- Having a bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 GPA. While admission boards may like to see applicants with healthcare-related undergrad degrees, having a specific degree isn’t often required. Likewise, GPA requirements vary frequently.
- GRE and GMAT scores. Not all programs require GRE or GMAT scores, especially if the applicant has a high undergrad GPA.
- Letters of recommendation. Typically, MHA applications ask for two letters of recommendation. These might come from professors or employers and should speak to your ability to earn an MHA on a professional and academic level.
- A resume or CV. If you have any healthcare-related work or internship experience, a resume or CV could help your application. This may be especially true for Executive MHA programs catering to working healthcare professionals.
- A statement of purpose. A statement of purpose tells the admission board what your academic and professional interests are, why you’re pursuing an MHA at their institution, and how you will add value to their program. Basically, a statement of purpose outlines why the program should accept you.
Types of Courses You Will Take
Specific classes vary between MHA programs, but accrediting institutions like CAHME typically enforce core curriculum guidelines to ensure consistency in the field. This helps healthcare organizations identify competent administrators and helps students develop a skillset that can be used in any number of roles.
Core classes commonly offered by Master’s Health Administration programs might cover:
- Laws and ethics. Everything in healthcare from research practices to information management is regulated. Administrators need to have a strong understanding of these laws and why they’re in place.
- Organizational theory, behavior, and leadership. No matter their specific role, administrators need to know how to motivate and communicate with others in their organization. Doing this in a healthcare setting is vital to maintaining a consistently high level of patient care.
- Health finance. Healthcare financial management goes beyond profits and expenditures. Funds from insurance companies, federal research grants, and private donors must all be handled appropriately. Similarly, non-profits, private hospitals, and other types of medical organizations have different financial laws to observe.
- Healthcare data management and analysis (Informatics). The World Economic Forum estimates that hospitals manage 50 petrabytes (1 million gigabytes) of data every year. Even though they aren’t frontline medical professionals, administrators often use this data to guide policy and disperse budgets.
- Risk management. Along with mitigating legal risks, health administration professionals often draft policies and procedures that prevent and expose risks to patient and employee health.
- Capstone projects. A capstone project is a practical application of one’s MHA knowledge. This might include helping a healthcare community devise new marketing campaigns, training procedures, or patient care monitoring programs.
- Thesis papers. Instead of completing a capstone project, some MHA programs require students to complete thesis papers (some allow both). In contrast to capstone projects, thesis papers are typically focused on research and theory.
Specialized MHA programs may also include classes on more focused topics like nonprofit management, gerontology, pediatric care, and public health concerns.
Master of Health Administration Versus Master of Business Administration
MHA program curriculum often mirrors that of another popular kind of degree: a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
An MBA is a much more widely-focused degree. Topics in MBA programs typically cover things like accounting, marketing, and IT, but without a specific focus. MHA programs on the other hand often cover the same topics as they directly pertain to healthcare.
That being said, there are healthcare MBA programs available and many people with MBAs work in healthcare. However, an MHA may give you more insights into the day-to-day processes that keep health services running (research, insurance coding, etc.). A healthcare MBA may only cover these topics on a big-picture organizational level.
Much of the decision to pursue an MHA vs. an MBA comes down to your goals. Do you see yourself staying in the healthcare sector? Or would you rather have the flexibility to move between administrative roles in different industries?
Licensure or Certification
Unlike many healthcare positions, most states don’t require healthcare administrators to be licensed with the exception of nursing home administrators (NHAs) who are required to pass a national exam in all 50 states. However, earning professional certifications after earning an NHA can be a great way to expand your career options.
Some of the most popular post-degree certifications for health administrators include:
- Certified Professional in Healthcare Risk Management (CPHRM). Offered by the American Society for Health Care Risk Management, CPHRM credentialing helps administrative professionals learn about the laws and methods behind healthcare risk management.
- Certified Medical Manager (CMM). CMMs have demonstrated their competency in nine domains of medical practice administration including risk, revenue, and data management.
- American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM). This revenue-focused certification is often earned by healthcare professionals who work primarily in financial and insurance departments.
- Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS). As Big Data bleeds more and more into healthcare, information management is becoming an important day-to-day task in every healthcare community. CPHIMS certification demonstrates an advanced knowledge of this domain.
A quick glance at these certifications shows that they reinforce concepts that were most likely learned in an MHA program. However, earning them typically requires passing a rigorous exam. Maintaining them often means taking frequent continuing education courses. So to many employers, administrators with professional licenses can be expected to stay up-to-date on the latest laws, research, methods, and technologies.
Resources for Healthcare Administration Students and Professionals
Whether you’re on the road to earning your master’s in healthcare administration or you’re already in the field, there are many resources available to help you advance in your career and to maximize your work in the program. See our Healthcare Administration Resources page for more information.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for medical and health services managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.
HEALTH ADMINISTRATION SCHOOLS
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia