Home Master of Public Administration (MPA) with a Focus in Healthcare Management

Master of Public Administration (MPA) with a Focus in Healthcare Management

Much more than a crisis of healthcare service delivery, the COVID-19 pandemic in America was a crisis of public administration.

From the beginning, scientists and healthcare professionals were on-point in their diagnoses and estimations. A comprehensive pandemic response plan had long been in place at the Centers for Disease Control, one of the premiere public health agencies in the world. The disease surveillance system in place in the country was second to none. The laboratory facilities and the experts in place to analyze results from those labs worked quickly and with remarkable accuracy under pressure.

Yet the nation fell quickly into one of the worst hospitalization and death rates in the world. Public administrators consistently failed in messaging, were late in enacting protective measures, and squandered opportunities to put the scientific findings to good use. Public trust in public health services plummeted. Only a month in to the pandemic, surveys measuring confidence in the government response plummeted by 16 percentage points according to Gallup. Several months in, only around a third of Americans believed that the CDC had communicated a clear plan of action, and less than half believed the agency would be able to successfully manage the challenge.

As public healthcare administration rebuilds from the depths of the crisis, there’s not only room but also a strong demand for highly capable, ethical administrators who won’t let a disaster like COVID-19 happen on their watch again. And that means graduates with MPA degrees with a focus in health care management are going to be at a premium in government agencies and major healthcare organizations for decades to come.

What Is an MPA in Health Care Management?

The Master of Public Administration has become an interdisciplinary degree by default as the public sector has taken on more and more responsibilities in more and more fields of expertise. The defining thread in the degree is a focus on executive organization and management.

Although an MPA with a health care management concentration will retain that focus on organizational development and the broad perspective of interdisciplinary studies, it will also give you an extra ration of the specialized knowledge and skills required in health care administration.

Because many MPA graduates can expect to land in public service positions, there’s a broad overlap with public and population health studies.

MPA degrees resemble other types of managerial master’s degree programs like the MBA (Master of Business Administration) and MHA (Master of Healthcare Administration) in that they spend a lot of time digging into the nuts-and-bolts details of operating and overseeing large-scale efforts that require coordinating many people, outside organizations, and resources toward a larger goal.

So you will have a lot of coursework that doesn’t look much different from any kind of administration degree, including:

  • Organizational Theory and Management – The mysteries of why some organizations are effective and well-run and accomplish their goals, while others seem to spend all of their time, money, and energy spinning in place, are really no mystery at all to your professors. Organizational and management theory helps you understand the mechanics of building an effective organization and keeping it on the rails, and you can expect most of your classes in this type of program to expound on that theory.
  • Finance and Budgeting – Staring at spreadsheets is a time-honored tradition of administrators in every field. You will always face resource constraints, and one of the primary responsibilities of managers is to understand the financial aspects of their decisions and to put that understanding into action through realistic and carefully-tracked budgets.
  • Research and Quantitative Analysis – Decisions that you make on public policies and programs will all be informed by data on health and healthcare trends as well as public opinion. In order to make the best use of that information, you’ll learn about how statistical and scientific research efforts are conducted, and how to use quantitative analysis to develop insights that will make you a better manager and decision-maker.

But then you’ll get the detailed scoop on the elements that truly make public administration a different sort of expertise:

  • Political and Policy Analysis – One of the key differences between public administration and private healthcare administration is that public healthcare policy is driven by public funding and political willpower. If you don’t understand the mechanisms and trends behind these realities of governance, you can’t operate effectively in any major public health agency or program. You’ll learn about the history behind public health policy and how to influence and work within the sort of political constraints that come with the job.
  • Macro- and Microeconomics – The economic factors behind both healthcare and public funding and costs are critical constraints for administrators. Understanding the larger economic landscape that you will be working within will help you deliver effective, affordable programs, while studying the micro-economic factors that drive the decisions of everyday citizens will give you the kind of insights you will use to meet their needs.
  • Law and Regulatory Procedures – All healthcare professionals have to be concerned with the vast legal and regulatory system that governs health services in the United States. Public administrators, however, not only have to take responsibility for following the laws, but also in many cases for executing and enforcing them. You’ll learn about the legal framework behind the healthcare system as well as the different roles that public administrators play in developing and maintaining that system.
  • Public Program Evaluation – The administration of public health programs can be vast in scope; according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of 2019 the Medicaid public health insurance program covered 1 out of every 5 Americans, more than 63 million people nationwide, with expenditures of nearly $600 billion. Tracking how such major efforts are unfolding, and how effective they are, is a key piece of meeting your responsibilities to the American taxpayer. You’ll learn about the metrics that can be used to measure the effectiveness of such programs in terms of both public benefits and potential alternatives.
  • Internship or Practicum Placement – Somewhere along the way, you’ll probably take part in an internship placement with a public agency, working on real-world projects and concerns and under the supervision of experienced public administrators who can help you polish up your classroom knowledge with a dash of reality.

Health Care Management Concentration Courses in an MPA Program

On top of those core classes in the essentials of administration, your healthcare management concentration will add others that introduce you to the specifics of managing an organization with significant healthcare responsibilities. Those courses will include:

  • Overview of the American Healthcare System – The complexities of American medical care, insurance coverage, public health monitoring, and regulatory compliance shape every aspect of how companies and agencies interact with one another and with patients. You’ll get a broad perspective on how this system operates, how it came to be, and how it continues to evolve, with critical investigations of the current hot spots and issues.
  • Ethical and Legal Issues in Healthcare – While public service and public administration studies always involve strong ethical considerations, healthcare has more specific and more complex issues that require additional training and education. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, many administrators were faced with difficult choices over their allocation of PPE to staff and the conflicts between protecting healthcare workers and the standard duty of care to patients. Having to make those decisions on the fly is difficult enough, but being prepared by extensive ethical studies can at least prepare you to face the questions fully informed.
  • Epidemiology – Public administration almost always means a concern with public and population health concerns, which means that a strong understanding of the principles and practices of epidemiology are important. You’ll learn about the role of epidemiological surveillance, the management of public health programs, and the use of big data in detecting and correcting disease outbreaks and other population-level health threats.

You’ll also find a variety of courses that echo the core MPA curriculum, but offer a more healthcare-oriented perspective on the same subjects:

  • Health care policies and economics
  • Strategic planning and program evaluation in healthcare
  • Healthcare administration

Capstone Projects are Replacing the Traditional Master’s Thesis in MPA Programs

While a written thesis was long considered the standard culminating effort of a master’s-level degree program, many MPA programs have made that paper optional or set it aside entirely in favor of a capstone project. This is because the MPA is fundamentally an applied degree so a project that gives you a chance to come up practical solutions instead of purely theoretical ones better aligns with how you’ll actually be using your skills after graduation.

This project is where you tie together all the various aspects of the education you have received in a real-world scenario that gives you the opportunity to work with outside agencies. The idea is to give you a chance to really test your mettle by applying a workable solution to a real world public administration problem even before you graduate.

These projects are typically done independently and sometimes as part of a team effort with classmates, but always under the general guidance of a supervising professor. In the end, you’ll often be expected to present your problem/solution to a panel of professors, but unlike a thesis you won’t have to defend it through a lengthy revision process.

What is the Difference Between a Master of Healthcare Administration and an MPA With Health Care Management Concentration?

you are getting so many courses in management and healthcare topics anyway, you may be wondering what exactly the difference is between getting an MPA with a healthcare administration concentration and just going for a Master of Healthcare Administration degree.

The difference between the MPA and MHA in this case is one of destination; an MHA will be the more appropriate degree for a healthcare professional seeking a position working in a large hospital or managed health company, or an insurer or medical device manufacturer… An MPA, on the other hand, provides an education aimed squarely at positions with non-profit organizations, in government, or other institutions that might also operate with healthcare interests.

Examples could include:

  • Director of Public Health Programs
  • Public Services Specialist
  • Healthcare Manager
  • Regional Medical Director
  • Regulatory Affairs Manager

With the core public management training in the MPA, you will be considered well-prepared for taking on leadership and managerial roles in those organizations, while the healthcare concentration gives you specialized training in the unique aspects of healthcare operations, such as regulation, reimbursement, policy, and public health concerns.

The Importance of Specialty Accreditation for MPA Degrees

All reputable American colleges and universities hold a general accreditation from one of the major regional accrediting agencies that have been approved by the Department of Education to evaluate all things related to higher education. It’s such a common standard that most students don’t give it a thought when selecting their school.

But when you are planning to earn a degree in a highly specialized field like public administration, you do need to take a second look at your choices. That’s because, especially at the master’s level, a specialty accreditation that looks specially at the program and not just the institution can make all the difference in how your degree is perceived by potential employers and your peers… not to mention offering you the assurance you need that you are getting the kind of education you are paying for.

The primary organization the DOE recognizes as an accreditor of public administration degrees specifically is the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). By evaluating each prospective program against seven quality standards, they set the benchmark for public administration education in every element from strategic planning and assessment to diversity and inclusiveness.

Because you are looking at a key sub-specialization, it may also be worth your time to check and see if the program has an accreditation from Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). CAHME primarily accredits MHA degree programs, but there are a few MPA degrees that have earned the distinction of becoming CAHME-accredited. While it may not be your primary consideration, picking a program that has achieved this dual-accreditation status will definitely ensure that you are getting the finest education in both healthcare administration and public administration.

Application Requirements for MPA Program Admissions

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), as of 2020 there were approximately 3.1 million students enrolled in graduate programs of all types. At the same time, only about 833,000 master’s degrees are projected to be awarded.

Looking to reverse this trend, colleges like to invest their time and energy into students who are likely to both complete the program and succeed in their profession, so the bar for entry is set high and many top quality master’s degree programs can be very competitive when it comes to admissions.

Most admissions committees look primarily at three areas of achievement, with varying standards and requirements:

  • Past performance: You’ll have to submit your past transcripts and meet certain minimum GPA standards at the baccalaureate level. Most MPA programs also want to see a history of work experience or volunteer work that lines up with public service.
  • Future promise: Most programs will require that you take either the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) and meet certain minimum scores. You are also likely to need letters of recommendation from former supervisors or educators assessing your academic and vocational performance.
  • Commitment to goals: You will often be asked to submit an essay, or go through an interview process, that describes your personal reasons for receiving an advanced education in public administration, while laying out your career goals and how you intend to use the degree if accepted.

What are the Costs of an MPA in Healthcare Administration?

In 2017, the most recent year for which analysis was available, the NCES pegged the cost of a graduate degree at $11,097 per year at a public institution, and $22,913 at a private university.

Master’s programs in public administration typically take two years of study, so at a minimum, you are looking at more than $20,000 in tuition alone. That’s before factoring in all the other inevitable costs for materials, fees, housing, and transportation.

And MPA degrees may clock in at considerably more than the median numbers offered by NCES. The range of in-state tuition for MPA degrees that are CAHME-accredited runs between $63,824 and $88,647. Those are, of course, some of the most elite programs in the nation, but you will get the education you pay for, and public administration degrees are in high demand.

Should You Consider an Online MPA Degree?

One way to reduce your costs may be to consider taking an online MPA degree program. In fact, you might choose this option for a lot of reasons that don’t have anything to do with cost.

While it’s true that online programs can be cheaper, because they don’t need to invest in the kind of classroom space and other resources that traditional programs require, they offer many other benefits to working graduate students already established in their careers.

For one thing, you don’t have to relocate to attend the program of your dreams. You have a much wider selection of options if you can attend from home, and you also avoid the expense and trouble of relocating for two years to complete the program.

For another, if you are hoping to keep your current job or maintain your family commitments, asynchronous online classes allow you to shift your studies to any hour of the day or night. You can wait until you tuck the kids into bed and get the dishes done before reading up on the latest literature on public administration options for dealing with the anti-vaccination movement.

Some online programs still contain some traditional classes, often grouped together in an intensive week or weekend immersion option once per year or semester. These give you the best of both worlds, putting you face-to-face with fellow students and instructors, while still offering you most of the flexibility of online-only courses.

Job Prospects for MPA in Healthcare Management Graduates

Although the recent pandemic has grabbed all the headlines, healthcare administrators have far more varied roles in public service than just overseeing pandemic responses. You’ll find public administration positions that are well-suited to anyone with a healthcare management concentration in big federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. State and local governments have similar roles, overseeing everything from school vaccination programs to running social services agencies to auditing billing records in local hospitals and clinics. After Hurricane Harvey, admins with the VA took in mobile units to the affected areas to run popup clinicsfor vets in the disaster area. MPA graduates can think on their feet and get to the heart of priorities in any kind of healthcare scenario.

Although the public administration aspect of the degree is often emphasized, the fact is that administrative expertise is useful and welcome in all types of healthcare organizations. That opens up a broad swath of jobs to MPA graduates in traditional healthcare management roles as well.

Demand is strong for just about any sort of position that involves healthcare. The industry as a whole is poised to grow at an annual rate of at least 5 percent per year through 2023 according to consulting firm Deloitte. And governments building their way back out of the pandemic crisis are likely to need fresh new waves of well-trained public administrators to put together programs to handle the next threat.

Salary Levels for MPA Healthcare Management Graduates

Demand isn’t quite the same as salary, however, particularly not in the governmental jobs where MPA graduates typically land. Salary levels are rigorously set and typically reflect time-in-service and job title. Although benefits tend to be excellent, with terrific health insurance and pension plans, salaries for government jobs are almost always lower than a corresponding position in the private sector will be. On the other hand, your responsibilities and ability to affect the lives of millions will be much higher… job satisfaction has to be considered part of your compensation.

With many public administration positions being at federal agencies, it’s going to be worth your while to understand the General Schedule—a pay scale that governs almost every compensation arrangement throughout federal civil service positions.

The GS has 15 different grades with 10 steps apiece. Every federal job, at every agency, will have a grade assigned to it. Regardless of your education, experience, or talent, you’ll be getting paid somewhere in that grade band.

The steps within that band are where the individual differences can come in. With a master’s degree, your minimum level will be a GS-9. For 2020, that means a Step 1 salary level of $45,627. But at Step 10, a GS-9 can make $59,316… which you may well be offered with the right qualifications.

If that sounds a little low for your corner of the world, don’t despair; the feds recognize that the cost of living in different regions can eat into your salary, so you can get as much as a 40 percent bump based on the job location. Some typical adjustments across the country are:

  • New York : 31.2%
  • Los Angeles : 29.65%
  • Chicago : 26.85%
  • Dallas : 22.61%
  • Miami : 22.13%
  • Saint Louis : 15.83%
  • Atlanta : 20.7%
  • Seattle : 24.24%

State and local administrators will have similar salary schedules set by their localities, but they can vary considerably by agency and area. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) data from 2020 showed that the average salary for administrative service managers at the local level was $97,910 and $92,370 for state government. Non-profit organizations fell into a similar range.

Private sector compensation is considerably higher. According to the 2019 Modern Healthcare survey of healthcare management professionals published by Crain’s, compensation in general rose by more than 6 percent year-over-year from 2018. And salaries for executives working in roles that call for an MPA all ranged into six figures:

  • Population Health Manager – $403,300
  • Planning executive – $294,200
  • Government relations executive – $266,700
  • Compliance officer – $270,100

Resources For Careers in Public Health Administration for MPA Graduates

The work of public administrators is never isolated. It’s a field where building coalitions and consensus is never-ending, and you won’t accomplish much if you don’t spend time reaching out to other individuals and organizations in the industry to stay in touch with the latest policies and trends. They’ll help you through the rough spots in your own areas of responsibility just as you will from time to time be able to help them in theirs.

So it pays to get involved with industry organizations and to get to know your resources early on in your MPA

  • Association for Healthcare Administrative ProfessionalsDedicated to the professionals who support the nation’s top healthcare leaders, this organization provides leadership opportunities through work on committees and groups in order to strengthen the delivery of healthcare.
  • American Association of Healthcare Administrative ManagementAAHAM represents a broad base of healthcare professionals, providing information, education, and advocacy in the fields of reimbursement, admitting and registration, data management, medical records, patient relations, and so on.
  • American College of Healthcare ExecutivesThis international organization of executive healthcare leaders advances professionalism and expertise in the field of healthcare management. Members receive the latest research and education and receive policy updates at the annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership.
  • American Society for Public AdministrationThrough education, networking, and publications, this organization aims to advance excellence in public service. With chapters all over the country, ASPA members are drawing from the ranks of city managers, elected officials, researchers, scholars, and nonprofit managers for a broad perspective on American civil service.
  • The National Association of Healthcare Access ManagementThis organization provides educational programming and networking opportunities for healthcare professionals involved with the management of patient access services like scheduling, registration, insurance processing, and other patient-facing assistance.
  • National Academy of Public Administration: For 50 years, NAPA has been working to make government effective for all citizens. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit, congressionally-chartered association, NAPA works to help government leaders solve their most critical management challenges in an equitable, efficient, effective way.
  • American Public Health Association: APHA serves to advance the health and wellness interests of all people and communities in the country. With 150-years of policy and advocacy and a broad base of membership, you can find a deep well of public health resource to draw on here.
  • American College of Epidemiology:  ACE sponsors scientific meetings, publications, and educational activities designed to improve on and recognize the contributions of individual and teams of epidemiologists in the field. Their dedicate to disseminating new information in epidemiology will help you stay at the cutting-edge of new developments.

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