Home Master of Public Health (MPH) with a Focus in Healthcare Management

Master of Public Health (MPH) with a Focus in Healthcare Management

After COVID-19 started its rampage around the globe, it took some time for public health professionals to come to terms with the failures that allowed the outbreak to circulate with impunity through developed nations with once-revered disease control agencies and specialists.

The failures were not on the part of immunologists, epidemiologists and other officials or boots-on-the-ground public health professionals who managed to predict and prescribe responses to the outbreak at every turn. Instead, it was the political and administrative framework that they operate within that collapsed, resulting in the loss of possibly hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.

The events that started in 2020 put public health administration at a crossroads.

The costs of putting science and data in front of a highly-politicized and increasingly polarized population became clear during the pandemic. CDC infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci faced calls for his beheading from close presidential advisors. Even lowly county health officers weren’t immune from the madness, including the health director for Shasta County in California, received death threats that required police protection, increased patrols in her neighborhood and even led her to fortify her property like some remote outpost in a war zone.

The science of public health, it turned out, wasn’t enough. The delivery, the message, the administration of public health services mattered just as much. And a new generation of public health officials who have expertise in that science, but also in the management of public health services will be key to preventing COVID-19 and other large-scale population threats from decimating the country again.

What is a Master of Public Health with Healthcare Management Specialization?

MPH degrees are traditionally focused on big-picture perspectives on health and wellness and the kinds of methods of detection and intervention that can be used to find threats and alleviate them at the population level.

Although a lot of that work happens from the backend of a microscope and by applying old-fashioned shoe leather to pavement in data collection and surveys, it should also be obvious that none of those basic tasks can be effective without some real large scale organizational know-how. Public health just doesn’t work without effective administrators taking care of all of the daily, mundane details that come along with getting millions of people on the same page and pulling together.

That’s why MPH graduates who also have direct management expertise are so valuable.

You can also find these degrees with titles like:

  • Master of Public Health: Health Planning and Administration Concentration
  • Master of Public Health: Health Systems Concentration
  • Master of Public Health: Health Care Administration Focus
  • Master of Public Health in Policy and Health Care Management
  • Master of Public Health, Public Health Agency Management track

Each of these degrees includes the core education in public health and epidemiological sciences, but offers additional training and an emphasis in management and administrative aspects of the field.

The most intensive parts of your MPH program will revolve around the classic elements of public health training, central to the profession since the modern practice of the field began to emerge in the 19th Century.

Epidemiology and Environmental Consideration – Epidemiologists and disease researchers have been warning for decades that the increasing population encroachment into natural environments created the danger of zoonotic viruses making the jump into humans, a warning that was sadly realized with the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 bat-to-human transmission in late 2019. But epidemiology is also vastly influenced by the environmental factors within human populations, how closely people live, how they interact, what their health and personal support systems look like. Much of the coursework in a public health master’s degree revolves around teaching students to evaluate these considerations as a way to track and analyze epidemics of all types.

Biostatistics and Health Informatics – That analysis is greatly aided in the modern world by the emergence of big data processing and analytics techniques. More than ever before, public health and epidemiology are driven by rapid access to vast sets of data, everything from hospital infection reports to the sales figures of sugary beverages. Public health master’s students have to become comfortable working with that data and understand the implications of how it is collected and used for both privacy concerns and to assist their interpretation of outcomes and risks.

Law and Ethics – Hard choices had to be made by public health officers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including distribution of limited personal protective equipment and what duty of care existed for patients when providers might not be equipped to protect themselves. These are life and death choices that public health officials have to make without time to sit and think them through or to consult other authorities, so a good part of the education in public healthcare concerns the relevant laws and ethical standards to guide decision-making.

Public Health Policy – Public health services are the outcome of public health policies. National, state, and local initiatives all have an impact on the toolbox that is available to any public health officer, and anyone in public health can be expected to offer input and recommendations for policies that will affect the overall health of the population. Courses in MPH programs teach you about the history of public health policy and how modern policies are developed and implemented to help equip you for dealing with policy-making and policy-makers.

In a Hands-On, Applied Field Like Public Health, You Can Expect to Participate in an Internship and Capstone Project

Internship – Most MPH programs offer either optional or mandatory internships. It’s a hands-on field where practical experience is considered the gold standard, so students are expected to roll up their sleeves at some point and take part in ground-level work in the field. These immersive opportunities give you insights into the difficulty and reality of performing public health work when dealing with real-world problems, and allow you to tie in to the larger network of public health professionals before you graduate, expanding the network of close contacts you can rely on when the time comes for you to ask for guidance in your own position.

Capstone Project – A thesis was once considered the standard culminating project that capped off any master’s degree program, but in many practical fields, such as public health, it has either been replaced in favor of a capstone project or otherwise become a secondary option. As the name suggests, the capstone is a culminating project that comes at the tail end of the program and involves synthesizing the entire array of your studies into a single, real-world project that allows you to demonstrate your expertise in the field by focusing on providing a solution to a single issue.

Much like a thesis, it still involves cracking into one of the big issues of the day and applying every bit of knowledge you developed in your program along with some creative thought to design a practical solution that would actually work in the real world. Maybe it’s something as big as the question of how to equitably deliver vaccines to billions of people around the world or as niche as how to deliver effective public health education campaigns to rural communities impacted by the opioid epidemic in the heartland of the U.S. where prescription drugs are more accessible than the internet.

The project could be conducted independently, as part of a team effort with classmates, or even as an extension of your internship while working with an actual public health organization. In all cases, it will give you a chance to see your ideas put into play before you even graduate.

Unlike a thesis, you would not need to defend your contentions and submit to a lengthy revision process to develop a final paper that meets the approval of a panel of professors.

Unique Courses in Healthcare Management Concentrations in MPH Programs

While those courses are common to all MPH graduates, your participation in a healthcare administration concentration means you will have another slate of classes that expand your knowledge in that area as well.

Health Economics – As the world learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are hard choices to be made between public health and economic realities. Understanding the funding mechanisms of the healthcare system and how it ties into the larger economy is an important concept for public health administrators, and one that healthcare management concentrations place a strong focus on.

Health Services Administration – While many public health epidemiologists don’t need to worry about the nuts and bolts of service delivery, administrators do. The concentration will offer coursework that teaches you about the rudimentary mechanics of scheduling, budgets, logistics and supply management, and leadership skills necessary to keep any big project or organization ticking.

Human Resources Management – Staffing is a huge part of major public health responses, particularly when the staff may be vulnerable to the crisis they are handling. Some hospitals in the VA system, for example, scrambled to invite back retired staff for more hands on deck to handle pandemic response. You’ll learn about the issues with hiring, firing, re-hiring, and compensation and regulatory elements involved with clinical and administrative staffing.

Strategic Planning and Marketing – Although it may sound strange to consider marketing as a core skill for public health administrators, the fact is that many issue of public health response boil down to crafting a message and selling it to the public.

“Just Say No” … “Stay Alive – Drive 55.” Not everyone followed them, but there was no one in the country who didn’t at least know what the right thing to do was while those public health campaigns were underway. And decades later, they’re still lodged in the collective pop culture conscience of anybody old enough to remember them. The “It Only Works If You Wear It” mask campaign of 2020 is no different. The success of a public education program you head up in your career could rest on being similarly ubiquitous and clear, which is exactly what marketing chops can help you with.

With those management-oriented courses on top of your core public health education, you’ll be able to not only understand epidemiological trends and considerations, but you’ll be able to bring managerial expertise to the table to organize large-scale efforts to fight them.

What is the Difference Between an MPH Healthcare Specialization and a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) Degree?

Healthcare administration is its own specialty, just as much as public health is, so there are also many Master of Healthcare Administration degrees out there to choose from. You’ll find plenty of them that offer concentrations in public health, which may lead you to wonder what exactly the difference is between getting an MHA in public health versus an MPH in healthcare administration?

The difference is one of emphasis. In an MPH program, your core studies will focus on epidemiology and public health matters, with additional coursework and electives available that address healthcare administration. With an MHA program, the emphasis will be on those administrative courses, with extra courses to cover public health and epidemiological topics.

At the end of the day, you will probably find that either degree is perfectly acceptable to most of the jobs you are considering in the field, so there is no need to split hairs. The best choice is the approach that you feel most comfortable with, and what aspect of the field is most interesting to you.

Accreditation for MPH Programs with Healthcare Management Concentrations

For a highly specialized field like public health, you definitely need to graduate from a program that has a specialty accreditation. In the United States, that boils down to programs that have been accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

CEPH is recognized by the Department of Education as having the proper expertise and credentials to evaluate baccalaureate and graduate degree programs and the public health schools they’re housed in to ensure they conform to the highest standards in the field today. That means evaluation of curriculum, instructors, agency affiliations, resources, and facilities to ensure that students are getting the kind of instruction they need to hit the ground running after graduation.

While CEPH accreditation is a must, because you are also branching over into the area of healthcare administration, it’s worth checking to see if your options include one of the handful of programs that have also been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).

CAHME plays a similar role as CEPH, except in the healthcare management field, and it primarily accredits MHA programs. But there are, as of 2020, six elite programs that hold both accreditations, meaning they uphold the highest standards in both public health and healthcare administration. Your career won’t suffer if you pick a program that isn’t among these, but it can only help if you find one that offers the best of both worlds.

How to Put Together an Application to an MPH Health Management Program

Getting into any master’s program is a challenge these days. MPH programs are even harder to enroll in, with stiff minimum requirements and plenty of high-caliber competition. You’ll need to clear the following hurdles if you hope to be accepted:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree with a high GPA (often 3.0-3.2 or above)
  • Fulfill certain prerequisite coursework in science and math, also meeting minimum GPA standards
  • Take and pass the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), also hitting a certain minimum score
  • Have public health work or volunteer experience in your background; there are no set numbers, but five or more years is considered adequate in most cases
  • Provide references from professional acquaintances
  • Go through an interview process or submit an essay convincing the admission’s committee of your dedication and commitment

A lot of people come into public health from current positions in the healthcare field, which means you will be facing a lot of highly professional competition… doctors, nurses, accomplished administrators, many of whom already hold advanced professional degrees and certifications.

You’ll have to buff up your own experience, either through taking on jobs that give you a good preparation for the field, or taking on volunteer roles that can expose you to public health practices.

What Does an MPH Healthcare Management Concentration Cost?

Once you are accepted to an MPH program, you will have to pay for it. Master’s degrees are an advanced education that take a lot of expert instructors and valuable resources to provide. None of those things come cheap; according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the median tuition cost of a graduate degree in 2017 was $11,097 per year at a public institution, and $22,913 at a private university.

Public health programs can cost even more. The CAHME-accredited list of MPH programs with healthcare management tracks range from $10,600 annually to $82,080 per year in tuition costs alone. Those numbers only go up once you factor in variables like cost of housing, out-of-state tuition, and additional fees and charges that inevitably add up.

Why You Should Consider Online MPH Programs in Healthcare Management

Even before COVID-19 appeared on the scene, it was becoming more and more common to find prestigious master’s in public health degrees being offered in primarily online formats. As a degree largely geared to currently working professionals, it’s a natural fit… even on-campus programs tended to be delivered in the evenings and on weekends, so the study anytime, anywhere option offered with online classes is an even better fit.

And with the advances in modern online teaching technology and widespread high-speed broadband access, just about anyone can take an online course from anywhere in the country. Crystal-clear audio and video presentations, chatrooms and online whiteboards that you can access from your phone, and easy-to-use learning management systems that allow your class materials to be uploaded to instructors – all these elements come together to give you an experience that some would argue is far better than what you would get if you were sitting in a musty old classroom on-campus.

Asynchronous classes allow you to keep up with your work obligations and continue to catch your kid’s soccer games, working around them to study during the hours you have available. And many online programs allow you to study at your own pace, either accelerating your coursework to graduate early, or slowing it down to fit better with your lifestyle.

Because the field is very hands-on, most MPH degrees continue to have at least some in-person obligations, whether in the form of an internship or once-per-semester intensive meetings on campus. But those are relatively easy to schedule or arrange, and most online programs will allow you to perform your internship or practicum with agencies around the country.

Career Outlook and Job Prospects for MPH-Healthcare Management Graduates

Public health administrators don’t sign up for the work to get rich. This is a role that is primarily about public service, with most jobs coming from various government agencies, with public-sector pay scales, or non-profits, whose limited funding is most often directed into operational programs rather than salary and bonuses.

On the other hand, the kind of satisfaction you get from saving lives in these roles cannot be bought. And with lives on the line and time as a factor, public health work can also offer some of the most exciting executive-level jobs in the healthcare industry. If adrenaline is your game and you like to make a difference, you might feel like you should be paying to go to work every day rather than the other way around.

The good news is that you shouldn’t have any trouble finding that perfect job. The American healthcare industry overall is growing dramatically and the public health sector is an obvious point of emphasis in the wake of COVID-19. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2019, epidemiology jobs are projected to expand at a rate of five percent between 2019 and 2029, a faster than average rate of growth. It’s also an estimate that was made prior to the COVID outbreak, so there’s every reason to think it will only have gotten higher since then.

But one big advantage of earning an MPH with an administration concentration is that it also opens you up to many managerial positions in healthcare beyond rank-and-file epidemiology work. BLS figures for medical and health services managers show an expected increase of a whopping 32 percent during that same period.

What Kind of Salary Should You Expect After Earning an MPH in Healthcare Administration?

The wide range of positions that are open to you after graduating with this degree also makes it hard to pin down a narrow salary range. BLS data from 2019 showed a median salary of $70,990 per year for epidemiologists, for example, but $100,980 for medical and health services managers. The numbers also depend a lot on the type of industry that you may be working within. For example, medical and health services managers in the following public health organizations can expect various median salary levels:

  • Grantmaking and Giving Services (non-profits) – $144,650
  • Social Advocacy Organizations (non-profits) – $109,470
  • Federal government – $120,530
  • Local government – $111,280
  • State government – $100,060

You’ll also find significant geographic variation in salaries. For example, mean salary even in the top-paying states has a more than $20,000 range for epidemiologists:

  • Massachusetts – $114,220
  • Washington – $111,160
  • New Jersey – $103,390
  • District of Columbia – $99,940
  • California – $91,800

But due to the administrative expertise that you will graduate with, you aren’t restricted to non-profit and public sector positions. Public health jobs in private industry may be fewer, but they are both more lucrative today and due to get even more profitable in the future.

According to a 2019 Executive Compensation Survey sponsored by Modern Healthcare, overall cash compensation for health system executives rose by 6.5 percent between 2018 and 2019. With qualified talent in short supply and Baby Boomer executives hitting retirement age, they don’t expect that trend to reverse anytime soon.

Positions you might find available with an MPH in your back pocket include:

  • Population health executive – $403,300
  • Mission services – $246,900
  • Risk Management – $260,700

And because compensation in these big corporate systems is often incentive-based, the further you climb up the ladder, the more of your compensation you can expect to find included in cash bonuses, stock options, and other benefit packages. The $403,300 enjoyed by population health execs, for example, can quickly climb to $543,800 with the right performance incentive benchmarks being hit.

Resources For Current and Future Graduates of MPH Programs in Healthcare Administration

An advanced degree isn’t something you earn all by yourself. Even the most dedicated student in public health relies a lot on research and tools brought together by the community, by mentors and peers who offer insights and helping hands along the way. That’s why it’s in your interest to get involved early on with some of the many different organizations which offer networking and resources for both healthcare administrators and public health professionals.

  • 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 Health Information Management AssociationMembers of AHIMA receive the latest updates on topics such as privacy and security, coding, electronic health records, reimbursement, and compliance, as well as professional development and networking opportunities.
  • 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.
  • The Nation’s Health PodcastThis podcast, part of the American Public Health Association, features timely and relevant conversations about health and healthy practices.
  • 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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