Executive Health Administration

Healthcare Masters Programs: MHA vs. MPH vs. MBA vs. Executive MHA

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 13, 2017 10:03:00 AM / by Frank Farrar


There are many compelling reasons for pursuing a graduate degree: advancing or changing your career, taking steps towards earning a promotion or salary increase, or simply the desire for intellectual stimulation and learning, for example.

Because there are several types of Master's programs' in healthcare, each with a unique structure and curriculum, selecting the right program to advance your executive healthcare career is important.

Which healthcare master's degree is right for you?

While there are similarities in the high-level, cross-functional subject matter involved and all, we'll look at the differences between the following advanced degrees for healthcare:

  • Master of Health Administration (MHA)
  • Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Master of Health Administration (MHA):

A master's in health administration degree is for the professional looking to obtain a management or leadership role in a healthcare organization. This could vary from a unit manager, all the way up to an executive position in the C-Suite.

To put the value of an MHA in perspective, of the 77% of men and women healthcare executives that responded to a 2012 American College of Healthcare Executives survey that hold a master’s as their highest degree 45% majored in health administration.

For example, a nursing professional aspiring to become the chief of nursing, may elect to earn an MHA to learn the fundamentals of management, finance, and leadership to run their department.

Susan Gautsch, the director of online learning at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, emphasizes that traditional on-campus programs focus on "leading through disruptive change, strategy, and the relationship between public organizations and private organizations”.

In addition to the basics of healthcare administration, traditional programs explore the role of public policy, the changes at the federal, state, regional and local levels, population health, improving patient outcomes, and managing the switch to value-based purchasing.

You’ll also learn about finance and accounting at practical levels of functional areas impacting organizations. This way healthcare professionals can understand and communicate with different departments in order to achieve organization-wide goals.

Learn how to advance your executive healthcare career with USC Sol Price School of Public Policy's new Ultimate Guide.

Access the Guide Now


Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA):

Executive-level MHA programs and traditional degrees share similar curriculums. Some executive programs however elect to remove introductory classes and modify residency requirements due to the student's years of healthcare experience. However, they do differ in a few important ways. 

First, an executive MHA program will have stricter admissions criteria. The goal here is to create a cohort of healthcare professionals that come from diverse backgrounds and bring with them at least 5-8 years of professional experience. This way each cohort can learn from the group's shared experiences through engaged conversations and by addressing real-life situations.

Secondly, executive master programs are laser focused on strategy, leadership, and management. Sharpening these three critical skills are at the heart of every class, conversation, and assignment. Whether you're learning about population health or value-based purchasing, students are always strengthening their executive faculties.

Lastly, executive master's degree programs are provided in an online or hybrid learning formats. There are many benefits of online learning for executives. The most important ones include being able to work full-time, immediately apply your knowledge in the workplace, and have the flexibility to complete your learning objectives according to your own schedule.

Executive MHA programs are designed to accelerate career advancement for nurses, physicians, pharmacists, administrators, consultants, laywers, and even facility planners operating in the healthcare industry.

On USC's Executive MHA, Susan Gautsch, Director of Online Learning at the Sol Price School of Public Policy says, “It’s about career transformation and becoming a true influencer".

Master of Business Administration (MBA):

A Master of Business Administration program  which may have an emphasis on healthcare, if you'd choose  provides an in-depth dive into accounting, finance, statistics and other business fundamentals. Although MBAs offer in-depth knowledge, the administrative tasks you receive from an MBA may be more than what is necessary for some healthcare career paths.

The MBA program is designed for people looking to be at the top of the business side of an organization, such as a CEO, a CFO, a COO or a chief technology officer. This may be a good choice for someone who is unsure if they'd like to stay in the healthcare industry long term.

In the same 2012 ACHE survey 28% of men and women healthcare executives that hold a master's as their highest degree majored in business.

If you are a nurse, pharmacist, or clinician we are seeing a shift in the number of nurse executives and physician executives holding leadership positions within healthcare organizations. In some cases an MHA or Executive MHA better qualifies professionals for leadership roles in the C-Suite.

Master of Public Health (MPH):

Masters of Public Health programs focus on areas such as global and regional trends in healthcare, the impacts of health policy, preventative healthcare, and population health to name a few.

Population health is one major tenant of the Triple Aim.  The goal is to improve public health, treat disadvantaged communities, and care for populations of people affected by diseases.

Because population health is critical to improving patient experiences and lowering costs, both traditional and executive MHAs teach population health. That being said, MPH students will dive much deeper into the cause and effects of the world's largest healthcare issues.

Career opportunities for MPH graduates include working as an epidemiologist, for agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, as a policy advisor, or in a leadership role at a research organization.

Ready to accelerate your career in healthcare? Take the first step. Prequalify your application today.

See if an Executive Masters of Health Administration is for you

Topics: Innovative Leadership, Hospital Administration, Healthcare Careers

Frank Farrar

Written by Frank Farrar

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