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The healthcare industry is evolving at an incredible pace thanks to new technologies, procedures, and methodologies. These changes are creating opportunities across healthcare positions and, coupled with an aging population, have contributed to an increased demand for highly qualified healthcare professionals. Those already working in the field can pursue an advanced degree to help open the door to leadership positions and higher earnings. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the demand for medical and health services managers to increase by 20% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations (7%), which provides significant opportunity for those willing to invest in their education.

Health administrators in conference.

Two popular paths for advancing in the healthcare field are the Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Public Health (MPH). While both programs equip graduates with valuable skills, they emphasize different issues, and there are several important factors healthcare professionals must consider when deciding between an MHA and an MPH.

Master of Health Administration (MHA) Overview

A Master of Health Administration program focuses on the management of healthcare from a leadership perspective. It includes coursework in finance, research, marketing, management, and human resources (HR) as these areas relate to healthcare services. For example, students learn about challenges specific to the healthcare industry, such as health information systems and medical supply chains. They also learn about the laws, regulations, and ethical standards surrounding the healthcare industry.

In many MHA programs, students can tailor their studies to align with their individual career goals through concentrations such as data management, population management, healthcare strategies, and senior services. Students can also choose a general MHA program that covers the foundations of healthcare operations and healthcare management through courses on population health management and healthcare HR, among others. The curriculum strengthens students’ foundational knowledge and educates them on the best practices of effective administrators.

These programs often culminate in a capstone course or thesis, providing students with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through a comprehensive research project. Some degree programs require practicum courses that include on-site training from professionals in the field at hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare organizations.

What Do MHA Graduates Do?

Healthcare professionals with a master’s in health administration have increased opportunities for advancement, as well as higher earning potential. Earning an MHA helps healthcare professionals build a solid foundation for growth.

Types of careers:

  • Hospital Administrator: These professionals oversee the efficiency of staff, technology, and all administrative duties of the entire hospital. They are responsible for ensuring their workplace adheres to applicable laws and regulations and that the staff delivers a positive patient experience and quality care.
  • Medical and Health Services Manager: Also known as healthcare administrators, these professionals coordinate and plan the medical and health services of an entire facility or a specific clinical area or department. Similar to hospital administrators, medical and health services managers must ensure their organizations meet the required regulations and healthcare laws and that they adapt to any changes in policy or technology.
  • Nursing Home Administrator: Similar to hospital administrators, these healthcare professionals keep nursing homes running efficiently and safely. They maintain and manage nursing home facilities by overseeing operations, as well as clinical and administrative matters.

Master of Public Health (MPH) Overview

The Master of Public Health (MPH) prepares students for a highly interdisciplinary field that focuses on disease and health in different populations. Public health emphasizes the development, evaluation, financing, and implementation of community health programs to improve the health and well-being of cities, states, or populations.

The MPH curriculum includes courses in sociology, epidemiology (the study of diseases and other health factors), environmental health sciences, biostatistics, infectious disease, healthcare systems and financing, and quantitative and qualitative research methods. Students also take courses in policy and government, including law and ethical issues in public health.

In many MPH programs, students can choose from a range of concentrations or specialties, such as biostatistics, environmental health sciences, and epidemiology. For example, a concentration in biostatistics includes specific training in quantitative methods so graduates can use statistical procedures to design and analyze healthcare studies. In general, the MPH is a two-year degree, although accelerated programs may take just 12 to 18 months.

What Do MPH Graduates Do?

MPH degree holders often pursue careers directly related to public healthcare, especially in government. Depending on their role, these professionals can work on projects and initiatives to improve water quality, air quality, pollution, and other issues that affect health on a large scale.

Types of careers:

  • Epidemiologist: These professionals work in local and national health departments, health organizations, or pharmaceutical companies to understand the causes of the spread of disease. They evaluate and monitor breakouts of disease and work to develop solutions and potential treatments.
  • Public Health Project Manager: The main responsibilities of these healthcare professionals is to provide resources, services, or medical assistance to individuals suffering from diseases or health issues, such as HIV/AIDS, or from natural disasters, war, or other emergency situations.
  • Health Informatics Specialist: Also known as biostatisticians, these public health professionals analyze data and leverage their statistical expertise and public health knowledge to identify population health trends. They may also work on experimental treatments for diseases and use their medical research to find connections between a disease and demographics, psychographics, or other lifestyle factors and public health issues.

Similarities Between MHA and MPH Degrees

MHA and MPH degrees require ample study and real-world experience. Both typically take two years to complete and complement clinical experience. Perhaps most importantly, both degree programs position graduates to step into leadership roles in healthcare. Graduates emerge ready to lead teams, create initiatives, and come up with creative solutions to important issues.

Differences Between MHA and MPH Degrees

Although there are underlying similarities, the key differences between MHA and MPH degrees lie in curricula and career paths.

Curriculum Focus

MHA degrees emphasize leadership and healthcare issues, as well as the systematic application of the principles of organizational behavior, so students can understand professional roles in health services organizations. Coursework covers such topics as healthcare economics, healthcare analytics, management in healthcare, and financial management. Students commonly take courses on healthcare human resources and organizational behavior, healthcare marketing, health policy and economics, and healthcare analytics.

In contrast, the typical core curriculum of an MPH program includes courses in biostatistics, epidemiology, public health policy, management sciences, demography, environmental health, biological sciences, and social and behavioral determinants of health. These courses provide graduates with foundational knowledge in public health.

Career Paths

Career opportunities differ between MHA and MPH graduates. While both programs can lead to leadership opportunities, MPH graduates apply their skills to the public or private health sector. Positions typically require planning, researching, and implementing healthcare programs or processes. Graduates commonly work in federal, state, or local government agencies, military organizations, health clinics and departments, health agencies, or community organizations, including nonprofits. No matter their job title, MPH graduates are community advocates who work with groups and individuals to improve health outcomes. Their policies, educational programs, and research help to prevent illness, the spread of disease, bioterrorism, and epidemics.

MHA degree holders typically pursue roles in hospitals or other healthcare institutions. These professionals generally manage entire hospitals, or specific departments in an organization, and take on administrative duties related to public relations, policy implementation, human resources, and finance. With an MHA, these healthcare professionals can advance to top-level positions, such as chief executive officer (CEO).

MHA vs. MPH: Which Is Right for You?

If you have a passion for helping communities and populations improve their health through the prevention of disease, a master’s in public health could be the right choice. A career in public health means working with the public to prevent and find solutions to the outbreak of illnesses.

If your interest lies in administration and management in the healthcare system itself, a master’s in health administration may be a better fit. An MHA program prepares healthcare professionals with the skills needed to operate a healthcare organization in a leadership role. Explore how an online Master of Health Administration from Maryville University can equip you with the leadership skills you need to manage teams, impact patient outcomes, and make decisions that can improve the current healthcare structure.

American Public Health Association, “Policy Statements”

American Public Health Association, “Who Is Public Health?”

Maryville University, Online Healthcare Degrees

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers