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MHA vs MBA — Which Master’s Degree Is Right for You?

11 Min Read

Aspiring healthcare industry leaders have two main advanced degree options that can further their careers: a Master of Health Administration (MHA) and a Master of Business Administration with a Healthcare Management specialization (MBA HCM). As a master’s candidate looking at both of these degrees, it is absolutely critical to first decide what you want to do in your career. This requires taking a short-term look (three to five years) and a broader long-term look (10+ years) at your personal career goal.

Performing this assessment of an MHA vs MBA and learning more about the intricacies of each program will help you make the best choice on which degree is better aligned with your intended career path. While there is some crossover between the two accredited degrees, there are some key differences between the two programs. Understanding the nuances and particulars of an MHA vs MBA HCM can help degree candidates choose the right program that best supports their long-term career goals.

Seeking an MHA: What and Why?

An MHA stands for Master of Health Administration. Master of Health Administration, or MHA, is ideal for students with the potential to lead and guide others in one company or institution. Health administration involves working closely with staff members and colleagues to:

  • Oversee day-to-day activities within a healthcare organization.
  • Implement regulations among personnel.
  • Make decisions regarding an organization’s operations.
  • Strategically evaluate staff strengths and assign tasks based on those assets.
  • Lead in a manner that ensures a high standard of patient care.

Professionally, healthcare administration careers have a greater emphasis on health systems than healthcare management careers, so if you believe you possess the following qualities, then an MHA is likely your best fit:

  • Passionate about healthcare
  • Strong leadership skills
  • Excellent communication skills (written and oral)
  • Cool under pressure
  • Fair-minded
  • Committed to provide great overall patient care

When deciding between an MHA or MBA, if your long-term goal is to work in the healthcare field, the MHA may be the best path. If you are interested in a meaningful leadership career in healthcare systems that enable you to make high-level decisions, improve a facility’s overall patient care, and provide strategic oversight to the role of caregivers, then an MHA may be an excellent choice toward a meaningful and satisfying career.

Seeking an MBA With Specialization in HCM: What and Why?

A Master of Business Administration with a specialization in Healthcare Management, or MBA HCM, prepares you to serve in a number of leadership roles within the healthcare industry or a business that aids healthcare facilities. Health management careers focus more on the business end of the industry. If you feel you have the following qualities, then an MBA HCM may be better suited for your skills:

  • Enthusiasm for business operations
  • Strong leadership skills
  • Excellent communication skills (written and oral)
  • Analytical and strategic thinking
  • Solid organizational skills
  • An outgoing and assertive personality

These skills and qualities can be applied to improving operations and, if applicable, protecting the bottom-line of a healthcare institution. Generally, those pursuing an MBA HCM have some prior experience in healthcare but want to increase their business skills. Those skills then broaden the possibilities from which to pick future career options. Healthcare managers are often responsible for the following:

  • Planning budgets and manage organizational finance.
  • Working with sales, marketing, and other departments in a healthcare organization.
  • Implementing, using and remaining up-to-date in the use of information technology for healthcare.
  • Enforcing existing policy and stay abreast of policy updates in healthcare.
  • Leading others within the organization to achieve/maintain a high standard of quality operation.

Health managers need good people skills as their roles involve working closely with internal and external stakeholders. Health managers may also be involved in marketing and fundraising decisions. If you are interested in a leadership career with a focus on healthcare organizational leadership, then earning an MBA HCM may be the right next step in your career path.

Overview of a Master of Health Administration

How an MHA Helps Your Career

For those considering a career in healthcare administration, an accredited Master of Health Administration program can be a critical component. Healthcare organizations typically prefer leaders with advanced degrees because their added academic training instills them with health systems knowledge, leadership, and personnel skills, and other qualifications needed for organizational leadership. Additionally, an MHA can help put the right candidates on track to higher-paying salaries within the industry.

What Is an MHA Degree?

An MHA degree is an advanced degree that prepares you to adapt to healthcare industry challenges, changing regulations, and patient needs. It provides graduates the competence and authority to work in multiple healthcare settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Healthcare insurance groups
  • Government-run health care organizations

MHA Curriculum

If interested in pursuing an MHA, find a school with a curriculum accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). CAHME-accredited programs carry an assurance of high quality curriculum content, and produce graduates prepared to succeed in management roles.

In addition to being CAHME accredited, a competitive MHA curriculum should contain courses that cover the following:

  • Healthcare administration
  • Human resources management
  • Healthcare research and statistics
  • Healthcare financial management and economics
  • Healthcare marketing and planning
  • Healthcare information technology
  • Healthcare policy and ethics

When reviewing curriculum requirements for MHA vs MBA degrees, you may come to find that there is overlap between the programs. It is important to note that the overall focus of the MHA program is direct administration oversight and leadership of other employees in several areas, including healthcare law, quality control, and finances.

Career Paths for MHA Graduates

Once you have completed your MHA, you can pursue a career path that either has an administrative specialization or a service-provider focus. In addition to working in hospitals or health networks, MHA graduates seek careers in jobs that enable them to be more hands-on such as private practices, urgent care facilities, or long-term care.

Administrators’ career paths generally involve day-to-day interaction with other healthcare decision-makers including doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, and others to facilitate organizational leadership. These supervisors are asked to evaluate the skills and training of personnel and structuring schedules and assignments based on their findings. Other responsibilities may include overseeing patient billing, and the daily operations of multiple departments or even the entire organization. Areas of opportunities include(but are not limited to) biotechnology firms, pharmaceutical companies, consulting firms, research facilities, and other areas related to healthcare.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a health services manager is about $104,280 annually. The agency classifies health services manager to include oversight positions in training and development, benefits, hospital administration as well as specific titles such as Health Services Manager or even Chief Executive Officer.

These positions generally involve managing day-to-day operational activities and delegating responsibilities to the appropriate departments. Those serving in these roles may supervise and manage employees within the organization, as well as establish or enforce company policies. Service-provider career paths, such as in mental health or for non-profits, generally involve functions similar to those in administrative career paths.

Overview of an MBA With specialization in Healthcare Management

How an MBA HCM Helps Your Career

The MBA’s high income potential makes it a favorable option; however, positions for general MBA graduates are not as plentiful in healthcare. Fortunately, given the significant need for healthcare leadership and skills, the MBA HCM stands out from other MBAs as one with high income and employment potential.

What Is an MBA HCM Degree?

A Master of Business Administration with a Healthcare Management specialization prepares you to run the operations of a healthcare business. It’s important to select a program accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). This distinction is held by only 5% of educational institutions around the world and guarantees excellence in business education, as well as more distinguished credentials following graduation.

MBA HCM Curriculum

In addition to being AACSB-accredited, a high-caliber MBA HCM curriculum generally contains the following coursework:

  • Managerial economics
  • Information management
  • Accounting and finance management
  • Healthcare management, including hospital administration and health systems
  • Business operations management
  • Marketing management
  • Organizational behavior

The focus of the MBA HCM curriculum is to equip students with knowledge critical to healthcare operations and the specific skills needed to manage organizations directly or indirectly involved in healthcare. These skills better position MBA HCM graduates to advance to other positions within an organization including such key roles as director, president, or CFO at product research companies or healthcare institutions.

Career Paths for MBA HCM Graduates

When it comes to career outcomes, choosing either of an MHA vs MBA degree could deliver similar results. As with MHA graduates, the career path for MBA HCM graduates focuses on the administration side of healthcare facilities. With an HCM specialization comes a much deeper understanding of how healthcare businesses and organizations work under different circumstances and environments. An MBA HCM graduate gains an understanding of what healthcare means to employees in several different industries.

Some of the MBA HCM career options include:

  • Administrative career paths include those in large organizations like pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, biotechnology firms, or healthcare information entities. They can also work in hospitals or health networks where MBA HCMs assume roles as directors or leaders focusing on “big picture” issues, finances, policy, marketing, and so forth.
  • Service-provider career paths tend to be more “health-care centric” than administrative paths. Rather than focusing on finances or marketing, service provider paths focus on working with senior staff to ensure the smooth operation of a hospital, hospital system or healthcare organization. Job settings include working with patient-provider organizations and can include hospitals, long-term care facilities, private practices, and non-profit or government firms.

In 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that medical and health services manager positions would grow by 32% through 2030.

Key Advantages Specific to Each Degree

Both degrees have distinct benefits. The following brief overview of these helps make a decision about which program is best for you.

An MHA Degree

  • Focuses on healthcare leadership
  • Emphasizes organizational operations
  • Incorporates health informatics
  • Involves working closely with organizational staff
  • Includes patient care management
  • Incorporates application of clinical practice knowledge
  • Leads to a stimulating, dynamic work environment
  • Offers exposure to laws and regulations

An MBA HCM Degree

  • Focuses on business leadership and operations management
  • Emphasizes financial responsibilities
  • Includes knowledge of the various business functional areas
  • Includes working closely with other healthcare leaders and stakeholders
  • Emphasizes analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Leads to a challenging, rewarding management career
  • The advantages of each degree program ultimately come down to the individual student, their previous education and work history, and their career goals.

The Decision Between MHA vs MBA HCM

The verdict on whether to earn an MHA or an MBA HCM is ultimately based on your professional preferences and whether you want to be more involved with strategic personnel management or in handling the business end of the healthcare leadership spectrum.

Ultimately, these skills and qualifications all promote the same goals within a healthcare organization. Both degrees are rewarding, are backed by accrediting bodies, and lead to careers with high income potential and potential for long-term growth and success.

Which Online Healthcare Degree Is Right for Me?

MHA: Master of Health Administration or MBA: Master of Business Administration

You want a master’s degree focused on healthcare and you want it online, but with so many options, what do you choose? Both a Master of Health Administration (MHA) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) can help you reach your career goals.

Follow the Map and Learn What Suits You!

Which best describes you?

  • I’m a business professional
  • I’m a clinician
  • I’m a non-clinical healthcare professional

What’s your level of involvement with healthcare facilities?

  • I work with medical professionals all day, every day.
  • I work with medical professionals occasionally.
  • None, but it’s part of my career goals.

Will your career take you away from the healthcare industry?

  • YES
  • NO

What skill set are you looking for?

  • Health Services and Systems; Administration; Healthcare Finance; Planning and Marketing; Health Law and Ethics Quality Management; Information Systems/Information Technology; Healthcare Leadership
  • Leadership and Organizational Behavior; Business Ethics and Sustainability; Business Operations (Accounting/Economics/Finance, Operations/IT); Marketing; Supply Chains; Investments; International Business; Corporate Strategy

Who do you want to manage?

  • Hospitals, Long Term Care Facilities, or Medical Group Practices
  • Supporting Business Departments

Explore an Online MHA!

Explore an Online MBA! Healthcare Management Specialization

Master of Healthcare Administration

You want to be a healthcare expert and this degree helps you do just that. Gain core skills to stay current in healthcare’s evolving industry and learn to manage healthcare systems. An MHA is ideal for those already working in a healthcare setting.

Focus Skills

  • Leadership
  • Healthcare Finance
  • Cross-Functional Communication
  • Ethics and Regulatory Compliance

Master of Business Administration

You’re interested in healthcare, but you know that core business practices are universal in any industry. An AACSB-accredited MBA with a specialization in healthcare provides you with an advanced business education that can refine your C-level skill set. Focus on how business strategies influence the healthcare environment.

Focus Skills

  • Financial Strategies
  • Sustainability
  • Healthcare Operations
  • Organization Behavior

Which University Is Right for Me?

Now that you know what degree you want, it’s time to decide where you should earn it. The University of Scranton offers both an online MHA and online MBA specializing in healthcare.

  • One of only 28 Jesuit schools in the U.S.
  • Expert faculty
  • MBA housed in AACSB-accredited Kania School of Management
  • Top 10 Master’s Universities in the North – U.S. News & World Report
  • 12 ranked MHA among the Top 30 Online Master’s Degrees in Healthcare Administration – OnlineCollegePlan
  • Top 15 MBA program – The Princeton Review

What’s My Next Step?

You know what degree, you know what institution, now take the first step in earning your master’s degree in Health Administration or Business Administration with a specialization in Healthcare Management. Speak with a program manager today.


CALL 866-373-9547

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