The 2020 Guide to Online Master’s in Health Administration Programs

The healthcare field is one filled with professionals committed to treating injuries, diseases, and showing people how to live a healthy lifestyle. Not everyone who works in healthcare, of course, practices medicine or administers hands-on care. Equally as valuable as the doctors and nurses providing patient care are the professionals who keep the hospitals and other health facilities running smoothly. These types of jobs, which fall under the healthcare administration umbrella, focus on the business and management side of things and require business acumen, along with strong analytical, communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills.

Positions in healthcare administration can be challenging and competitive, depending on where you are located. But they can also provide personal gratification.

Through a rigorous coursework load, graduate-level healthcare administration programs teach you the ins and outs of healthcare systems, including hospital networks and pharmaceutical companies. By the time you graduate with a healthcare administration degree, you’ll be prepared to work in a variety of settings, leading teams and offering solutions to help enhance patient experiences.

If you’re interested in pursuing a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) but don’t have the ability or time to take classes on a college campus, you’re in luck. There are numerous online Master of Healthcare Administration programs, some of which can be completed in as little as 24 months.

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What Is Healthcare Administration?

Healthcare administration is the oversight of day-to-day operations of hospitals, doctors’ offices, rehabilitation centers, and other healthcare facilities. Healthcare administrators also work for corporations, schools, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.

Professionals in healthcare administration and those who are in healthcare administration programs are and will continue to be vital to the success of healthcare systems, much as a company CEO and vice presidents are to the consumer products industry. Health administrators are responsible for a range of tasks including overseeing staff, implementing policies, communicating with insurance companies and vendors, and maintaining the public image of the institution. Without them at the helm, medical staff–at times, stretched thin–wouldn’t be able to keep up with the mountain of paperwork that patient care requires, not to mention managing staff schedules, negotiating vendor contracts, and overseeing finances and supplies.

If you envision yourself in a healthcare leadership role, consider pursuing a master’s degree in health administration from an accredited university. In that program, you can concentrate in areas such as operations, finance, health policy, or informatics. Depending upon which program you choose, you can pursue careers ranging from hospital administrator to health policy analyst.

Healthcare Administration vs. Healthcare Management

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) categorizes all those who work at the administrative level in the healthcare field as “Medical and Health Services Managers,” there are some differences between healthcare administrators and healthcare managers. To add to the confusion, many smaller healthcare organizations may merge the two roles to help save costs.

In a nutshell, healthcare managers deal with the big business picture of a health organization, sometimes working with hospital boards to handle costs or respond to a crisis, while healthcare administrators oversee the staff of a medical facility and are more involved in dealing with scheduling and departmental budgets.

Can You Earn a Healthcare Administration Degree Online?

Today, many universities offer online Master of Healthcare Administration programs. Because these health administration online programs feature a curriculum, often self-paced, with little or no campus classroom requirements, they’re attractive to working professionals and students with families who want to expand their career options.

Generally, you can expect to finish an MHA program in two to four years, depending on whether you pursue a joint degree with a specialization and whether you enroll in a full-time course of study or a part-time online MHA program.

When choosing the best healthcare administration program for you, look for ones accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). The commission, which has been around for more than 50 years, establishes the standards of graduate healthcare management education. Worldwide, more than 100 programs have CAHME-accreditation.

Online Health Administration Program Admissions Requirements

Admissions requirements for MHA programs vary by school. But generally, to be accepted into an MHA program, you must possess a bachelor’s from an accredited college or university. You’ll need to provide official transcripts from that institution, along with a resume, a personal essay and letters of recommendation.

Some programs require you to take a standardized test such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which measures your verbal reasoning, written, and analytical capabilities. GRE test scores can help admissions staff feel out your preparedness for graduate study. Some programs also require previous work experience in the healthcare field, and some require an intake portion, either in the form of an online questionnaire or in-person interview.

CAHME-Accredited MHA Programs with No GRE Requirement

While many MHA programs require the applicant to take the GRE, others have no GRE requirements or provide GRE waivers. Across the country, schools and programs that offer waivers will instead require a minimum number of years of work experience (generally, three to five years of experience working in the healthcare field).

Online Master of Health Administration Curriculum

With courses covering areas including health economics, public health policy, healthcare systems analysis, and management theory, online MHA curricula capture the most important facets of U.S. healthcare management and equip you with the core skills required for optimal delivery of healthcare. Online health administration courses also allow you to gain expertise in crafting strategic approaches to managing market supply and demand, the economics of managed care, budgeting, accounting, and fiscal reporting.

MHA courses will have different titles depending on the program. But across the board, they explore the same concepts and topics. Below is a small selection:

  • Healthcare Management and Strategy
  • Medical Informatics
  • Decision/Risk Management
  • Healthcare Financial Management
  • Community and Public Health
  • Health Economics and Quantitative Methods
  • Quality and Performance Improvement
  • Law, Ethics and Policy
  • Systems Thinking and Learning
  • Healthcare Human Resources and Organizational Behavior

In some online programs, not all of the coursework occurs virtually. You may be required to attend in-person experiences held on campus and at selected health care facilities. During these experiences, you have the chance to discover your leadership style through simulated scenarios alongside other students and influential healthcare leaders.

Healthcare Administration Specializations

Some MHA programs focus on healthcare administration as a whole and prepare students to become healthcare administration generalists or healthcare managers who juggle a variety of roles. Others offer specializations, meaning you can select elective courses that focus on acute care, long-term care, population health, survey research, health policy and management or environmental health science.

A few other common specializations include:

  • Financial Management: In this specialization, you have the opportunity to master the complex and rigorous financial side of healthcare administration. Responsibilities would include creating budgets, preparing for future spending and investments, and communicating with insurance companies and other financial entities.
  • Human Resources Management: This specialization prepares you to go into leadership roles where you’ll be in charge of recruiting doctors and nurses and overseeing all HR duties for hospitals and other organizations.
  • Nursing Home Administration: This specialty prepares you to step into a senior-level role as a health services manager or nursing home administrator.
  • Global Health: This concentration will expose you to multiple worldviews and power structures within healthcare. You will learn to analyze major elements of these power structures and global healthcare systems and develop solutions to the most pressing problems.
  • Nonprofit Management: This specialization will prepare you for work within community nonprofits and not-for-profit health organizations. Grant acquisition and management and strategic communications are just two of the many topic areas you’ll study in this specialty track.

What Can You Do with an MHA Degree?

Healthcare administration is a broad field and has many specializations within it that lead to fruitful careers that rely on certain skills. Are you more of an accountant, a negotiator, a data analyzer, or a policy wonk? Think about the subjects you gravitated toward during your graduate study and consider how your academic strengths could lend themselves to various healthcare administration jobs. Some include:

  • Hospital Chief Administrative Officer: In this position, you would provide day-to-day oversight and management of the hospital staff and develop working relationships with the other leaders within the hospital to help it reach and maintain its operational and financial goals. Aside from clinical operations, you may play a part in staffing and physician recruitment.
  • Healthcare Policy Analyst: In this position, you could work at a government organization, think tank, insurance company, or medical facility. Healthcare policy analysts need a solid understanding of legislation as it applies to their area of specialty, along with sound research, analysis, and communication skills. In an analyst role, you could focus on specific areas such as Medicaid funding, lobbying, education, or community outreach.
  • Finance and Operations Administrator: In this position, you would oversee all administrative functions of a department within a health facility, including budgeting, facility management, and enforcement of policies and procedures.
  • Healthcare Marketing Managers: As a healthcare marketing manager, you’d focus on the branding, market segmentation, and possibly, public relations for a hospital, private clinic, insurance company, government agency, or pharmaceutical company. Your job would entail positioning the organization in the best possible light and using data analysis to develop marketing campaigns and measuring their efficacy.

Master of Healthcare Administration Salary and Career Outlook

The healthcare administration field has experienced growth in recent years and will continue to do so. The aging Baby Boomer population and new medical and insurance regulations have prompted a need for a wide range of healthcare professionals beyond those providing immediate medical care. Demand for health administration professionals varies by role, industry, location, and more.

For example, medical and health services managers jobs are expected to grow 18 percent from 2018 to 2028, according to the BLS. This means that an additional 71,600 jobs will be available to those with the right skills and education. Note that all healthcare occupations will grow by 14 percent during the same time period.

Health administration careers are not only in high demand, but they can be lucrative too. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for a healthcare manager in May 2019 was $100,980. On average, the top 10 percent of healthcare administrators earn more than $189,000 a year. According to the same BLS salary data, medical and health services managers within the government tend to earn more than those employed by nursing and residential care facilities. In terms of location, the BLS records the District of Columbia as the top-paying state for this profession in 2019, with an annual mean wage of $150,040, followed by New York at $147,000, and Hawaii at $133,320.

When it comes to medical records and health information technicians, some 23,000 jobs will become available by 2028, according to the BLS. This is a job to consider if your MHA specialty was health informatics. In 2019, the median annual salary for medical records and health information technicians was less than that of a healthcare manager: $40,350.

No matter what role you are aiming for after your studies, be sure to research job growth information and earning potential and understand how factors such as location, employer type and number of years of experience will affect your ability to thrive and reach your goals.

Is a Master’s in Healthcare Administration Worth It?

The American College of Healthcare Executives describes healthcare management a “hidden” career, since these professionals primarily work behind the scenes. So, you may be wondering: is an MHA degree worth it? They may not be treating patients in the emergency or operating room, but the work of healthcare administrators is extremely valuable. For all their work quietly paying bills, negotiating with insurance companies, and managing staff, healthcare administrators have tremendous influence on the availability, accessibility, and quality of healthcare in our communities. As seen from the previous section, healthcare administration degree jobs have the potential to be well respected in any role and the potential to earn more when working in government or hospital positions.

If you have a head for numbers, a natural talent for problem-solving and leadership, and a heart for patients and their families, healthcare administration may be a great fit for you.

MHA vs. MBA

While there are plenty of attractive MHA programs, you also can pursue an online Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, with a concentration in healthcare management. The healthcare MBA combines such academic areas as management, finance, marketing and operations with the specific needs of healthcare institutions.

How does this kind of MBA differ from the MHA? An MHA degree offers a curriculum that revolves around the healthcare industry, while an MBA will provide more general information for those who want to work in various industries during their career. Either degree can open doors to health administration and management positions. You need to consider which areas you’d like to specialize in and how you see your career unfolding through the years.

Sponsored

GW’s online Master of Health Administration

  • Complete in as few as 24 months
  • No GRE/GMAT scores required
Discover GW’s Online MHA Program

Information Last Updated May 2020