Healthcare Administration

Healthcare Administration vs. Healthcare Management

Healthcare Administration vs. Healthcare Management
It makes sense to explore how health administration and healthcare management are perceived so you can optimize your profile accordingly. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry August 26, 2020

Healthcare administration and healthcare management are one and the same… except when they're not. Individual schools and employers ultimately decide where to draw the line between administration and management.

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Let’s start with an unarguably authoritative source: the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), the official accrediting organization for healthcare administration bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in the United States, treats health administration and healthcare management degrees as a single discipline. So it’s settled, right? Healthcare administration and healthcare management are identical.

Sorry, but no. Why? Because some universities and employers don’t agree: they create programs and job listings that distinguish between healthcare administration and healthcare management. Ultimately, the answer to the question “how closely are healthcare administration and healthcare management related?” depends on whom you ask.

Both disciplines encompass the business side of medicine, from finance to operations to HR. Professionals—whether they have titles related to healthcare administration or healthcare management—frequently have master’s degrees. And while some sources state that healthcare management is an umbrella category that includes health administration, the reality is that one only has to look at job listings for healthcare administrators and medical managers to see that most of the time, they’re one and the same.

That said, how you market yourself can open doors and lead to bigger paychecks. It makes sense to explore how health administration and healthcare management are perceived so you can optimize your profile accordingly.

In this article about healthcare administration vs. healthcare management, we answer the following questions:

  • What is healthcare administration?
  • What is healthcare management?
  • What are the key differences between these two fields?
  • Are there healthcare administration degrees and healthcare management degrees?
  • Do professionals in these fields earn the same salaries?
  • Is there more room for advancement in health administration or healthcare management?

What is healthcare administration?

Healthcare administration is an umbrella term for all the behind-the-scenes work required to keep medical facilities like hospitals, doctors’ offices, and specialty clinics up and running. It encompasses everything from staffing to accounting to medical records management and operations management.

Healthcare administrator is not one role, but many. Professionals who work in health administration have titles like:

In general, healthcare administration jobs are typically higher-level leadership positions in settings that provide patient care like hospitals and long-term care facilities. You can also find healthcare administrators working in research laboratories, insurance companies, and government agencies.

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What is healthcare management?

Healthcare management is also an umbrella term, covering everything that goes into managing a healthcare program or facility, including operations and planning. If that sounds a lot like healthcare administration, that’s because it is. Here’s a list of titles a professional in the healthcare management space might have:

  • Clinic Manager
  • Department Manager
  • Emergency Medical Services Manager
  • Health Information Manager
  • Health Services Manager
  • Hospital Manager
  • HR Manager
  • Medical Records Manager
  • Nursing Home Manager
  • Operations Manager
  • Practice Manager
  • Surgery Center Manager

Notice anything? The list of titles professionals who specialize in healthcare management might have is pretty much identical to the list of health administration titles above. We replaced the word ‘administrator’ with the word ‘manager’ to point out that the distinctions sometimes drawn between healthcare administration and healthcare management come down to naming conventions.

What are the key differences between these two fields?

That depends on whom you ask. According to Southern New Hampshire University, “Healthcare administrators use healthcare knowledge to lead on issues related to organizational management. Healthcare managers support the business needs of an organization.”

Meanwhile, Herzing University – Madison writes that “Healthcare management focuses on overseeing the direction of a healthcare facility or system, organization-wide initiatives, and ‘big picture’ needs, while healthcare administration focuses on individual departments and budgets, day-to-day operations, and staffing.”

Florida Institute of Technology asserts that healthcare administration is primarily concerned with the staffing needs of medical facilities while healthcare management focuses on business operations. Clearly, there is no consensus about what healthcare administration and healthcare management are and are not.

Are there healthcare administration degrees and healthcare management degrees?

Colleges and universities give their medical management degree programs different names. Still, in general, the core coursework in health administration and health management programs covers the same topics. Students who major in health administration and healthcare management study topics related to business management, like finance and accounting, leadership, ethics, operations management, HR, and marketing. Some programs also include a public health component, but in general, Master of Health Administration programs have a lot in common with business degree programs.

What sets them apart from Master of Business Administration or MBA programs (including MBA in Healthcare programs) is that they present business fundamentals through a healthcare lens from day one. MBA programs frame content in a broader business context.

Let’s look at two programs—one in healthcare administration and one in healthcare management. According to the program guide for the highly ranked online Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program at New York University‘s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, coursework covers:

  • Continuous Quality Improvement
  • Financial Management and Health Economics
  • Healthcare IT and Data Analysis
  • Healthcare Law, Governance, and Current Issues in Health Policy
  • Healthcare Marketing and Strategic Communications
  • Principles of Human Resources Management for Healthcare Organizations
  • Skill Development in Communication, Leadership, Evidence-based Management, and Ethics
  • Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship for Healthcare Organizations

Meanwhile, the curriculum in University of Rhode Island‘s Master of Science in Healthcare Management program includes core courses like:

  • Data Analytics for Healthcare Management
  • Financial Management of Healthcare Organizations
  • Health Leadership and Administration
  • Healthcare Information Systems Management
  • Healthcare Operations & Process Improvement
  • Leadership in Healthcare Management
  • Strategic Marketing for Healthcare Management

It probably doesn’t matter much whether someone earns an MHA, another degree in healthcare administration, a degree in healthcare management, a Master of Health Services Administration, or even an MBA in health administration. They’ll be qualified to handle the business aspects of medicine and to step into management roles in the healthcare field, regardless of which degree pathway or which career path they choose.

Do professionals in these fields earn the same salaries?

This is where things get interesting. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not differentiate between healthcare administration salaries and healthcare management salaries,. Rather, it lumps them into one category: Medical and Health Services Managers. According to the BLS, Average wages in healthcare administration roles hover around $101,000, with the highest-paid 10 percent earning more than $189,000.

Sites like PayScale, on the other hand, often publish separate statistics for healthcare administrators and healthcare managers. According to that site, healthcare administrators earn about $68,000, while healthcare managers earn about $65,000—a relatively small discrepancy that’s reversed on Indeed. Glassdoor shows the largest difference between healthcare administration salaries and healthcare management salaries, with the former earning $64,000 and the latter earning $74,000.

Does that mean professionals who work in the business side of medicine should market themselves as ‘managers’ versus ‘administrators’? Absolutely not. The takeaway is simply that you shouldn’t get bogged down in naming conventions. Graduates of Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration programs, MHA programs, and other degree programs related to health administration should be open to all kinds of opportunities, regardless of whether those opportunities wear the administration or management label. A rose by any other name will pay as much… if not more, so it’s worth exploring all the options out there.

Is there more room for advancement in health administration or healthcare management?

The question isn’t whether there’s more room for advancement in health administration or healthcare management, but rather what the job outlook is for health administrators. All you need to know is that jobs in health administration are currently being created much faster than in other fields, and chances are that isn’t going to change any time soon. Healthcare continues to employ more people than any other sector of the U.S. economy, and the healthcare industry is growing. People are living longer, and the elderly population is expanding. There are plenty of opportunities out there for healthcare managers who specialize in gerontology or nursing home management. Advancements in medical technology are leading to new treatments that can complicate patient care and make billing and insurance more complex. Then there’s the fact that the list of rules and regulations that medical facilities have to comply with is changing all the time.

There will always be illnesses and injuries. Humanity will probably never conquer aging. Periods of economic downturn don’t slow down the cycle of births and deaths. And in the US, we spend twice what other nations spend on medicine. What that means is that careers in healthcare administration—or healthcare management, if you prefer—are some of the only genuinely recession-proof careers out there.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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