Business Administration

Are Online Healthcare MBA Programs Any Good?

Are Online Healthcare MBA Programs Any Good?
Online healthcare MBA programs allow busy professionals to earn their degree on a more flexible schedule. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella June 30, 2021

Physicians with aspirations to become healthcare leaders often choose an online healthcare MBA. Flexible program schedules allow for a better work-study balance, and advanced online learning systems mean you don't need to sacrifice quality for convenience.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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According to Commonwealth Fund data, the United States spends nearly twice as much on healthcare as other developed nations—more than $10,000 per capita. This exorbitant spending does not always lead to optimal health care outcomes. The US death rate and doctor visitation rates are two areas where results are conspicuously disappointing.

The industry needs leaders with business and medical experience to create more affordable systems. A Journal of Healthcare Leadership study puts it this way: “The importance of effective healthcare leadership is challenging to overestimate, as leadership not only improves significant clinical outcomes in patients but also improves provider well-being by promoting workplace engagement and reducing burnout.” Deciding to earn a healthcare Master of Business Administration (MBA), especially as a practicing physician, is one of the best ways to develop the necessary leadership skills to run a major healthcare organization. It means improving patient outcomes while achieving optimal business results.

Healthcare MBA degree programs typically seek applicants with professional experience in healthcare settings. Applicants include physicians looking to continue working while studying. Their schedules often make it impossible for them to attend a full-time, on-campus program.

If you think you’d benefit from an MBA but worry about the demands on your calendar and professional development, consider earning an online degree. It can lead to the same excellent jobs and salaries as an on-campus program without putting your current career on hold.

Having the best of both worlds sounds too good. You may be wondering are online healthcare MBA programs any good? Read on to learn more about this degree, including:

  • Growth of the healthcare job market
  • Opportunities for MBAs
  • What is an MBA?
  • What is a healthcare MBA?
  • Are online healthcare MBA programs any good?
  • Who gets an online healthcare MBA?
  • Should I get my healthcare MBA online?

Growth of the healthcare job market

The healthcare job market is growing at an astounding rate. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15 percent increase from 2019 to 2029, translating to 2.4 million healthcare jobs in 2029. That’s almost four times the growth rate of the overall job market. Individual healthcare positions have even more astonishing growth predictions than the overall industry. The demand for medical and health services managers, for example, is projected to increase by 32 percent in the same timeframe.

Market growth means trillions of dollars in spending. The National Health Expenditure will grow from $3.8 trillion in 2019 to $6.2 trillion in 2028, according to The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Much of this increase is driven by an aging population. According to the Census Bureau, by 2034 there will be more senior citizens than children.

Aging isn’t the only factor driving the healthcare industry. There is a nationwide increase in:

  • Drug prices
  • Hospital expenditures
  • Insurance premiums
  • Medicare and Medicaid
  • Uninsured citizens

“Should I Get A MBA?”

University and Program Name Learn More

Opportunities for MBAs

Earning an MBA is an excellent way to advance your career—regardless of whether you get a healthcare specialization. Poets and Quants reports that lifetime earnings for the average MBA-holder are $2.3 million higher than other professionals. Attending a top ten program correlates to roughly $8 million in earnings.

MBAs also enjoy excellent career mobility. According to MarketWatch, “The number of chief executives switching between industries quadrupled over five years” from 2015 to 2019. This is due to the increasingly transferable skill sets among executive leadership—exactly what you’ll learn in an MBA program. Many MBA students pursue the degree intending to change careers, utilizing coursework and internships to help position them for graduation, according to US News & World Report.

What is an MBA?

MBA programs prepare graduates for high-level business leadership positions, including executive roles. Programs typically take two years to complete full-time, though there are single-year executive MBA programs as well as part-time degrees that can take longer.

According to Poets and Quants, the best part of earning an MBA is it “opens the doors to many companies that would otherwise pass on you, particularly in consulting, finance, and technology.” MBAs can expect a 50 percent pay increase from their previous job when they get a new role post-graduation. Graduates are in high demand; the article reports that Amazon alone hires around 1,000 MBA graduates each year.

That means all programs teach business strategy-minded coursework that includes:

  • Accounting
  • Economics
  • Ethics
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Statistics
  • Strategic management and leadership

Generally, you’ll complete base coursework before moving onto a specialization in your second year. Top specializations include:

What is a healthcare MBA?

Healthcare MBA program coursework is typically split between core coursework and electives. You may study subjects like:

  • Community health
  • Delivery systems
  • Entrepreneurship for healthcare
  • Healthcare analytics
  • Healthcare data
  • Healthcare decision-making
  • Healthcare delivery
  • Healthcare finance
  • Healthcare policy
  • Healthcare systems
  • Health economics
  • Health-focused financial management
  • Health informatics
  • Health information systems
  • Health law
  • Health operations
  • Information technology for healthcare
  • Leadership for healthcare
  • Policy creation
  • Public health administration

Healthcare MBA programs also include outside-the-classroom activities that introduce students to the industry. For example, Case Western Reserve University partners with top healthcare institutions in Ohio, including the Cleveland VA Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic, to facilitate experiential learning and networking. Students forge relationships through interviews, events, and residencies.

There are many careers you can explore with an MBA, but a healthcare MBA prepares you specifically for roles in public health and health leadership. Potential jobs include:

  • Healthcare consultant
  • Hospital administrator
  • Hospital CEO
  • Hospital CFO
  • Pharmaceutical brand manager
  • Pharmaceutical product manager

Healthcare administration vs. healthcare management

Healthcare administration and healthcare management differ in several ways, most related to the scope of responsibilities. Administrators typically concentrate on daily operations, meaning they create daily budgets and hire or fire staff. Healthcare managers take a broader view, looking at the way the entire organization is run.

Still, that’s the difference between two individual careers. Ultimately, each MBA specialization covers similar subjects, including health law, organizational leadership, and strategy, and prepares you for similar careers. The real difference may lie in the name of your school’s degree rather than coursework.

Alternatively, you can complete a non-MBA master’s degree in healthcare management, such as a Master of Healthcare Administration and study many of the same subjects, but without the general business education.

Are online healthcare MBA programs any good?

Yes, online healthcare MBA programs are excellent. Like any graduate program, however, it depends on where you earn your degree. Not all programs are of equal quality. Earning your diploma from a top program can lead to higher earnings.

Top schools offering an MBA online include:

Of course, there are other excellent online master’s programs, depending on your needs and goals. Check whether your preferred school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) before applying.

Are you still wondering how online healthcare MBA programs stack up against traditional on-campus programs? Read on.

Online healthcare MBAs follow the same (or very similar) curricula as their on-campus counterparts

If you attend a program with both an online and on-campus option, chances are they share the same curriculum. According to US News & World Report, “Typically, the curriculum and types of assignments, including group projects, are the same – just delivered in a different way.” This delivery system can include pre-recorded lectures, online classes, and more flexible assignment deadlines. Online programs also usually offer more start dates than on-campus degrees, which typically only have one or two per year. Of course, requirements may differ at individual schools, including necessary credit hours and specific courses. Many ask students to maintain a minimum GPA and complete a capstone to graduate.

Still, even two programs at the same institution can differ. The University of Arizona offers a healthcare management degree specialization for both its online programand in-person MBA. In-person students complete 48 units (32 core courses and 16 electives) while online students complete 45 units (the breakdown between core and elective courses is not specified).

Boston University has one of the most distinct online MBA programs, which does not offer elective courses. It’s $24,000 cheaper, according to a 2019 Inside Higher Ed article, and is directed specifically at students who want to advance at their current job.

Online healthcare MBAs have similar admission requirements as their on-campus counterparts

Expect to send the transcripts, GMAT (or GRE) scores, letters of recommendation, personal essay(s), and a resume. More online programs, including those at top schools, are becoming test-optional, meaning you may not need to send GMAT scores.

Programs that make one aspect of the application process optional generally emphasize another. For online programs, this is usually previous work experience. According to the dean of the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign MBA program, quoted in an article on Poets and Quants, “We’ve seen from your professional success that you have what it takes. We just really think the additional information value we get out of a standardized test at that point in somebody’s career is very limited.”

Online MBAs typically have higher acceptance rates than in-person programs. Because online programs can accommodate many more students, fewer qualified applicants are rejected by online programs than by their limited-seating on-campus counterparts. Highly regarded schools like University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler), Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper), University of Southern California (Marshall) accepted more than 50 percent of applicants in 2019.

Online healthcare MBAs have the same field experiences as their online counterparts

Again, this depends on the school that you attend, but as a rule, on-campus programs with strong fieldwork or internship requirements have corresponding requirements for the online program. Case Western Reserve University partners with local hospitals and health centers—what the school calls a high-touch program. Students participate in a rotating residency at four health institutions, where they “learn practical knowledge and immediately applicable skills, take part in networking events and enjoy scheduled social time with ]their[ peers from all around the country.” In contrast, the in-person full-time program offers the Weatherhead Healthcare Club for networking opportunities and learning events.

Schools often require students to complete an internship to graduate and help their searches with resources or recruiting events. According to Poets and Quants, not “having a parade of corporate recruiters” show up to give internships and job placements is one drawback of an online MBA. That said, online students have workarounds. University at Buffalo, and many other schools, offer a Career Resources Center and online database to help with placements.

Finally, internships may not be as significant for online students, considering they often look to advance at their current job, whereas in-person students more often seek to switch careers. The University at Buffalo even offers an internship waiver to anyone with adequate professional experience.

Online healthcare MBAs offer the same support services as their on-campus counterparts

While you may not be able to walk into an advising office informally and chat with somebody to get assistance, online programs usually have robust support services—the same as you can expect at the on-campus degree. This can include:

  • Advisors
  • Library resources
  • Job search help

It’s in the school’s best interest to take care of students. According to an article from Colorado State University – Fort Collins, “Programs that connect online students to quality resources typically have higher retention and graduation rates.” The University at Buffalo Internships and Experiential Learning (IEL) team is specifically geared to help students land positions and operates through the career center.

Your online healthcare MBA classmates will likely be more experienced

Experience is one of the biggest differences between online and in-person degrees. Poets and Quants reports that online students are typically older and more experienced than those in traditional learning settings. They usually have more managerial experience. Online programs attract these students in part because they often offer flexibility to continue working while completing a degree.

The average age for students in an online program is much higher than for in-person programs. Per 2018 Poets and Quants numbers, ages can range from 22 to 71 for online programs. The schools with the highest average age on that list include UNC (33), Syracuse University (35), Temple University (36), University of Nebraska – Lincoln (38), and University of Massachusetts Amherst (39). According to an article from Vanderbilt University, the average age for all students pursuing an MBA is about 28—corresponding to around five years of work experience. However, it is common for people to apply for an MBA after just two to three years of work.

Online healthcare MBAs offer more networking opportunities than you probably think

Because of COVID-19, all MBA students were forced to learn to network online, not just those in online programs. This has shifted how networking events are perceived and may create change even as things return to normal. For example, students at Northwestern University utilize Slack to network and play virtual games. Other students created virtual trips and were able to connect with others around the world. As things return to normal, it’s unclear how many of these developments will stay, but it translates to several viable networking opportunities for online students.

Not all networking events take place online. Many schools, such as Case Western Reserve University, provide students with in-person opportunities. Carnegie Mellon, which is the top-ranked MBA, has one of the most comprehensive residency components. Students take part in clubs and six “Access Weekends.” These weekends provide opportunities to network and meet other students in person. Not limited to the Pittsburgh CMU campus, they can also take place in Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.

Online healthcare MBAs earn identical diplomas as their on-campus counterparts

Ultimately, this is the most crucial aspect of deciding to earn an online MBA—knowing the degree isn’t less valuable than an in-person version. There was a time when online MBAs may have been seen as ‘less,’ but those days have passed, especially as online became the first choice of students trying to maintain their work commitments, according to an article by University of Arizona.

According to a 2016 US News & World Report article, “Recruiters say most employers accept job candidates’ online MBAs from respected schools, especially now that the quality of an online MBA education at many institutions is equivalent to one on a physical campus.”

Online programs have only grown more respected in the intervening years since this was written. In fact, many schools have begun shutting down their on-campus programs in favor of expanding the online option. Nothing is for certain, but it looks like the online MBA is here to stay and is growing from a good alternative to in-person degrees to the top option for many.

Who gets an online healthcare MBA?

The typical candidate for an online healthcare MBA already works in healthcare, is likely in their 30s, and has several years of professional experience. They likely want to continue working during their degree and advance at their current organization. Some

Many healthcare MBA candidates have experience as physicians or another in healthcare provider capacity. The George Washington program “is specifically designed for experienced healthcare professionals looking to gain business skills needed to become health services managers, administrators, and executives.”

Other schools may institute this rule as well; others may prefer candidates with a science background. A bachelor’s degree in a science subject may be helpful if you haven’t worked in the industry. Case Western Reserve University looks for applicants “with a minimum of three to five years of work experience looking to advance [their] career into a leadership or management position in healthcare—even if [they] are not currently working in the healthcare field.”

Should I get my healthcare MBA online?

Ultimately, the decision to earn a healthcare MBA online comes down to what you want out of your career. One 2018 Forbes article reports that online students do not have access to the same level of recruiting and job offers as traditional students, but that’s in large part because of their age and the fact that they have good jobs already. Online students seeking recruitment opportunities generally receive excellent support.

One pediatrician quoted in a Fortune article, Dr. Cathy Dailey, decided to earn an MBA after learning she could potentially move into an administrative position. She ended up not taking the job but completed her degree and now feels confident she can move out of a practice role in the future. Daily fits the profile for a student who earns an online MBA: currently works in a great position but aspires for more.

Most importantly, students who complete an online MBA program typically leave satisfied, especially if they attend a well-known degree. In 2020, Poets & Quants conducted a survey about graduate satisfaction. Those from ranked schools were highly likely to recommend the program to a colleague, friend, or relative—with 33 programs earning a score of at least nine out of ten.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

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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