Healthcare Management

11 Solid Reasons to Get a Healthcare MBA

11 Solid Reasons to Get a Healthcare MBA
The need for qualified business leaders to step in and create structural changes has never been greater. Earning a healthcare Master of Business Administration (MBA) can help you become an agent of change at hospitals, insurance agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella June 25, 2021

Earning a healthcare MBA strengthens your resume and improves your job prospects in a growing market. You'll be able to earn a high salary as a business leader while improving health systems from the inside.

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Healthcare constitutes a huge portion of the US economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it accounts for most of the 20 fastest-growing occupations in the US. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project the national health expenditure will reach $6.2 trillion by 2028, up from $3.8 trillion in 2019.

Factors contributing to this ballooning number include increases in Medicare and Medicaid spending, insurance premiums, drug prices, and hospital expenditures. These, combined with the growing number of uninsured people and an aging population, represent just some of the significant challenges facing the healthcare industry.

The need for qualified business leaders to step in and create structural changes has never been greater. According to an article on the Michigan State University website, healthcare doesn’t work on a traditional supply and demand model; it requires professionals “with the savvy to guide an industry in the midst of disruption—from shifting government regulation and technological innovations to business competition and patients demanding better care for less.”

Earning a healthcare Master of Business Administration (MBA) can help you become an agent of change at hospitals, insurance agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. If that’s not enough motivation, here are 11 solid reasons to get a healthcare MBA. This article addresses:

  • What is a healthcare MBA?
  • Healthcare management vs. healthcare administration
  • 11 reasons to get a healthcare MBA
  • Who is the typical healthcare MBA student?
  • What are the admissions requirements for a healthcare MBA?
  • Can I get my healthcare MBA online?
  • Should I get a healthcare MBA?

What is a healthcare MBA?

Healthcare MBA programs combine healthcare and business management with coursework in entrepreneurship, strategic leadership, and healthcare policy. According to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduates from the school’s healthcare MBA program are “prepared to take on the difficult challenges in the healthcare industry.” Having a science background, such as a relevant bachelor’s degree or existing experience in the health arena, can help candidates gain admission.

Healthcare is just one specialization option for MBA programs; others include marketing, real estate, and analytics. Like other specializations, it takes two years for a full-time student to complete. Typically, students complete traditional MBA coursework first, including:

  • Accounting
  • Business management
  • Data analysis
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Operations
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Healthcare management vs. healthcare administration

Healthcare management and healthcare administration constitute the two most popular MBA healthcare concentrations. Healthcare administration degrees produce professionals who work to keep healthcare institutions running. Jobs include clinic, department, and hospital administrator. Healthcare management programs tend to focus more on big-picture issues like finance and long-term planning. The differences are fine enough that the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) categorizes these programs identically.

Students in both tracks complete similar core courses, including traditional MBA coursework and health-centered subjects like:

  • Healthcare reimbursement
  • Health law
  • Health policy
  • Public health

The difference between these specializations depends on the school and may come down to which electives you decide to take. For instance, Stony Brook University offers a healthcare management MBA through its college of business, including elective course titles like:

  • Business Aspect of Managed Care
  • Health Economics and Public Policy
  • Health Law
  • Marketing in Health Services
  • Strategic Management in Health Care
  • The Political Setting of Public Health Policy and Management

Course titles for St. Joseph’s College – Long Island healthcare administration specialization include:

  • Leadership And Managerial Development
  • Organizational Theory and Design
  • Marketing Concepts and Strategies
  • Management Of Health Care Information Systems
  • Health Care Operations Management
  • Health Care Strategic Planning

If you want to pursue a career in healthcare administration without earning an MBA, consider a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA). It teaches many of the same skills but with less focus on the business side of healthcare. MHA students have more opportunities to study subjects like healthcare quality, ethics, and policy.

The traditional MBA curriculum is more keyed in on operations management as a discipline, rather than only looking at health specializations. Both master’s degrees can set up excellent career opportunities, but MBAs better prepare you for careers outside healthcare organizations.

11 reasons to get a healthcare MBA

A healthcare MBA can advance your existing healthcare career or help you transition into one, including high-paying and high responsibility positions like:

But, there’s more to this degree than just a job title. Other top reasons to earn a healthcare MBA include:

Learn about the latest advances in healthcare and healthcare business

Because healthcare is a business first and foremost, advances ultimately lead to higher profits. According to Yale University, “The healthcare sector is undergoing rapid, momentous change. The combination of ongoing technological development and far-reaching regulatory change means that no business model can survive without constant revision and rejuvenation.” Healthcare MBA students work to advance healthcare practices and achieve business goals.

Students spend their first year learning about the healthcare system, including talks with such industry professionals as insurance CEOs, drug manufacturers, and policymakers. From there, they focus on applying management skills to healthcare. Relevant course titles include:

  • Healthcare Operations
  • Healthcare Policy, Finance and Economic
  • Investing in Health Care

Build management and leadership skills

Most MBA programs offer management and leadership-focused courses. Relevant course titles at Vanderbilt University include:

  • Essentials of Project Management
  • Leading Teams and Organizations
  • Management Communication

However, leadership development often takes place outside of coursework. University of Southern California claims several advantages for its online MBA leadership development program, starting with the culture, which is “supportive and conscious of developing soft skills like communication, a sense of ethical responsibility and mentorship.” Students work in cohorts, which facilitate natural communication and collaboration in a business-like setting. They learn to lead with technology, which can help get the most from their soft skills.

Build your professional network

Ultimately, building a network is one of the top reasons to complete an MBA, though naturally, not all are created equal. Networking is one area where a program’s ranking can be important. Schools like Carnegie Mellon University have vast networks stretching “from Wall Street to the military.” By joining the network, you can access alumni in high-level positions and open doors that wouldn’t otherwise be available to you.

Let’s say you don’t attend a top ten program. Does networking still apply? Of course. All MBA programs host recruiting events, have alumni networks, and provide opportunities to mix with classmates and healthcare professionals. Ultimately, building a network means developing strong relationships, according to Poets and Quants, including those from old jobs.

Earn a credential that strengthens your resume

MBA programs can offer credentials or dual degrees to enhance your CV or prepare you for specific industry jobs. SUNY Empire State College offers two credentials for MBA students. They are:

  • Optometry Business Management
  • Health Care Management

Dual degrees are also common with healthcare MBA programs. New York University offers a dual MD/MBA program. Students who complete this degree get “essential management education that facilitates physicians’ understanding of the larger impact the business of healthcare has on patient care, as well as how the specific clinical setting in which they work may impact their own patients.” They can take on roles like:

  • Medical director
  • Pharmaceutical consultant
  • Public healthcare agency director

Other common degrees to mix with an MBA are a Master of Public Health or Master of Health Administration. Graduates with one of these degrees can take on roles in health leadership, and may be extra prepared to work for government or public health agencies.

And, of course, the MBA itself is perhaps the most valuable and impressive credential you’ll earn.

Improve your profile in a steadily growing job market

You already know a healthcare MBA can improve your job prospects; now it’s time to see the kind of job market you’re entering. Spoiler alert, it’s a big one. As boomers age, the industry needs more professionals and better services. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that healthcare jobs will grow by 15 percent from 2019 to 2029, which translates to 2.4 million jobs. No sector will grow by a larger number over that period.

According to the BLS, the demand for medical and health services managers “who plan, direct, and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers” is even higher. The agency projects job growth of 32 percent from 2019 to 2029, a simply astounding rate compared to the 4 percent average growth rate the BLS projects for all jobs during the same period.

Earn an excellent salary and benefits

According to the BLS, medical health and services managers earned a median income of $104,280 in 2020. Income depends on the healthcare industry sector, among other factors including experience and education. According to the BLS, professionals who work in government positions earn the highest median annual income ($116,380), followed by those in state, local, and private hospitals ($112,870), and outpatient care centers ($100,690). Those working in physicians’ offices or nursing and residential care facilities earn less ($94,240 and $89,880, respectively).

Where you live can also play a role in your salary. For example, the annual average income for managers in the New York metropolitan area is $153,590, while those in north Arkansas earn $79,290. Of course, the cost of living is significantly higher in New York than it is in Arkansas.

An MBA degree can qualify you for executive positions, which often come with impressive salaries and benefits. You may have seen Rep. Katie Porter of California take out a whiteboard as she took a pharmaceutical executive to task for the company’s extravagant spending, much of which went to executive salaries and stock options. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, the highest salaries for healthcare executives exceeded $20 million. Not every executive earns that much. According to Comparably, the average salary for hospital CEOs in the country was just over $230,000.

Make decisions that improve systems

An MBA is one of the few degrees that can put you in the position to make decisions that impact the way institutions like hospitals or insurance companies operate. The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School boasts that job titles for recent graduates from its healthcare management program include:

  • Executive Director, Penn Medicine Center for Health Innovation
  • Managing Partner, Zenyth Partners
  • Partner, Deloitte Consulting
  • President & CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and Stella
  • Senior Strategy Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Vice President, U.S. Pain Franchise, Pfizer

MBA coursework can focus on system improvements, both from a healthcare and general management standpoint. Wharton offers courses like Healthcare Reforms, which includes analysis of previous reformation attempts and a look to the future, and US Payer-Provider Strategy, which discusses increasing care costs and ideal strategies. From a management perspective, all MBA programs, regardless of specialty, help prepare you to enact institutional change. Leadership and analytics courses designed to improve your decision-making can help in any sector you decide to pursue, not just healthcare.

You’ll bring business know-how to an industry that could always use more

The industry needs professionals who can leverage innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence to improve patient care functions. Like it or not, private businesses like Google and Amazon are branching into the healthcare industry, meaning drastic changes in the coming years. According to the MSU article on healthcare and business leadership, companies and providers must shift their values to be more patient-centric if they want to improve the system. This means rethinking everything from regulations to the healthcare supply chain by moving to a “pay for value” approach rather than the current service-based system. The industry needs leaders who are patient-focused yet business-minded to meet these lofty goals.

Feel good about the work you do

With everything going on in the healthcare industry, there are many opportunities to fight for change and effect a positive impact. It’s easy to get down on the institution, but people are creating a better system. According to the University of Southern California, companies like IBM and Aetna are at the forefront of the movement. IBM utilizes its artificial intelligence and computing capabilities to diagnose patients with machines and set up medical data mining operations that can help reach better outcomes more efficiently. The Aetna CEO raised the company’s minimum wage in 2016 to improve customer service and patient outcomes.

The article states the best leaders “promote innovation and do not fear challenges.” Having an MBA is an excellent way to become this type of leader. Still, the way you apply this education is up to you.

MBA skills are portable

Yes, MBA skills are extremely portable. US News & World Report says internships and coursework both lead to career changes. Additionally, completing a specialization is an excellent way to build the necessary skills for a career shift.

The transferable nature of an MBA continues even after you complete your business education. According to MarketWatch, “New data shows a blurring of skills has prompted a 45 percent increase in executives moving between sectors from 2015 to 2019.” In today’s business environment, managers are expected to have the analytics and leadership skills that an MBA teaches, no matter their work sector. You may need additional knowledge about the healthcare field to work in it, especially when it comes to healthcare delivery, laws, and systems.

You can earn it online in a part-time program

Online programs are a great way to earn an MBA. They are typically offered at the same schools as conventional in-person degrees, deliver the same curriculum and demand the same graduation requirements. Part-time programs are known for providing more flexible options, though part-time in-person programs exist.

We’ll discuss online programs more later, but it’s helpful to note there are several part-time program format options. Johns Hopkins University students complete their part-time online degree in an average of 2.7 years. Terms last eight weeks, which the school says offers students excellent flexibility.

The Carnegie Mellon part-time online program asks students to complete classes two days per week, then work offline for the rest. Though the program is considered an online degree, it includes on-campus learning. Part-time students can switch to the full-time program if they want.

In short, online programs offer maximum flexibility in course and study scheduling.

Who is the typical healthcare MBA student?

There’s no typical healthcare MBA student, though many have a healthcare background. According to Case Western Reserve University, which offers a healthcare MBA, “The industry’s desire to hire professionals with both a science background and strong management skills has been on the rise.” Case Western Reserve University looks for applicants with at least three years of work experience who want to qualify for healthcare leadership and management roles. This means that while being a physician or having a solid science background may help your admissions chances, working in healthcare isn’t necessarily a requirement.

What are the admissions requirements for a healthcare MBA?

Because healthcare MBA programs are typically offered as a specialization track in a traditional MBA program, you’ll likely apply to the general program, then specialize. Programs tend to follow the same admissions standards. Top programs have stricter guidelines than lower-tier institutions.

Requirements usually include:

  • Academic transcripts: Both undergraduate and any graduate programs you’ve previously attended.
  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores: Top schools expect GMAT scores in the 700s. Note that some programs, including highly-ranked programs, are MBA-optional or do not require standardized test scores.
  • Interview: An interview allows you to make your case in a more personal way.
  • Letters of recommendation: Typically from former professors and former (or current) employers.
  • Personal essay: Like the interview, this enables you to fill in the gaps of your resume and make a personal case for why you should get into the program.
  • Resume: This allows you to display your work history and accomplishments.

Not all schools require standardized test scores. Some do not requie inteviews.

Can I get my healthcare MBA online?

There are several excellent online healthcare MBA options. These programs offer the same academic experience as in-person programs. You may not have as many networking opportunities, but that’s not necessarily so; many schools offer many school events for online students.

Top institutions that offer an online healthcare MBA option include:

Online programs typically attract older, more experienced students. Attending an online program part time can also make it easier to continue working while completing your healthcare management degree.

Should I get a healthcare MBA?

A healthcare MBA can lead to excellent, high-paying careers and positive changes in an industry that is sorely in need of them. If that’s what you want to do in your professional life, a healthcare MBA can make it happen. Scholarships and loans can help make earning an MBA more affordable.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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