Healthcare Administration

Deciding Your Path To The Healthcare Profession: MPH or MHA?

Deciding Your Path To The Healthcare Profession: MPH or MHA?
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Noodle Staff October 17, 2018

Both the MPH and MHA are great for individuals looking to improve healthcare outcomes, but the focus of the two degrees is different. Allow Noodle ensure that the path you select is one you'll actually enjoy.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for medical and health services managers will grow by 20 percent from 2016 to 2026. In other words, individuals who earn a master’s degree in health services fields can expect a high demand for their expertise upon graduation. What can challenging, however, is making the initial choice between the numerous master’s programs that are available. For most aspiring health services professionals, the choice comes down to a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) or a Master’s in Health Administration (MHA).

Deciding which degree to pursue MPH or MHA

There is certainly a high demand for professionals in healthcare, but it’s important to ensure that the path you select is one you’ll actually enjoy. Both the MPH and MHA are great for individuals looking to improve healthcare outcomes, but the focus of the two degrees is different.



University and Program Name Learn More

The MHA route

An MHA degree is designed for healthcare professionals who are eager to enter the world of management. The curriculum trains students on the business aspects of healthcare. Compared to the MPH program, the MHA program is much more rigorous in applied management and analytics. In addition, unlike the MPH, which focuses on disease prevention and public policy, an MHA degree is centered around the practical considerations related to running a healthcare organization.

An MHA takes about two years to complete. Graduates are qualified for high-ranking administrative careers in hospitals and other institutions.

Students who have the following qualities would do well choosing this educational route:

  • Superb communication skills
  • Dependability
  • Adaptability
  • Good professional judgement
  • Previous management experience
  • Organized

The MPH Route

Students seeking to have a direct impact in public health policy are well-suited for an MPH degree program. While MHA students learn management strategies to help them run organizations, MPH students learn how to navigate the politics of developing public health programs. The curriculum is comprised of subjects in biostatistics, epidemiology, public health research and business.

MPH graduates understand how to use analytical research to track diseases across a population. They’re qualified for an array of public and private sector careers.

If you’re someone who is passionate about research, interested in policy, and enjoys educating individuals about health and disease, then the MPH would be an excellent choice for you.

Public health leaders typically have the following qualities:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Communication skills
  • Initiative

What Are The Programs Like?

When it comes to the coursework and scholarship of MHA versus MPH programs, there is quite a bit of overlap. But while MPH programs do have a strong administrative focus, one can also anticipate classes on law, biostatistics, biology, epidemiology, behavioral health, and more. Students should be able to walk away with knowledge on how to apply research methods and administer new public health programs.

On the other hands, students in an MHA program will learn more about leadership and business strategies. Courses may include quality management, accounting, financial management, healthcare leadership, and more. In fact, an MHA is very similar to an MBA program — just with a healthcare focus.

For a full-time student, both the MPH and the MHA will take approximately two years to finish.

Getting Accepted

When comparing options to see which degree best suits your interests and career goals, you should also know the requirements for a Master’s in Health Administration versus a Master’s in Public Health. In general, both programs require that you have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Your GPA is important as well; there is no GPA cut-off point for MHA or MPH programs, but most schools expect their students to have maintained a 3.3 or better during their undergraduate studies.

Students are also expected to have taken at least one higher level standardized test — be that the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT. For MPH applicants submitting test scores other than the MCAT, strong consideration may go towards those who did well on their exam’s quantitative skills section or sections.

In addition, if you are accepted into an MPH program, you may need to choose which concentration you’d like to pursue. Some available concentrations include health policy, epidemiology, and biostatistics.

Admission requirements for MHA programs are similar to those of MPH programs; many schools prefer students that did well in statistics, microeconomics, and accounting during their undergrad years.

Job Opportunities

Whether you graduate with an MPH or an MHA, you will find that your skills make you valuable to potential employers. Either degree will offer you job opportunities that are rewarding and challenging.

MPH graduates have numerous employment paths to choose from, as the degree itself is diverse and covers a lot of topics. Those who enjoy teaching about health and wellness may become health educators and work at hospitals or non-profits. Those interested in engaging with large communities and handling high risk projects might consider a career as a public health officer, working for the local, state, or federal government.

Other career paths for MPH graduates include:

  • Epidemiologist
  • Healthcare Consultant
  • Infection Control Officer
  • Project Manager
  • Biostatistician
  • Environmental Health Specialist

MHA graduates also have a lot of career options, most of which will be administrative and/or management-type roles. And this field is growing fast: In the coming years, many baby boomers will require long-term care services, such as those offered by nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In order to meet the demand for these services, additional healthcare administrators will be needed to oversee finances, staff members, and more.

At the hospital level, there’s also a high demand for clinical managers. These professionals typically oversee entire departments, such as the Department of Gastroenterology or Neurology. In addition, government agencies look for MHA graduates to help implement policies, lead new healthcare initiatives, and advocate for those in disadvantaged communities.

What Salary Can Degree Holders Expect?

The demand for public health leaders and healthcare managers is growing. Great leaders can save healthcare organizations millions of dollars and can improve public health outcomes. Because these roles are so important, salaries are competitive with some high-level positions reaching the six-figure range.

Here is a breakdown of salaries (based on job role) for those who complete a Master’s in Public Health:
Public Health Officer: $58,962/year
Epidemiologist: $75,753/year
Biostatician: $75,453/year
Project Manager: $90,337/year
Environmental Health Specialist: $66,183/year

Those who complete their Master’s in Health Administration can anticipate the following salaries based on these roles:
Healthcare Administrator: $68,612 /year
Clinical Manager: $75,434/year
Chief Operating Officer: $265,000/year

In general, one’s salary will be based on location, previous experience, and the duties that are required in their role.

Selecting the best choice for you

If you’re looking for a field that will provide a sense of fulfillment and a good challenge, then you can’t go wrong with an MPH or an MHA. Ultimately, you should choose the degree that is best aligned with your interests and career aspirations.

Note that many schools will offer MPH and MHA programs online, and/or the option to pursue the degree part-time. So even if you are already working or have other obligations, a master’s degree might be within your reach.

Now that you know what to expect from both the MPH and MHA, you can determine which path is better suited to your goals.

Works cited

Medical and Health Service Managers. Retrieved September 15, 2018

A comparison of academic curricula in the MPH and MHA-type degrees in health administration at the accredited schools of public health. Retrieved September 14, 2018

What Qualities Would Make Me a Good Healthcare Manager? Retrieved September 15, 2018

University of Arizona. Retrieved September 15, 2018.

Salary of a hospital COO. September 15, 2018.

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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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Categorized as: Healthcare AdministrationNursing & Healthcare