Business Administration

Unsurprisingly, the Top Healthcare MBA Programs Are at the Top-Ranking Business Schools

Unsurprisingly, the Top Healthcare MBA Programs Are at the Top-Ranking Business Schools
The debate rages endlessly as to whether the US healthcare system is on the verge of collapse or the best in the world. Still, two things are abundantly clear: healthcare is big business, and healthcare management is about more than just balancing the books. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry July 7, 2020

You don't have to become a doctor or nurse to make a difference in patients' lives. There are plenty of ways to make an impact on the administrative side of healthcare, and plenty of programs at top-ranking business schools that prepare you to do just that.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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Why get an MBA in Healthcare Management? In 2018, Dr. Nick T. Sawyer, a physician and MBA graduate, observed: “In the US, healthcare is now strictly a business term.”

Was he right? Let’s look at the facts:

  • About 11 percent of Americans work in healthcare
  • Healthcare costs represent more than 8 percent of consumer spending and 24 percent of government spending
  • More than a quarter of all non-wage compensation is given to workers in the form of health insurance
  • Healthcare industry spending accounts for more than 17 percent of the US economy

The debate rages endlessly as to whether the US healthcare system is on the verge of collapse or the best in the world. Still, two things are abundantly clear: healthcare is big business, and healthcare management is about more than just balancing the books. Decisions concerning healthcare administration significantly affect patient outcomes.

Healthcare administrators have to do more than just make sure the facilities they manage stay in the black. In some ways, it’s a labor of love. Professionals who work in healthcare management need specialized skills and knowledge related to medicine, insurance, public health, and government regulations that other business people don’t need. They also do work that can make a real difference in the world. Even granting that healthcare is merely a business, consider the words of Scott DeRue, the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor: “Business is the most powerful force on the planet for positive change.”

In this article about the top healthcare MBA programs, we cover:

  • What is a healthcare MBA and who generally chooses this concentration?
  • Where can I find the top healthcare MBA programs?
  • What do students in these programs study?
  • How long does it usually take to earn a healthcare MBA at top schools?
  • Is a career in healthcare administration my only option with this degree?
  • How much can I expect to earn after graduating from a top healthcare MBA program?
  • What else do I need to know about earning this degree?

What is a healthcare MBA and who generally chooses this concentration?

A healthcare MBA is a specialized master’s-level business degree. It’s designed for anyone who wants to work in the business and financial sides of the medical field. What this degree is called and how programs are structured vary from school to school. Some schools—like Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management—treat healthcare as an official MBA concentration or major. These schools offer an MBA in Healthcare, an MBA in Healthcare Administration, an MBA in Healthcare Management, or any number of other similarly named degrees.

Other colleges and universities (like Yale University’s Yale School of Management) don’t offer official concentrations in healthcare administration or healthcare management. Instead, they allow students to create their own de facto concentrations by selecting elective courses once they meet core MBA degree requirements.

In both cases, students in these specialized MBA programs receive instruction on the healthcare industry’s business side and a complete education in general business fundamentals. The healthcare MBA (in both its formal and self-designed manifestations) is available through on-campus programs, online programs, and hybrid programs.

The commercial side of medicine attracts a variety of learners. Students in these programs run the gamut from newly-minted business bachelor’s degree holders ready to launch careers in healthcare administration to private practice physicians or other medical professionals who want to open their own practices or become hospital CEOs. When you pursue a healthcare management degree, your classmates will include not only aspiring medical practice and network administrators but also professionals with years of work experience looking to transition into biotech, medical devices, and consulting.

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Where can I find the top healthcare MBA programs?

It should come as no surprise that the top healthcare MBA programs can be found at some of the best business schools, including:

  • Boston University’s Questrom School of Management
  • Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business (MBA/MSHCPM)
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
  • Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
  • University of California – Berkeley’s Haas School of Business
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business
  • Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management
  • University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business
  • Yale University’s Yale School of Business

What do students in these programs study?

There is no set healthcare MBA curriculum designed to churn out healthcare managers. That said, nearly all programs have core courses that touch on business fundamentals like finance, analytics, accounting, operations management, information systems, marketing, and strategy. Students then focus on concentration coursework or electives like:

  • Comparative Healthcare Systems: Examines and contrasts different healthcare systems around the world, analyzing their structures, policies, and outcomes to identify best practices and areas for improvement.
  • Community Health: Studies public health initiatives focused on promoting health and preventing disease within communities, emphasizing the role of social determinants of health.
  • Decision-Making in Healthcare Systems: Introduces frameworks and tools for making informed decisions in healthcare settings, considering ethical, legal, and policy implications.
  • Financial Management of Health Institutions: Covers financial strategies and tools used in healthcare organizations, including budgeting, financial reporting, and cost control measures.
  • Health Informatics: Focuses on the application of information technology in healthcare, covering topics such as electronic health records (EHRs), health information systems, and data security.
  • Health Services Delivery: A Managerial Approach: Discusses management practices in the delivery of health services, aiming to improve efficiency, quality of care, and patient satisfaction.
  • Health Systems Administration: Provides an overview of the administrative functions within healthcare systems, including governance, policy development, and leadership roles.
  • Health Operations: Examines operational management in healthcare, focusing on improving processes, logistics, and overall efficiency in healthcare delivery.
  • Healthcare Data & Analytics: Explores the role of data analytics in healthcare, teaching methods to collect, analyze, and utilize data to inform decision-making and improve patient outcomes.
  • Healthcare Delivery and Information Technology: Investigates the impact of information technology on healthcare delivery, including innovations such as telemedicine and health information exchanges.
  • Healthcare Economics: Analyzes economic principles as they apply to healthcare, including supply and demand, healthcare financing, and the economic evaluation of healthcare services.
  • Healthcare Entrepreneurship: Examines the entrepreneurial process within the healthcare sector, focusing on innovation, startup development, and business model creation.
  • Healthcare Finance: Delves into financial management within healthcare organizations, including topics such as revenue cycle management, financial planning, and insurance reimbursement strategies.
  • Healthcare Policy: Explores the development and impact of health policies, addressing how they shape healthcare delivery, access, and quality.
  • Human Resources in Healthcare: Focuses on the management of human resources in healthcare settings, including recruitment, retention, training, and leadership development.
  • Legal Aspects of Healthcare: Covers the legal environment of healthcare, discussing regulations, compliance, patient rights, and ethical issues.
  • Managing Health Care Organizations: Examines management principles specific to healthcare organizations, including strategic planning, organizational behavior, and leadership.
  • Public Policy and Healthcare: Investigates the relationship between public policy and healthcare, analyzing how policy decisions affect healthcare systems and population health.
  • Risk Management in Healthcare: Teaches methods for identifying, assessing, and managing risks in healthcare environments to enhance patient safety and ensure quality care.
  • Strategic Issues for Healthcare Organizations: Discusses the strategic challenges faced by healthcare organizations, including competitive analysis, strategic planning, and market positioning.
  • Structural Dynamics in Healthcare: Studies the organizational structures within healthcare settings, focusing on change management, organizational design, and the dynamics of healthcare delivery.

The ratio of core courses to healthcare concentration courses is different in each MBA degree program. At the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, students only take 12 credits of healthcare courses out of the required 57 credit hours required to earn an MBA. At the Questrom School of Business, students must take four healthcare-focused courses in addition to the full MBA curriculum to earn the Health Sector specialization. Other programs devote much more of the curriculum to topics related to the business of healthcare and health management as its own discipline, offering students opportunities to take classes in related departments and participate in activities related to medical care outside the classroom.

Most on-campus and online MBA students in business healthcare programs must also complete some form of capstone course or thesis and an internship related to health systems management or health administration.

How long does it usually take to earn a healthcare MBA at top schools?

As is the case with most MBAs, earning a healthcare MBA from one of the best business schools usually takes two years of full-time study. During that time, students typically take three or more courses per semester.

Some colleges and universities allow motivated students to complete three full-time semesters per year, and there are other accelerated options. At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, for instance, one-year MBA students can choose a healthcare “pathway.”

Part-time healthcare MBA programs can take three years or more to complete, depending on how many credits per semester a student chooses to pursue.

Is a career in healthcare administration my only option with this degree?

Yes and no. Healthcare administration is a broad career category in the United States that encompasses many different kinds of high-profile and well-paying jobs in healthcare management and in the healthcare field. Every hospital, healthcare facility, medical network, insurance company, surgical center, medical device company, and pharmaceutical manufacturer has business leadership needs, which means there are ample opportunities for healthcare MBA graduates. You might work in finance, general management, HR, marketing, or operations for a company in the healthcare industry.

With this degree, you’ll also qualify to advance into senior positions or to become a:

  • Corporate Development Associate: Focuses on strategic growth initiatives in healthcare organizations, including mergers, acquisitions, partnerships, and new business opportunities.
  • Health Services Manager: Manages the operations of healthcare facilities, ensuring efficient service delivery, quality care, and compliance with regulations.
  • Healthcare Consultant: Provides expert advice to healthcare organizations to enhance performance, streamline operations, and implement best practices.
  • Hospital Administrator: Oversees the day-to-day operations of a hospital, including staff management, budgeting, and ensuring compliance with healthcare regulations.
  • Hospital CEO: The top executive responsible for the overall leadership, strategic planning, and management of a hospital, ensuring financial stability and quality patient care.
  • Hospital CFO: Oversees the financial activities of a hospital, including budgeting, financial planning, revenue cycle management, and financial reporting.
  • Medical Practice Operations Manager: Manages the administrative and business aspects of a medical practice, ensuring efficient operations and high-quality patient care.
  • Pharmaceutical Brand Manager: Develops and implements marketing strategies for pharmaceutical products, focusing on brand positioning, promotion, and market penetration.
  • Pharmaceutical Project Manager: Oversees projects within the pharmaceutical industry, coordinating resources, timelines, and budgets to ensure successful completion and compliance with industry standards.

With a healthcare MBA, you also can pivot out of the healthcare field in the future. Some aspiring healthcare professionals choose to pursue an MBA instead of a Master of Health Administration because they know they want to work in healthcare leadership now, but are unsure they want to stay in the field throughout their careers.

How much can I expect to earn after graduating from a top healthcare MBA program?

According to PayScale, the average salary for healthcare administration MBAs is about $87,000 per year. Graduate from a top program and chances are good that you’ll earn quite a bit more. Students who graduate from the healthcare MBA program offered by the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business typically earn between $114,000 and $135,000. The school reports that 100 percent of students employed by the healthcare industry receive a signing bonus—usually about $25,000.

The question you may be asking yourself is why students who graduate from some programs earn more than others. It’s not all about academics, though the top healthcare MBA programs are undoubtedly rigorous. The answer involves everything from location to what kinds of student clubs are on campus to whether a college or university is home to a highly-ranked medical school.

Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, for example, is located in a city that’s a hub of pharmaceutical, biotech, and healthcare research and manufacturing, plus home to quite a few notable hospitals. Students have opportunities to develop relationships with healthcare industry experts before they graduate. These relationships can lead to opportunities later on.

Similarly, Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management is located in Nashville, which is sometimes known as the “Silicon Valley of Healthcare.” The university is also home to a highly ranked medical school. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has a Healthcare Club and a Digital Healthcare Club, a healthcare mentorship program, the Wharton Health Care Alumni Association, the Wharton Global Health Volunteers group, and the annual Wharton Health Care Business Conference.

In short, students in the best programs get not only a world-class education but also the kinds of professional connections that lead to better jobs right out of school and will serve them throughout their careers.

What else do I need to know about earning this degree?

The most important thing you need to know is that this degree isn’t identical to a Master of Healthcare Administration. There is plenty of overlap between MBA and MHA programs, sure. However, there are also crucial differences you need to consider when comparing and contrasting the two.

MHA programs usually focus exclusively on the business of healthcare. Even core courses in business and management are presented through the lens of medicine. Students in healthcare MBA programs, on the other hand, take generalist finance, economics, marketing, management, and accounting courses designed to give them a broad understanding of business alongside courses devoted to healthcare administration.

The differences don’t end there, however. You’ll probably earn more with an MBA—especially one from one of the best business schools—and you may find it easier to land a high-profile position. As one Quora commenter on a thread about whether the MBA or MHA is the better degree explained, “The MHA is a specialized degree, which actually limits your options to hospital/healthcare positions like superintendent. An MBA opens up new channels and opportunities to work in various other areas (even in healthcare settings) like consulting, medical equipment, pharma, and entrepreneurship.”

It can also open doors outside of healthcare, though if you find the field fascinating, there’s really no reason to transfer out of it. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 18 percent growth in healthcare administration and health services management jobs over the next decade. According to the Corporate Recruiters Survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, healthcare is one of the sectors where demand for MBAs is highest. More employers are willing to fund employees’ pursuit of healthcare MBAs than traditional MBAs or MHAs.

And on top of that, healthcare management is a field where you can make a difference. Success in manufacturing or technology will mean helping your employer earn another million dollars. Success in healthcare or hospital administration can mean improving patients’ lives or even saving them.

(Last updated on May 28, 2024)

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