Very few kids dream of becoming healthcare administrators when they grow up (have you ever seen a child play healthcare administrator?). Even so, plenty of grownups decide to launch medical management careers when they realize how many great non-clinical healthcare jobs there are—particularly higher-level leadership positions that pay quite well.
The work of a healthcare administrator is challenging and complex. It’s also essential. Colleges and universities have responded to the growing need for qualified administrators by creating degree programs and specialty certifications for healthcare administrators. The MBA in Healthcare Administration represents one popular option among these.
A healthcare administration MBA is a relatively recession-proof degree. You can’t beat the overall value of an MBA, and healthcare administration (sometimes called healthcare management) has only grown more complicated as the list of regulations governing medicine has gotten longer. No wonder jobs in health administration are currently being created much faster than in other fields. And the pay is good: salaries over $90,000 for healthcare MBAs are the norm. Top-paid healthcare administrators earn a lot more.
Most healthcare administrators don’t pursue this degree solely for the money, however. Quality healthcare administration can significantly impact the patient experience and patient outcomes. This is one of the few Master of Business Administration concentrations that literally saves lives.
In this article, we answer the question what is an MBA in Healthcare Administration? and cover the following:
Healthcare administration is an umbrella term for everything that keeps medical facilities like hospitals, doctors’ offices, and specialty clinics up and running. This discipline focuses primarily on what goes on behind the scenes: accounting, staffing, budget creation, operations management, planning, and medical records management. Nearly everything that doesn’t involve patient care falls under the healthcare administration umbrella, meaning that many job titles do as well.
After studying healthcare administration, you might work as a practice manager, health services administrator, nursing home manager, healthcare consultant, or healthcare HR administrator. Healthcare administration positions include higher-level leadership roles in clinical care settings; healthcare administrators also work in research laboratories, insurance companies, and government agencies.
Is healthcare administration the same thing as healthcare management? Arguably, yes. The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education, the official accrediting organization for healthcare administration bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, treats health administration and healthcare management as a single discipline when assessing the quality of degree programs—including MBA programs. Of course, colleges and universities are free to treat these as two distinct disciplines when creating business degree programs and naming degree pathways. Read program guides carefully instead of relying on degree names to guide you.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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The answer depends on the program you choose, because each college and university approaches MBA concentrations differently. Some MBA in Healthcare Administration programs consist almost entirely of the core courses in finance, accounting, leadership skills, marketing, statistics, and operations management you’ll find in traditional MBA programs. These programs only touch on competencies related to the business side of healthcare in a handful of specialization classes or in electives. Other on-campus and online programs present business concepts and theories through a healthcare lens in nearly all required coursework, making them quite different from traditional MBA programs and more like the typical Master of Healthcare Administration program. Others still split the difference.
As is the case in traditional MBA programs, however, students in healthcare administration MBA programs come from varied backgrounds and may have very different career aspirations. Some will be doctors and nurses who want enhanced practice management skills, some will be managers who’ve worked in other fields and want to transition into medical management, and some will be health administrators seeking the credentials to move into executive roles.
At most schools, applicants must meet the same basic admission requirements whether they’re applying to a generalist MBA program or a health administration MBA program. At prestigious business schools, the competition for the small number of spots in future cohorts will be fierce. Colleges and universities with top-rated programs seek applicants with high GMAT scores, strong GPAs, and, most importantly, a minimum number of years of professional experience—usually somewhere between three and seven. Not all students will be healthcare professionals, but they’ll all have business experience.
At lower-ranked colleges and universities, the admissions criteria for healthcare administration graduate programs usually isn’t as strict. Some schools don’t require MBA applicants to submit GMAT or GRE scores or have any previous business experience. These programs can help newly minted bachelor’s degree holders and career-switchers gain a foothold in health administration. Make sure that you meet most or all admissions requirements before submitting applications so you don’t waste time or money.
The average cost of an MBA is around $60,000—a figure that doesn’t include books, materials, fees, living expenses, and lost income. MBA programs at the best business schools can cost upwards of $200,000 in tuition alone. Similarly, there are MBA in Healthcare Administration programs with eye-popping six-figure price tags and relatively affordable MBA in Healthcare Administration programs that cost less than $20,000 total. In general, the average cost of a healthcare MBA is the same as the average cost of any MBA. Students in these programs finance their degrees through business school scholarships and graduate scholarships, federal student loans and private loans, tuition waivers, other forms of financial aid, graduate assistantships, and for a lucky few, employer sponsorships.
There’s no set healthcare administration MBA curriculum, which can be frustrating when you’re trying to compare programs. Core classes in MBA in Healthcare Administration programs always cover finance, analytics, accounting, operations management, information systems, marketing, and strategy. Concentration courses and electives in healthcare administration programs cover topics like:
In some programs, students can take optional classes in the medical or health sciences department (e.g., anatomy or physiology) and participate in healthcare activities outside the classroom. Many healthcare management programs require students to complete some form of capstone course or thesis and an internship related to medical management or health administration.
The format of MBA in Healthcare Administration programs is usually similar to traditional MBA programs. There are full-time and part-time healthcare MBA programs, accelerated healthcare MBA programs, and executive healthcare MBA programs. Most require students to complete 30 to 50 credit hours of work to graduate, which in most cases takes two years of full-time study. Accelerated healthcare administration MBA programs typically require students to take just as many courses, but some of those courses are scheduled during summer or winter terms, allowing motivated students to graduate in a single year. Part-time programs can last three years or more, while the only way to know how long an executive program will last is to check each school’s handbook. Some take as long as full-time programs to complete. Others can be completed much more quickly.
The best healthcare MBA programs can be found at the following colleges and universities:
Healthcare administration is a broad career category with hundreds of different healthcare administration jobs in settings like hospitals, clinics, medical networks, insurance companies, surgical centers, medical device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Many healthcare management jobs in the United States pay a lot and are prestigious, too. You might become a:
How much you earn with this degree depends on many factors, including which program you attend. Graduates of the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business’ healthcare MBA program typically earn between $114,000 and $135,000; 100 percent of students employed by the healthcare industry receive a signing bonus, according to school data. Meanwhile, PayScale reports that the average salary for healthcare administration MBAs is about $82,000 per year. Be aware that this figure is calculated using the salaries of Chief Nursing Officers earning $127,000, medical practice managers earning less than $70,000, and roles that pay somewhere in between.
Earning a master’s in healthcare administration is definitely worth it. Earning a graduate degree in health administration is associated with increased opportunity and a boost in earning potential.
Whether the best health administration master’s degree for you is an MBA, an MHA, or another healthcare management degree depends a lot on your interests and your long-term career goals, however. A healthcare MBA and a Master of Health Administration cover many of the same material and can lead to the same careers, but the MHA dives a lot deeper into healthcare management. If you’ve dreamed all your life of managing a healthcare network or becoming a hospital CEO, it might be the better degree. Where the MBA comes out on top is in its overall versatility. With a healthcare MBA—and the professional network you’ll build while earning it—you can step into those roles, but you can also pivot away from healthcare into other fields.
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