MHA vs Healthcare MBA program – which is right for you?

The healthcare industry is on the rise. Job growth for healthcare occupations is projected to increase by 15% from 2019 to 2029 – a projection greater than the average rate for all other occupations. With nearly 2.4 million new healthcare jobs emerging over the next eight years, healthcare professionals can expect plenty of opportunities for career advancement.

To truly take advantage of these opportunities, working professionals should seek educational programs that ensure their success in the business of healthcare. But what exactly does that mean?

Healthcare degree programs vary, and not all are created equal. Program accreditations and certifications - or lack thereof - greatly impact your return on investment upon graduating and transitioning into the job market. Let’s examine two popular healthcare graduate programs – a healthcare MBA program and a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program – to see which one best suits your career goals. 

Healthcare MBA vs MHA: What’s the Difference?

The key difference between a Healthcare MBA program and an MHA program is the scope of the business curricula.

A healthcare MBA program combines business education and healthcare administration core courses to arm students with knowledge of general business management and industry-specific skills. Since an MBA provides a foundation in business, healthcare MBA students often have an easier time rising to C-suite healthcare positions such as chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operations officer (COO) or chief medical officer. Healthcare MBA program graduates also thrive in senior administrative positions such as senior director. Additionally, the MBA program offers career flexibility and transferable business skills if you decide to transition out of the healthcare industry.

Unlike the MBA program, an MHA program focuses almost exclusively on healthcare administration. Students still study business, but they do so specifically through the lens of the healthcare industry. Therefore, an MHA program is best for students pursuing managerial or healthcare administrator positions and students seeking a specialized master’s degree rather than an MBA.

Put simply, a healthcare MBA program essentially leads to two degrees in one: a specialized healthcare master’s degree and a Master of Business Administration degree. An MHA, on the other hand, is only a specialized master’s degree. This is the primary reason for the difference in program cost as well. The MHA might be cheaper up front, but the MBA provides more opportunities for career and salary growth in the long run.

Accreditation and Curriculum

In terms of healthcare accreditation, look for CAHME accredited degree programs. Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) accredited programs undergo a voluntary peer review process to verify program quality. Healthcare employers know the difference between CAHME accredited programs and unaccredited programs. Recruiters prefer graduates from accredited degree programs for top managerial, senior administrative and C-suite level healthcare positions.

Some healthcare programs are already CAHME accredited. Others are in the process of achieving accreditation. Some programs, however, do not meet the qualifications required to obtain CAHME accreditation. Whether you choose an MBA program or an MHA program, make sure your program is CAHME accredited or will be CAHME accredited before you graduate.

Certifications incorporated into your degree program can also set you aside from the competition and better prepare you for career success. For example, graduating with a Lean Six Sigma certification demonstrates your efficiency in management and your dedication to continuous improvement. Try to find degree programs that include certifications in their curriculum to maximize your return on investment.

Coming back to the key difference between the two programs, the scope of the business curricula offered varies between a healthcare MBA program and an MHA program.

Let’s take FIU’s programs for example. Below is a side-by-side comparison of the curriculum offered by FIU’s Healthcare MBA program versus the curriculum offered by FIU’s Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA) program. Though some of the courses are similar, FIU's Healthcare MBA program curriculum provides a more holistic approach to business, more certifications, and CAHME and AACSB accreditation.

Healthcare MBA

MHSA

Organizational Behavior

Leadership and Organizational Behavior in Health Care Systems

Management of Healthcare Organizations in the 21st Century

Management and Organization in Health Care

Managerial Decision Making in Health Economics

Financing and Reimbursement of Health Delivery Systems

Strategic Management

Management of Long Term Care Systems

Corporate Finance

Ethical Decisions in Health Services Administration

Marketing Management

Strategic Planning and Marketing of Health Care Services

Accounting for Managers

Introduction to Health Policy and Management

Operations Management

Hospital and Health Facilities Organization

Organization Information Systems

Design and Management of Health Information Systems

Corporate Finance

Financial Management of Health Systems

Management of Healthcare Finance and Reimbursement

Managing Human Resources and Health Professions

Healthcare Fraud and Abuse Law and Regulation

Health Law and Legal Aspects of Management

Master’s Project in Management

Quality Assessment and Outcome in Health Care

Lean Six Sigma Certification

Professional Seminar

Legal Environment of Business

Economic and Decision Analysis in Health Care

Program Residency 1

Advanced Health Services Management and Research Seminar

Program Residency 2 and 3

Administrative Residency OR Master’s Research Project

By unifying broad business courses like Marketing Management and specialized healthcare courses such as Healthcare Fraud and Abuse Law Regulation, FIU’s Healthcare MBA curriculum creates a unique program that caters to business leaders pursuing career advancement in public health and other rising industries.

Enrolling in either program results in a graduate degree for you, which is always a smart move, but the differing levels of expertise you gain will determine what career paths are available to you. Obtaining an MHA degree prepares you for some managerial healthcare roles. A healthcare MBA program prepares you for high-level managerial roles and executive positions.

Employment and Salary with a Healthcare MBA

The healthcare MBA program uniquely positions you as a leader due to the educational union of healthcare specialization and broad business background. With your business acumen, you can excel in managerial healthcare positions such as sales manager, management consultant, and investment fund manager or executive or administrative positions such as CEO, CFO, senior director or chief medical officer.

In terms of pay, graduates with an MBA in the healthcare industry earn an average salary of $83,589 according to PayScale.com.

Employment and Salary with an MHA

As of June 2021, Payscale.com estimates an average annual salary of $78,035 for healthcare professionals with an MHA degree. Healthcare consultants with MHAs earn an average salary of $83,000, and operations managers with MHAs can expect an average salary of $70,000.

Other positions available to graduates with an MHA degree include (but are not limited to) hospital administrator, health services manager, clinical director and long-term care administrator.

So which degree is right for me?

Now that you’ve learned what distinguishes a healthcare MBA program from an MHA program, we can approach the million-dollar question: which degree is right for you? The answer is… it depends on your career goals!

If your passion is exclusively the healthcare industry, and you don’t foresee yourself needing a background in business, an MHA program is probably your best bet.

If you’re passionate about the healthcare industry but you also foster aspirations of leadership, executive positions, smooth career transitions, and gaining business acumen in marketing, finance or corporate strategy, a healthcare MBA is the program for you.  

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