Choosing between a Healthcare MBA and Master of Public Health

A student studies for an MBA.The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the best-known graduate-level credentials, having become the most-conferred master's degree in the U.S. in the early 2010s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Its popularity and benefits for career prospects extend across multiple industries, including healthcare.


For healthcare professionals, the MBA ― or more precisely, the healthcare-focused MBA (HCMBA) ― is one of two major degree types frequently pursued by individuals seeking to move into leadership roles, with the other being the Master of Public Health (MPH). In this article, we will compare and contrast these two options so you can make an informed decision about which one to invest in.

The HCMBA: An Overview

The typical HCMBA program has a core curriculum similar to that of a general MBA, albeit with a more direct focus on health-related topics. Accordingly, students will dive into topics such as:


Financial accounting builds an understanding of how monetary transactions are processed and documented in statements, while managerial accounting helps in applying that financial information in decision-making. Accounting acumen is important in managing the operations of hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers.

Decision-making and Data Analysis

Working with relevant data is a reliable way to make informed decisions. In healthcare, it's also a methodology for understanding incidents like patient safety events and near-misses. Health-related data collection and analysis are closely regulated by statutes such as the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Business Ethics and Public Policy

Healthcare involves a unique set of ethical challenges. With high stakes for making the right decisions and numerous regulations to comply with, providers often face dilemmas such as having to balance quality of care with budget constraints or potentially informing a patient about a condition that their family might wish not to disclose to them.


Resource allocation is a recurring concern in healthcare. Hospitals are often short on key staff such as physicians and nurses. Meanwhile, their budgets may be constrained enough to complicate decisions about whether certain types of high-cost care can be sustainably delivered. Microeconomics provides a lens through which to examine how managers and organizations in healthcare make decisions in these challenging contexts.

These areas of interest represent just a portion of what HCMBA students will study during the program. Other core topics include marketing, operations management and finance. Electives and graduate certificate options such as the ones in the HCMBA program at the George Washington University provide opportunities to acquire deep knowledge within specific healthcare domains, including earning regulatory approval of drugs and conducting clinical trials.

Within the healthcare industry, the MBA is a valuable resource when overseeing the business and administrative functions of a health-focused organization. It's especially useful for careers in management, which are growing quickly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects 20 percent expansion in employment for medical and health services managers from 2016 to 2026.

At the same time, the HCMBA core provides the right background to explore careers outside of healthcare as well-meaning that if a student ultimately decides to pivot to another industry, they have the skills and knowledge to do so. The MBA ― healthcare-focused or otherwise ― is widely recognized and has a long track record of boosting a recipient's earnings and career prospects.

In 2017, the Financial Times found that the average starting salary for an MBA graduate was $142,000. That compensation is well above the U.S. median, plus it has risen by 12 percent since 2014. The year-over-year jump in 2017 was the highest since 2005, at more than $7,000.

The MPH: Key Coursework and Outcomes for Graduates

Compared with HCMBAs, MPH programs are more focused on health issues. Their curricula do not include as much business coursework as an MBA track. Instead, MPH students examine health practices and systems from multiple perspectives, through courses on topics such as:

Biostatistics in Public Health

By applying biostatistics to the analysis of clinical trial results and other medical studies, MPH students can come to deeper insights about their meanings.

Environmental and Occupational Health

Population health is strongly influenced by hazards present in occupational settings and the environment at large. MPH students learn about the risks and how evidence-based policies and practices can address them.

The U.S. Healthcare System

MPH students gain perspective on issues and trends in healthcare delivery in the U.S., including access disparities and policy changes such as new government programs for delivering and paying for health services.

Public Health and Communications Marketing

Health professionals shape the campaigns that inform the public about everything from reproductive health to disease control (e.g., during the flu season). An MPH program can help build the key skills for clearly communicating with the public.

MPH programs may also incorporate topics such as climate change, communication engagement, and advocacy. Graduates of MPH programs are prepared to pursue career tracks such as epidemiologists, healthcare administrators, and health educators, as well as options in social work and counseling with the right additional credentials.

Beginning your HCMBA studies at GW

If the HCMBA track makes the most sense for your professional aspirations, you can take advantage of the convenient online format of the HCMBA degree at GW. The GW HCMBA combines a rigorous curriculum with a sharp focus on how business principles are applied in healthcare settings. World-class faculty guide students through the program and help them find the courses and opportunities to develop their interests.

To learn more about the HCMBA degree and how to apply for admission, visit the main program page, where you can answer a few simple questions to receive more information.

Recommended Readings:

What's the difference between a healthcare MBA and an MPH?
3 Things that Make a Healthcare MBA Unique


Medical and Health Services Managers
An MBA is still a great boost for salaries
Why the MBA has become the most popular master’s degree in the U.S.