Healthcare MBA or Master of Health Administration? Which one is right for you?

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Healthcare is a business. As much as hospitals, physician practices, health systems and home health agencies need doctors and nurses to directly oversee the patient care side, healthcare organizations also need accomplished and skilled professionals to carry out duties on the operations end.

Indeed, there are increasing opportunities for professionals interested in such roles as the healthcare industry grows. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 20 percent job growth for medical and health service managers between 2016 and 2026, much higher than the 7 percent average for all other occupations. This role, as defined by the BLS, is integral in managing system or department finances, labor, organization, management and IT needs, among a mix of other responsibilities. Medical and health service managers also can earn upward of $100,000 annually.

Medical professionals and business professionals work around a table.

These factors and others make medical and health service management an attractive career option. Yet prospective managers should know these high-level positions require skills and knowledge usually acquired through a graduate degree — and there are multiple degree options. Understanding whether a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) or an online Healthcare Master of Business Administration is right for you starts with considering which route can offer you the most gain.

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)

The Master of Healthcare Administration is often popular with students pursuing a graduate education to advance their careers because of the degree’s focus on healthcare, as opposed to a more generalized MBA.

MHA programs prepare students to become medical and health service managers by helping them build competency and capacity in a number of different disciplines and skill sets. Such varied expertise is highly prized among healthcare employers. Some of those subjects students may delve into include:

  • Healthcare spending and organizational finances
  • Care delivery and quality improvement
  • Revenue cycle management and patient responsibility awareness
  • Healthcare marketing and information systems

Besides coursework that deals in learning hard skills, Master of Healthcare Administration programs are also aimed at building competencies like leadership and accountability in students. As managers of entire health systems or specific departments, these professionals need to be decision-makers and communicators who collaborate with stakeholders across the spectrum, from a hospital board to the patients themselves. Some MHA programs may also include policy and regulatory specialization tracks for students who want to enter government or public service and influence healthcare administration at the highest levels.

The settings MHA-prepared managers can expect to find employment in include:

  • Hospitals and hospital systems (national, regional and local)
  • Home health agencies and senior living/nursing communities
  • Independent and private clinics, as well as medical group practices

Healthcare Master of Business Administration (HCMBA)

The reason a Master of Healthcare Administration is often appealing to students in comparison to a more generalized Master of Business Administration is because of the former degree’s stated focus on healthcare operations. This makes a big difference for students already working in the healthcare industry. However, another great option is the Healthcare Master of Business Administration.

The online HCMBA combines the best of both worlds as it offers students the most immersive and enriching learning experience. An HCMBA program not only orients curriculum to focus on healthcare specifically, but also is able to impart all the benefits of a traditional MBA by giving students even more insight into the intersection of business and healthcare.

Students interested in obtaining an HCMBA can expect many of the same general topics as in MHA programs, such as care quality, finances, organization and information systems. But the key difference is that the HCMBA coursework will delve much further into business-specific topics, like entrepreneurism in healthcare, writing a business plan for an independent practice and practical business leadership. Other areas of HCMBA curriculum may include:

  • Business ethics, public policy and global regulatory affairs
  • Decision-making and data analysis
  • Healthcare as an enterprise and medicines development

Business and healthcare are also very hands-on, and students need to apply their skills and education in the real world to gain all they can from earning an HCMBA degree. This experiential focus is another draw to the HCMBA for some students, as the opportunity to exercise tools and methodologies in practical healthcare and business environments outside the classroom is key to students receiving the full benefits of the degree.

How can I decide which is right for me?

Students trying to decide between a Master of Healthcare Administration and a Healthcare Master of Business Administration face a big decision — and finding the right degree for you begins with considering your professional goals and aspirations and how either an MHA or HCMBA aligns with those objectives.

For instance, an MHA might prepare students for the day-to-day tasks of healthcare administration and sufficiently boost their qualifications, but HCMBAs can in many respects help medical professionals take it one step further. Whether that means a student is a clinician who wants to expand their knowledge base to start a business of their own, or a manager who has dreams of being an executive, an HCMBA can empower students to push the boundaries of their careers.

Another crucial question to ask is related to a program’s structure. Online students need to be sure their target program has an online option that is comparable to the on-campus experience, provides world-class faculty and makes them available, and which allows working graduate students to complete coursework on their time.

A woman working on documents and smiling at a table.

Consider GW for your HCMBA

The George Washington University offers an accredited, 100 percent online Healthcare Master of Business Administration to interested students who want to take their medical careers to the next level. Our program can help teach you all the tools, skills and knowledge you need to merge and grow your business and healthcare knowledge into robust expertise.

Contact us today to learn more about specifics of our program, as well as read some of the success stories of our alumni.

 Recommended Readings:

5 Ways Your Healthcare M.B.A. Sets You Apart from Other Healthcare Professionals

3 Things that Make a Healthcare MBA Unique


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

George Washington University

U.S. News & World Report