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Bachelor’s degree programs in health care administration and health care management may seem very similar.
But in reality, there are significant differences. Choosing the best fit depends on a student’s desired future career path and work setting. Ben Spedding, DHA, Capella University faculty chair of the MHA program in the School of Business, Technology, & Health Care Administrations, and Sherry Crelin, core faculty in the School of Business and Technology at Capella, explain the differences between the two degrees.
The first distinction is that a bachelor’s degree in health care management is often a business degree with a health care management specialization, while the health care administration is a foundational program itself.
That means that the health care management program is rooted in business. The overall program provides education that would be transferable to business management roles outside of health care, but the specialization helps prepare graduates to work in the health care field. “This is a good approach for someone who’s not sure if they want to be in health care specifically,” says Spedding. “The specialization will give them skills to use in a health care setting, but those skills are general enough to be used in any kind of business.”
Crelin agrees. “With the health care management specialization, you’re getting a business degree,” she says. “It’s a good program for people who are not interested in direct care roles. They want to manage a clinic or office. It’s also a good program for career changers who want to keep options open.”
“If someone knows from the beginning that health care is where they want to work in an administrative role, then the health care administration degree is where they should start,” says Spedding. “While it covers some of the same business topics as the management specialization (e.g., accounting, HR), the administration degree is focused right out of the gate on health care business concepts and industry developments. We don’t apply generic accounting principles, we do health care accounting.”
Crelin adds that she has seen students who are already in the health care field, whether working at a nursing home or in a hospital, pursue the administration degree because they want to take on leadership roles within the health care community. “They know they want to stay in the direct care side,” she says. “The health care administration degree gives them that specialized business and management knowledge that’s specifically for health care.”
Determining which program to choose depends on what you see as your future path. If you think that you’d like to work in health care, but may someday want to branch off into other industries, the health care management specialization will give you both the tools to start in the health care area, but the general business background to move into other areas later. If you’re sure that health care is where you want to be, the health care administration bachelor’s degree will provide a more in-depth approach.
For people who are still unsure, Spedding has a recommendation. “Take a couple of courses,” he says. “You really can’t go wrong at the undergrad level. See how the beginning courses feel. There’s room to move from one to the other if you change your mind.”