How is a master’s in health administration different from an MBA in health care management?

The latter is a business degree with a health care specialization, while the former is an immersive health care management degree. Both degrees are in demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow 17% from 2014 to 2024.

A master’s degree is common and sometimes preferred by employers for professionals in health services positions. Capella University offers two master’s programs in health care management—the Master of Health Administration (MHA) and the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Health Care Management degree.

Ben Spedding, DHA, faculty chair of the MHA program in the School of Business, Technology, & Health Care Administration, and Laura Sankovich, PhD, faculty chair of the MBA program in the School of Business, Technology, & Health Care Administration of Business, explain the degree commonalities and differences.

A Growing Overlap

“There has grown to be significant overlap between the programs because of the ways health care has changed and is continuing to change,” Spedding notes. He points to the increased role of technology, changes in reimbursement, the rise in consumerism, and the diversified ways health care is delivered today as having changed health care and thus health care administration.

These changes have also affected the way health care employers hire people. “It used to be that health care CEOs promoted or recruited from within the industry,” says Spedding. “Now they’re recruiting from outside health care to fill specific roles. So the MHA is evolving to fill more of those core business needs and can have more similarities with the MBA than it used to.”

But he and Sankovich agree that there are differences between the programs, and they provided some thoughts on each program and what those differences are, subtle as they may be.

Master of Health Administration

“The MHA is health care intensive,” says Spedding. “It’s designed as a program for someone coming from a health care or practitioner background.”

The MHA provides a deeper dive into health care management and leadership. Its curriculum involves core business classes, but unlike the MBA, the core classes are focused on the health care market. That means that the MHA graduate will be heavily rooted in the business side of health care and prepared for a career focused on health care leadership.

Master of Business Administration in Health Care Management

An MBA in Health Care Management has more of an overall business focus, with its core business courses covering skills transferrable to any industry.

“The MBA has big buckets of core business operations, such as analytics, leadership, accounting, and finance.” says Sankovich. “All the core MBA courses will have faculty practitioners in various business fields, including, but not limited to, health care. The health care specialization courses more mirror and overlap the MHA, but the MBA is more deeply focused on business itself.”

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How to Choose?

So how should prospective students interested in health care choose the master’s degree program that suits them best?

“The question for those students is, ‘Where have you been, where are you going?’” says Spedding. “If you’re coming from a health care background, or you know for sure you want to be in health care administration going forward, the MHA is more health care intensive, so that’s going to be the direction to take.”

Sankovich agrees and notes, “The MBA program has value regardless of industry. If someone is potentially interested in health care but isn’t sure that’s where they want to end up, they should at least start with the MBA. The degree will position them to move into different industries. With the health care management specialization, it’s also a good transition degree for someone who doesn’t have a health care background, but would like to transition into it.”

Spedding and Sankovich agree that the two degree programs are both valuable. “The outcomes are great for either program,” Spedding says.

Learn more about Capella’s Master of Health Administration and MBA in Health Care Management degree programs. Both programs are available in FlexPath and GuidedPath learning formats.

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