The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that health care management jobs will increase 23% between 2012 and 2022.
Health administration in particular often necessitates a person have a master’s degree to move up the ranks in almost any position.
Capella University offers two specific master’s programs in health care management—the Master of Health Administration (MHA) and the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Health Care Management. Dr. Janet Balke, faculty member in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, and Dr. Cheryl Bann, faculty chair of the MBA Program in the School of Business, explain the degree differences.
The Difference Between an MHA and an MBA in Health Care Management
While both programs cover health care management, the difference lies in the approach and focus. The MBA is a business degree with a health care specialization, while the MHA is an immersive health care management degree.
“The MHA is very unique. Health care is a heavily regulated industry, and the MHA includes industry-specific courses, regulatory courses—it’s very health-care immersive,” explains Dr. Balke.
Dr. Bann agrees. “The MHA is much more specific to health care, while the MBA has more of a business focus. There is some overlap, though.”
So how do you decide which is the right path for you? “It depends on which facet of health care you choose to work in,” says Balke. “An MHA is focused entirely on this unique industry and prepares you to work in a hospital or clinical administration setting, while the MBA allows you more latitude across industries, including related health care companies, like medical devices.”
To look more closely at how these two programs differ, let’s consider them separately.
MHA students will find themselves heavily involved in all aspects of health care management. “The average hospital may have up to 100 regulatory agencies to report to,” says Balke. “So the MHA program includes coursework in health policy and law. Due to the complexity and regulatory nature of health care, we have to have a multi-faceted approach.” She notes that the MHA is focused on skill building around the health care industry so students are able to go to work right away with a greater understanding of the complexities in this field, such as health-care-related financial skills, IT, organizational structure and awareness, and project management, among others.
There’s another aspect too: “The MHA requires more soft people skills,” says Balke. “Most industries don’t have this many subsectors—pregnancy, pediatrics, right through to geriatrics. Every phase of life has a sub-specialty, and they have different regulations, focal points, monitoring points, all of which require specific people skills and the ability to feel empathy. The MHA prepares the student for those.” While a traditional MBA focuses on goods and services, the core business unit of the MHA is human services—which can be chaotic and unpredictable.
An MBA in Health Care Management has more of an overall business focus, with less time spent on policy and more time spent on operations and business. “It’s meant for potential leaders on the business side of health care, such as at the executive levels,” says Bann. “They need to know business functions like accounting, finance, etc.”
MBA students are not going to be as interested in policy and law as they are in business topics and how the business operates as a whole. So while an MHA candidate will learn about health-care-specific financial or IT operations, the MBA candidate will learn about those topics in a broader business-based sense.
Wondering which health care career is right for you? Use this handy guide to explore health-related careers.
Which Is Right for You?
Both programs provide a thorough grounding in certain aspects of health care management, but the primary question is: What do you want to do with your master’s degree once you’ve earned it?
If you’re interested in managing the regulatory environment of a health care system, working with policy, managing a clinic, or work at the senior level of a hospital or clinic, the MHA is the best approach.
If you’re interested less in policy and regulations, and more in operations and the business, the MBA is the best approach. From there, a student can look at being a hospital administrator, a clinic or department director. There is more leeway with the MBA to move across industries to organizations like insurance companies, medical device companies or other medically related businesses, or even into teaching.