Healthcare administration represents one of the largest and most essential components of the healthcare industry. With the healthcare industry now representing about 18 percent of the total US GDP (2014), skilled administrators are needed now more than ever to ensure the efficient and coordinated delivery of health services, and the effective management of hospitals and other healthcare facilities. In addition to working for hospitals and clinics, healthcare administrators are also often found working for consulting firms, bio-pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies.
Healthcare administration jobs are interdisciplinary in nature, requiring experiential knowledge of the healthcare industry and a level of business acumen sufficient to manage the extraordinarily complex world of contemporary healthcare systems—a level of knowledge that can best be gained by earning a master’s degree in healthcare administration.
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Admission Requirements and Program Selection Factors
Admission requirements for master’s degrees in healthcare administration often include:
- Minimum undergraduate GPA
- Work experience in a healthcare setting
- An up-to-date resume detailing the candidate’s educational and professional background
- An essay reflecting the candidate’s personal and professional goals
- Letters of recommendation
- Minimum GRE score
With the many types of healthcare administration master’s degrees available, those looking to pursue these graduate degrees may find it difficult to narrow down their options.
To simplify the process of choosing a master’s degree in healthcare administration, the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) has a common set of characteristics that help individuals distinguish among programs, whether they are MBA, MPH, or MHA degrees.
Factors to consider include:
- Members of the faculty
- The publications of the faculty
- How much the faculty serves or consults with healthcare organizations
- The existence of a large and distinguished alumni body that supports the program by hiring students and graduates for both full-time jobs and internships
The ACHE also recommends that program candidates always keep their personal career goals in mind when choosing a master’s degree in healthcare administration. For example:
- MHA: Ideal for students that want to focus their master’s degree education on managing health-related programs and organizations
- MPH: Ideal for students that want to work in the nonprofit sector or public policy healthcare management
- MBA: Ideal for students seeking an advanced business education
The Design and Structure of Master’s Degree Programs in Healthcare Administration
The design and structure of master’s programs in healthcare administration may differ. For example, program titles may vary to include interchangeable terms such as:
- Healthcare administration
- Health services management
- Healthcare management
- Health planning and evaluation
- Health policy
Furthermore, colleges or universities may house their healthcare administration graduate program in any number of schools, such as:
- Schools of business
- Schools of public health
- Schools of medicine
- Public administration
- Allied health sciences
The titles of these master’s degree programs also often differ based on the disciplinary focus of the program. It is therefore common to see such program titles as:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Science (MS)
Some programs may also be part of a dual degree, such as:
There are also a number of executive programs designed specifically for working professionals. These programs offer curriculum designed to accommodate the work schedules of professionals already involved in healthcare or other industries.
Coursework and Curriculum
Master’s degrees in healthcare administration allow students to develop the professional competencies expected by healthcare organizations, such as:
- Critical and creative thinking skills
- Business and interpersonal communication skills
- Strategic planning skills
- Analytical thinking skills
- Adaptability and collaboration skills
Research, fieldwork, and professional interaction often accompany coursework to ensure an interdisciplinary education that covers management, organizational leadership, healthcare policy, and health systems.
Core coursework in a master’s degree program in healthcare administration often includes:
- Foundations of healthcare administration
- Law, ethics, and policy in healthcare administration
- The United States healthcare delivery system
- Principles of population health in healthcare administration
- Healthcare human relations management
- Healthcare financial management
- Organizational behavior and leadership theory
- Health information management
- Population health and managerial epidemiology
Master’s Program Accreditation
According to the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), the master’s degree is an essential step toward an executive and managerial career in most healthcare organizations.
The master’s degree has been the standard for professionals in health care administration since 1932, when CAHME accredited its first graduate program in healthcare administration. CAHME is the only organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to accredit healthcare management graduate programs in the U.S. Currently, there are 89 CAHME-accredited programs nationwide.
CAHME accreditation offers the assurance of quality. In order for a graduate program in healthcare management to become accredited, the school must submit to a rigorous analysis that looks at curriculum, student experience, program purpose, and the success of its graduates. To remain a CHAME-accredited program, the institution must submit to a periodic self-examination of its program, followed by a panel-led review to ensure that the program is constantly improving.
CAHME recognizes that the curriculum and course format of a master’s degree in healthcare administration will differ from one program to the next. Therefore, flexibility and innovation remain hallmarks of CAHME-accredited programs. However, accredited programs must ensure that their curriculum:
- Meets the diverse educational needs of all students, whether full- or part-time
- Addresses the broad scope of career opportunities available to graduates in healthcare administration
As of January 2015, CAHME began accrediting fully online programs to further accommodate the schedules of busy working professionals.