Executive Master’s in Healthcare Administration (MHA): Who Is It Right For?

Not everyone ends up working in healthcare administration as part of a carefully planned career arc. You can wind up working in the field initially with almost any background. Maybe you got excited and charged off after high school to get your bachelor’s degree in philosophy, then realized you had bills to pay.

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A bachelor’s degree is rarely the last stop on the education train for your dream career. Research from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that only about 23 percent of college graduates actually end up working in a field related to their college major. So now that you’re climbing the rungs in healthcare administration, a mid-career course correction is likely necessary… and that means earning a master’s degree.

But the time and effort of going back to school aren’t easy to come by when you already have an established career. You have obligations, commitments, maybe a mortgage, kids to take care of. A traditional master’s program is out of reach.

That’s why the executive master’s degree in healthcare administration was created. An executive master’s program gives you the same education and credentials as a regular master’s program, but the course format and schedule are expressly designed to be more accessible to busy mid-career health facilities management and administration professionals.

Advancing Your Career in Healthcare Administration with an Executive Master’s

Master’s degrees qualify you for the very highest – and best paying – positions in healthcare management. In many cases, these jobs pay more than those for doctors or surgeons in the same organization. Starting salaries over six figures are the norm. At the top of the pay scale are healthcare administrators with C-suite positions: chief operating officer, chief executive officer, and chief financial officer, to name just a few.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chief executives in healthcare and social assistance enjoyed a median salary of $160,950 as of May 2020.

Salary for healthcare executives is largely based on the size of the organization – healthcare and hospital systems are among the biggest payers – and the geographic location. Positions in large metro areas and in states with higher costs of living tend to pay more for executive-level healthcare administrators. Below is a sampling of average salaries for C-suite healthcare executives by state as of May 2020:

  • Alaska: $166,360
  • California: $218,700
  • District of Columbia: $253,820
  • Florida: $193,640
  • Illinois: $225,710
  • Nevada: $203,010
  • New York: $218,720
  • Ohio: $195,200
  • Texas: $239,060
  • Washington: $243,150

May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for top executives in healthcare and social assistance represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2021.

Things to Consider In An Executive Master’s Program

The things you’ll consider when selecting an executive master’s degree program in healthcare administration will mirror those you might use to evaluate any healthcare administration grad degree. In fact, the easiest way to assess most of the components of an executive master’s program are to look at the regular master’s program that usually runs right along side it.

The differences you will have to consider will revolve mostly around the primary ways an executive master’s works to accommodate mid-career professionals: scheduling, transferring in credits, and a curriculum designed to support career advancement.

Because executive master’s programs are designed for working professionals, the course content will usually be identical, but the options for taking those courses will be where your real choices are made.

Full or Part Time

There are two schools of thought for people going back for executive master’s degrees. One holds that you should go into crunch mode and get through the program as quickly as possible. The other is that you should take your time, absorb the material, and keep your stress levels down.

Which path you pick will depend on preference and personality, but there are programs out there that cater to both approaches. Full-time programs will get you across the finish line quickly, but you’ll take on a larger commitment than with part-time programs.

Online Degree Programs

Online classes are practically made for executive master’s programs. The advantages of remote, asynchronous coursework and interaction are exactly what mid-level career professionals need in order to fit classes into their already busy schedules.

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Additionally, the remote access angle gives you the opportunity to enroll in a program that has the best fit for your career path and preferences. In the past, if a local university didn’t happen to offer an executive master’s program, you were out of luck. Even if it did, you were stuck with the local options.

Today, you have the ability to enroll in a program from anywhere in the world. You can find the perfect program for your own requirements without ever leaving your kitchen table.

Core Curriculum and Electives in a Healthcare Administration Executive Master’s

Healthcare administration programs straddle the line between business and medical topics. As an executive master’s candidate with experience already under your belt, you’ll want to make sure the course offerings complement and extend your existing knowledge and skills in the field. Courses will include:

Healthcare Services

The U.S. healthcare system is unique in its blend of public and private models, heavily regulated by the government and dependent on insurance for compensation. You will have classes that cover each aspect of this mix of forces. You can expect these courses to involve a discussion of how the role of medical administration balances and mediates competing interests like profit and budget constraints with a view toward providing affordable, caring patient services.

Business and Leadership

You’ll have courses that cover all of the traditional elements of operating a business, including:

  • Finance and Accounting
  • Human Resources factors
  • Marketing and Advertising
  • Information Systems and Operations

You’ll learn how to provide leadership to these complicated structures and how to establish organizational culture from the top. You’ll also be exposed to the capital planning process necessary in any large organization.

Risk Management, Regulations, and Ethics

Navigating the shifting sands of the regulatory environment has become an increasingly important part of the healthcare administrator’s job in recent years. You’ll study both the regulations currently in effect as well as the regulatory process for enforcing them. The legal and ethical obligations of patient care will also be covered in depth.

Public Policy

The regulations present in the healthcare system result from the outcome of public policy debates over healthcare, which have become increasingly acrimonious lately. As a result, it’s become important for healthcare administrators to be able to read the tea leaves and understand their own role in the debate. Courses in public policy show how laws and regulations are created and how the healthcare industry can help shape those laws for the greater good.

Healthcare Economics

The cost of healthcare has skyrocketed in America in recent years and has taken on its own overwhelming importance in the medical industry. You’ll learn how this came to pass and how healthcare administrators can work to keep quality services operating while budget squeezes loom on the horizon.

Capstone Project

Capstone projects are increasingly being used as a crowning element in master’s programs. Offered in your final semester and usually based on a real-world project or problem to be solved, the project is designed to force you to bring together all of the elements of the program into one coherent piece. The goal of the project is to help you understand how all the elements of healthcare administration come together to ensure your facility or hospital system serves as a functioning healthcare service provider.

Accreditation Standards for Executive Master’s Programs in Healthcare Administration

You always want to ensure that the school you’re considering is fully accredited, and in all likelihood it is. Accreditation has become a very standard review process that all schools are expected to go through.

One of six regional accreditation agencies – or national agencies in the case of primarily online schools – evaluate the school and perform site visits to determine whether or not it meets the basic standards of education and accountability that are expected in the American collegiate system. It’s very rare these days to find a school that has not been accredited by an agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education (DOE).

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Far more important is the specialized, accreditation that exclusively evaluates the curriculum, instructors and other factors within healthcare administration programs specifically. Program-level accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) represents the ultimate stamp of excellence for a healthcare administration degree program. You can be sure that if you’re selecting from the elite group of executive master’s programs with CAHME-accreditation, you’ll be getting the best education available from a program that is recognized and respected industry wide.

CAHME performs the same intensive process as other accreditation agencies, but with a specific view toward confirming that the standards meet the expectations of the healthcare industry. Since medical education is highly specialized, it takes a focused accreditation process to truly determine whether or not the training is suitable to the profession. An executive master’s program that has earned a CAHME accreditation definitely meets those expectations.