Your Guide to Earning a Master’s in Health Administration

When most people think about healthcare they are looking at it from the retail level: a visit to their doctor or nurse on an intensely personal matter, and bills later to be settled or straightened out with a faceless insurance company.

What they don’t see is the massive organizations on the other end of those interactions. Insurers, medical practices, and major healthcare organizations together comprise almost 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product in the United States… the single largest industry in the country.

This is big business, and it requires expert management. The fact that lives are directly at stake only increases the need for highly educated managers and administrators. That’s the sort of education you’ll get in a master’s degree program in healthcare administration.

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Career Options for Master’s Degree Holders in Healthcare Administration

A master’s degree in healthcare administration (or MHA) puts you at the top of the career ladder in healthcare facility leadership. Hospital administrators, HMO managers, chief medical officers in prestigious surgical practices… these positions command top dollar and demand the highest credentials.

The average salary ranges for nearly all of these positions command six figures right from the start. In most cases, you can expect to make more than the medical professionals in the organization.

  • Chief Operating Officer: $130,000 – $194,750
  • Chief Financial Officer: $145,500 – $240,000
  • Chief Medical Officer: $275,000 – $283,250
  • Hospital Administrator: $87,475 – $149,250

Although there may be some regional variations based on cost of living, the salaries are comfortably above the median in any given region.

MHA graduates also go into important roles in public health services, such as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) or Health Resources and Services Administration. These government jobs pay less than private sector or even non-profit positions. As a master’s degree holder looking to fill a position with a government agency, you are eligible to start at a GS-9 level, which has a range of $43,251 to $56,229.

You will, however, have a much different and broader range of experiences as well as performing a genuine public service.

Salary data from Health eCareer’s 2017-2018 Salary Guide

Selecting a Master’s Program in Healthcare Administration

Master’s degree programs in health administration are widely available, with more coming online all the time to service the demand for executives coming from several different angles.

Related programs include:

  • Master of Science in Public Health
  • Master of Management in Healthcare Management
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership and Management
  • Master of Health Care Organization Management
  • Master in Organizational Leadership – Healthcare Concentration

You can also find dual-track degrees that offer an MHA in concert with an MBA (Master of Business Administration) to provide even more training in the business aspects of healthcare administration.

Some MHA degrees also offer specialization tracks that focus on particular aspects of healthcare administration. These include:

  • Systems and Policy
  • Leadership and Organizational Development
  • Public Health

It’s also possible to go even further, getting a doctorate degree in the topic, but this process is generally intended to produce academic, rather than business-oriented, graduates.

In addition to finding a program that checks the boxes for specialized coursework in an area like public health, policy or organizational development, there are other aspects to look into.

Healthcare System Affiliation

Although no one is expecting you to take a patient’s temperature or pick up a scalpel during your studies, it’s still a good idea to look for a master’s program at a university with a strong medical school or healthcare system affiliation.

This sort of affiliation can offer you practical real-world experiences in the field as well as faculty who have recent, relevant experience. It may also have implications for the scope of the capstone projects that are available as part of your program.

Online Degree Programs

More and more programs and making some or all of their classes available online. It’s no accident; there are plenty of obvious advantages to selecting an online degree program:

  • No relocation required; you can attend the best fit for you without picking up and moving to the city the school is in.
  • Proceed at your own pace, taking classes when it’s convenient for you.
  • Work around your work schedule by taking in course material at whatever hours work best for you.

If you’re already a professional employed in the industry, an online program is a no-brainer. You can further your education without sacrificing salary or experience on the job. You can also take advantage of strong programs that might otherwise simply be too far away to attend otherwise.

Healthcare Administration Master’s Degree Core Curriculum and Electives

Modern healthcare administration takes in a broad spectrum of both business and medical subjects. Success in the field requires balancing the human aspects of patient treatment with the financial interests that keep organizations afloat. You’ll learn that delicate balance through courses in areas including:

The American Healthcare System

Unique and massive, the American system of healthcare requires its own set of courses and instruction to bring future administrators up to speed. The intersection of state and federal laws with insurance pools creates both problems and opportunities. You’ll learn how this came about and what your role will be in fixing the issues while keeping the advantages.

Business, Operations, and Leadership

The business of healthcare has the same considerations as any other functioning business. You’ll go through courses that give you the same general background as any MBA would when it comes to corporate realities like:

  • Finance and Accounting
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing
  • Information Systems

These courses will provide you with the nuts and bolts that go into running a healthy healthcare organization.

Another business element that you’ll learn about is leadership. Organizational culture is set from the top down and this is becoming increasingly important as studies show that traditional healthcare practices can demoralize staff and create additional costs—both financial and in terms of patient outcomes.

Healthcare Informatics

Information systems have revolutionized the healthcare industry just like every other modern business. It’s more vital for executives to understand the basics of medical information systems than other industries, however. This is not only because of the important analytics they provide, but because of the much heavier regulation—and higher risk of hacking—they are governed by due to the extremely private information they hold.

You’ll learn about state of the art electronic medical records and hospital management systems along with advanced radiology and lab processing software.

Public Policy

More than most industries, healthcare is shaped by government policy and sometimes whiplash decisions made by non-medical professionals. It’s only prudent for future healthcare administrators to study how this witch’s brew of regulation and funding come together to drive the services you are compelled to provide and the consequences for failing to adequately fill those roles.

Risk Management, Ethics, and Regulatory Compliance

The regulations that come from the public policy process aren’t always clean or pretty, but the consequences for failing to comply with them are stringent and unerring. From HIPAA to HCQIA, you’ll study the effects of regulation on the healthcare industry and the best ways to remain compliant.

At the same time, as society has become more litigious, every decision has to be viewed through the prism of possible legal action. You’ll learn how to assess such risks, mitigate them, and still provide effective services to patients.

Ethics forms the last leg of this triumvirate—doing the right thing within the scope of the regulations and on the spectrum of risks. There is room for a great deal of malfeasance in healthcare management. Such breaches of trust undermine the entire system and you’ll learn how to avoid them in ethics courses.

Capstone Project

Some healthcare administration master’s programs have a final capstone project students undertake to bring together all the other knowledge they have gained through the course of their studies. This often involves collaborating with real-world healthcare administrators or making use of current data to find real solutions to genuine day-to-day problems in a clinical environment.

A capstone offers a complete demonstration of your skills that can be extremely valuable when you start applying for jobs after graduation.

Electives

You may find a number of elective courses available depending on the program you choose. These include niche or general topics that aren’t generally required for a degree but might hold an interest for people intending to go into particular aspects of healthcare. They include:

  • Epidemiology
  • Non-profit organization management
  • Biostatistics
  • Practice management

Accreditation Standards for Master’s Degree Programs in Healthcare Administration

Accreditation is the process by which master’s degree programs are certified by an unbiased third-party association to deliver an effective and thorough educational standard. You should verify that any program you are considering attending is housed in a school accredited by an agency that has been recognized by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education (DOE).

Even more importantly, you should check to see if the program itself (not just the school) holds accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).

CAHME is also recognized by DOE, but it focuses solely on accrediting healthcare management master’s programs. This ensures that the unique aspects of healthcare administration are being addressed in those programs. CAHME looks at such aspects of a program as:

  • Faculty preparation and selection
  • Curriculum content
  • Program resource availability
  • Graduate outcomes

Achieving this accreditation tells you that the program is firing on all cylinders for MHA education and ensures that prospective employers will take your degree as seriously as it deserves.