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 the Gross Domestic Product in the United States as of 2019 according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
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.
Career Options for Master’s Degree Holders in Healthcare Administration
A master’s degree, whether a Master of Science (MS) in Healthcare Administration, targeted Master of Health Administration (MHA), or an MBA with a focus in health services management, has become the standard minimum that most hospitals and healthcare systems look for when recruiting professionals for the ranks of upper level leadership. Hospital administrators, HMO managers, chief medical officers in prestigious surgical practices… these positions demand the kind of high-level business acumen and specialized experience and know-how in health facility management that come with a graduate degree and some time in clinical leadership or lower-level administrative roles.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare administrators earned an average salary of $118,800 as of May 2020, while those with the extensive experience that command some of the top positions in large hospitals and health systems earned about $195,630 during this time.
Average salaries for healthcare administrators in all settings exceeded the six-figure mark as of May 2020 according to BLS:
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $127,330
- Physicians’ Offices – $112,700
- Home Healthcare Services – $100,880
- Skilled nursing facilities – $100,160
- Medical and Diagnostics Labs – $123,800
- Outpatient care centers – $117,200
- Specialty hospitals: $130,640
Looking more broadly at executive compensation in healthcare overall, the BLS shows C-suite positions paying handsomely, with chief execs in the healthcare and social assistance category enjoying a median salary of $160,950 as of May 2020.
According to the BLS, the top-paying industries in healthcare administration were found largely outside of the clinical setting. Healthcare administrators overseeing companies focused on research and development, the manufacture and sale of medical technology and pharmaceutics all cracked the six-figure mark, with the pharmaceutical industry leading the way with an average salary north of $200,000:
- Pharmaceutical Manufacturing – $205,470
- Scientific Research and Development – $167,910
- Computer systems design and related services: $157,480
- Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing: $158,670
- Insurance carriers: $161,030
MHA graduates also go into important roles in public health services, such as with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or the Health Resources and Services Administration. These government jobs pay salaries comparable to what you would find in private sector positions. For those working in government, the median salary for medical and health services managers was $116,380 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.
May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for top executives in healthcare and social assistance and medical and health services managers represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Salary statistics senior-level/highly experienced = 90th percentile. Data accessed August 2021.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Non-profit organization management
- 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.