A Master in Public Administration (MPA), is usually seen as a degree aimed squarely at government-sector officials looking to move up the ranks at federal, state, or local agencies. Traditionally, an MPA hasn’t provided a pathway to careers in healthcare leadership, but with programs being developed specifically with a healthcare administration concentration, you might want to take a second look.
For certain specializations in healthcare administration, an MPA with an emphasis in healthcare management can make a lot of sense. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services, for instance, has nearly 80,000 employees, many of them heavily focused on healthcare and public health activities. It’s a lot of bureaucracy to manage but an MPA offers just the skill set to help you manage it!
Throw in a side of healthcare acumen and you’ll be all set to whip any public healthcare agency or non-profit organization into shape.
Career Options with an MPA with a Healthcare Management Emphasis
An MPA degree is almost exclusively aimed at government jobs. In healthcare, that usually means in public health services or various regulatory agencies that deal with healthcare or related products. These include:
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- State and local health departments
- Food and Drug Agency (FDA)
All of these possibilities have different salary schedules associated with them.
If you are going to work for the federal government, you’re going to need to get familiar with the General Schedule… the pay scale that dominates compensation calculations throughout the professional civil service.
The GS is separated into 15 grades and the good news is that simply having a master’s degree of any kind sets you up to start off at GS-9, more than halfway up the ladder.
The grade has 10 steps in it so you are looking at a possible base salary band of between $43,351 and $56,229.
If that seems low, it’s because we haven’t factored in locality adjustments yet. You may see a bump of as much as 40 percent depending on where your position is located.
- New York : 31.2%
- Los Angeles : 29.65%
- Chicago : 26.85%
- Dallas : 22.61%
- Miami : 22.13%
- Saint Louis : 15.83%
- Atlanta : 20.7%
- Seattle : 24.24%
State and Local Health Agencies
Salaries at state and local agencies can vary widely depending on the relative prosperity and size of the locality. A sample of positions from listings on Governmentjobs.com in 2018 showed these positions and salary ranges as an example (state of employment provided for reference):
- Deputy Public Health Officer (CA): $193,000 – $247,640
- Director of Public Safety (CA): $129,972 – $157,980
- Director of Environmental Health (NV): $107,730 – $150,306
- Community Services Deputy Director (VA): $89,778 – $175,285
Non-profit healthcare organizations also have positions well suited to this degree. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, salaries for typical positions at non-profit organizations for these types of jobs are:
- Chief Executive Officer: $120,000 – $300,000
- Chief Operating Officer: $90,000 – $180,000
- Director of Public Affairs: $80,000 – $130,000
The scales depend largely on the size of the organization, with large, multinational non-profits typically paying significantly better than smaller regional operations.
Selecting a Master’s Program in Public Administration with a Healthcare Management Emphasis
MPA degrees with a healthcare management emphasis can come with a variety of different formal titles, including:
- Master of Public Administration in Health Policy and Management (HPAM)
- Master of Public Administration Inspection and Oversight: Health Care Specialization
- Master of Public Administration Health Care Policy and Administration Concentration
You have a tough job ahead of you in assessing which program is the best option for your goals. The balance of healthcare to traditional public administration courses is different in every degree, and the right proportion will be something only you can decide.
But there are certain things you should consider for any program you might be evaluating.
Many public administration programs operate in collaborative arrangements with local public agencies. The agencies get the benefit of expertise and the input of professors and students, bringing resources to the table they might not otherwise have access to. And the program itself has access to real-world issues and the hard-won expertise that working professionals naturally get in the course of their work.
The nature of these affiliations can be dramatically different from one school to the next. It’s unusual to find partnerships that involve any great distance, so colleges are typically restricted to partnering with the type of agencies that happen to have a presence in their area. What this means to you as someone interested in a career in health administration is that if there isn’t a public healthcare agency in proximity to the school you’re looking at, it might be a good idea to consider other options.
Online Degree Programs
Online master’s programs have revolutionized the higher education system. A master’s degree has traditionally involved putting your life and career on hold for a year or two while you relocate to be close to the right university, which would mean either quitting your job or burning the candle at both ends taking night courses. Financially, you get hit on both ends, with tuition costs piled on top of missing income and the cost of relocating.
Online courses are expressly designed to avoid these problems. They aren’t just night courses shifted onto a screen. Instead, online classes offer you the option of time-shifting your coursework to any part of the day that is convenient.
They are location independent, so you can pick the ideal program even if it’s located on the other side of the country. Collaborative networked software gives you as much interaction with professors and fellow students as you’d have in any classroom.
Core Curriculum and Electives in an MPA with Health Administration Focus
As a student in public administration, most of your coursework will revolve around the basic elements of policy and governance that make up that field. But you will also be exposed to additional work that lays out how those elements apply to work in healthcare administration and the healthcare industry.
You will take courses in subjects like:
Organizational Theory and Management
Bringing together and harnessing the brains and efforts of large groups of people is a crucial mystery that any administrator must solve. By studying the theory of organizing and managing people, you’ll learn time-tested solutions for structuring, aligning, and motivating businesses or departments to focus on concrete and cohesive goals.
Political and Policy Analysis
Public administration depends on public funding and political willpower. The democratic roots of American governance provide a mechanism for collective oversight of public health efforts and these courses help you understand how that oversight is exercised through the development of policy. And because policy depends largely on political negotiation, you’ll also be shown how politics has become a vital part of public administration positions.
Finance and Budgeting
In any organization, resource management is the key element to what can and can’t be accomplished. Unless you develop a strong understanding of finance and a command of budgets and the budgeting process, you’ll be ineffective as a public administrator in healthcare or elsewhere.
Economics of Health Care
The other side of understanding the financial aspects of public administration in the healthcare context is understanding the economics of healthcare in the United States. Using a unique system that combines public and private resources, healthcare economics are enormously complex and require in-depth study to understand.
Health Care Law and Ethics
Another unique aspect of American health care is the legal system that governs it. Patient privacy concerns, mandatory record-keeping rules, and national reporting systems are all covered under a conglomerate of laws and regulations that come with stiff penalties for failure to comply. As a student of public administration, you will look at the creation and enforcement side of these rules as much as compliance, learning why they exist and how to administer them fairly.
A capstone project is designed to give you a challenge near the end of your program that ties together all the aspects of public administration and healthcare you’ve learned in the course of the program. It is often conducted either on behalf of or in partnership with outside partners, providing you with a real-world scenario that has to be addressed.
An internship is often an optional component of MPA degrees. Programs cultivate relationships with community health and regional government organizations, which often agree to place students in temporary positions with genuine responsibilities and real exposure to the daily decision-making and implementation process. The right internship not only exposes you to the way that big healthcare agencies really operate, but also can help you make contacts that will boost your career prospects after graduation.
Accreditation Standards for Master’s Degree Programs in Public Administration with a Healthcare Management Emphasis
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are assessed for their academic standards and processes to ensure credibility and consistency in their educational offerings. All reputable U.S. colleges are accredited, typically by one of six regional accreditation bodies that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education (DOE).
It goes without saying that the school you choose for your MPA should have one of these general accreditations. It may be even more important, however, to check to see if the program has one of several specialized accreditations that may apply.
These are offered by:
- Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
- Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA)
- Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)
NASPAA accreditation is sought by public administration programs, while the others are both healthcare specific. The AUPHA designation is actually a certification, which differs from accreditation in that a site visit is not required as part of the process.
Since MPA degrees with healthcare management emphasis exist in a strange place between public administration and healthcare, you’ll be in good shape to find a program with all three of these specialized accreditations. You should not be surprised if a program has only one of them, however.