MPH vs. MHA: Which Degree Is Right for You?

A healthcare manager in a lab coat holding a smartphone stands in a hospital room with two colleagues.

Across the nation, health experts with MPH or MHA degrees have gone into high gear to battle COVID-19. Individuals who are interested in analyzing and solving crucial public health issues, such as pandemics, should consider a career in public health or healthcare administration and earn a Master of Public Health degree or a Master of Health Administration degree.

When it comes to an MPH vs. an MHA, which degree is right for you? One of the main differences between the two degrees is that with an MPH, students learn to look at the social context of health—including social determinants of health, care inequities, and cultural competency in healthcare—while an MHA student learns how to manage the business aspects of healthcare.

What Is an MPH?

Giving back to your community by working in the health field can be rewarding in many ways. Perhaps you have been considering the differences between a clinical role and an administrative role. On the other hand, maybe you’re more interested in health care’s impact on the public.

Individuals can attend graduate programs offered by universities to earn Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees. MPH degrees teach graduate students how to identify and address issues relating to public health and wellness. An MPH is primarily a health research degree.

For individuals considering an MPH vs. an MHA, it is worth noting that both programs usually take about two to three years to complete. Depending on the program, students may be required to write and present a thesis.

Individuals earning an MPH can focus on specialized areas of study as well as general public health principles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some specific public health specializations include:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Environmental health
  • Occupational health
  • Chronic diseases
  • Substance abuse and mental health
  • Maternal and child health

Public health experts understand how injuries, diseases, and violence have an impact on communities. They spread awareness about how to prevent these problems. They learn how to help make a difference in their communities, states, and country through public health advocacy. Having the ability to impact legislative policies can be an essential aspect of a public health specialist’s job.

Example of MPH Curriculum

An MPH degree can provide graduate students with the ability to understand how diseases, patterns of injury, substance abuse and mental health issues, and occupational issues impact the well-being of people across various communities.

While the curriculum can vary across different MPH programs, the Association of Schools of Public Health establishes a national standard for accredited universities. Most programs have courses pertaining to:

  • Epidemiology
  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health
  • Social and behavioral sciences
  • Health policy and management

These core courses can help students understand some of the most essential public health principles. Additionally, an MPH program helps students develop cross-cutting competencies including:

  • Program planning
  • Communication
  • Diversity
  • Biology
  • Leadership
  • Professionalism
  • Systems thinking

Specific topics in courses can include:

  • Causal analysis
  • Program evaluation
  • Medical informatics
  • Health administration
  • Diversity issues
  • Survey design

MPH Careers

Learning about different aspects of public health through an MPH program can help individuals prepare for a variety of careers in the field that focus on the social context of health. Some public health careers include:

Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists primarily work for federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health. They can work for state government organizations, studying public health issues and researching ways to treat them and prevent them in the future. Local government organizations, hospitals, universities, and scientific research services also employ epidemiologists.

The process of becoming an epidemiologist can take several years. Individuals should earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in public health or a related field. Many also earn an advanced degree in epidemiology or a medical degree.

Some common job duties associated with the role include:

  • Gathering and studying data about diseases or infections
  • Determining which population groups are prone to contracting, carrying, or spreading certain diseases
  • Conducting ongoing studies about different public health issues
  • Analyzing how individuals survive from certain diseases and seeing how other people with the same disease can be treated
  • Communicating with other public health experts and policymakers about their research studies
  • Finding ways to improve the health and well-being of people across different demographics

Health Educator

Health educators can work in a variety of settings and their job descriptions can vary based on their organization. For example, health educators working in colleges can create programs to educate college-aged students about health issues pertaining to substance use.

Health educators can also work alongside medical providers in healthcare facilities. They can teach new mothers about how to properly feed babies or install car seats. On the other hand, health educators working in nonprofit organizations may focus on helping educate people about nutrition, exercise, and how to prevent the spread of viruses.

Overall, health educators help people understand how to engage in behaviors that can lead to physical, emotional, and medical wellness. Some common responsibilities include:

  • Getting to know specific populations or communities and identifying major issues of concern
  • Designing and creating programs, classes, videos, podcasts, and other materials to educate people about those issues
  • Connecting people with outside resources, such as mental health counselors, support groups, social workers, insurance agencies, or primary-care providers
  • Collecting information about communities to advocate for policy changes

To become a health educator, most individuals earn a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree in public health, community health education, or a related degree. Many employers want candidates to have certification, such as the certified health education specialist credential.

Biostatistician

Public health specialists rely on biostatisticians to analyze data pertaining to individuals and communities. Biostatisticians typically work in offices, analyzing data sets and lab results on computers. They can collaborate with medical experts and research scientists to organize, interpret, and analyze large amounts of information. Those who work at universities can spend the majority of their time in labs.

While other public health specialists work directly with members of the public or policymakers to enact change, biostatisticians help make that possible through their mathematics and data science knowledge. Some job duties include:

  • Making research plans with scientists and doctors
  • Collecting sets of data from studies
  • Using preexisting or developing new algorithms and statistical techniques
  • Writing reports about findings and sharing reports with colleagues

Biostatisticians usually have a strong background in mathematics. They can earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, statistics, or a related field. Those who want to specifically work in the public health field can consider earning an MPH degree.

What Is an MHA?

When it comes to MPH vs. MHA degree programs, a Master of Health Administration (MHA) degree teaches individuals to understand health care’s business aspects. MHA programs teach graduate students how to manage and lead healthcare organizations and medical facilities.

As far as similarities when it comes to an MPH vs. an MHA, both programs can usually be completed online or in person. Depending on the program, an MHA graduate student may be required to write and present a thesis.

Individuals earning an MHA can focus on specialized areas of study. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some specific healthcare administration specialization categories include:

  • Hospital organization
  • Health information systems
  • Health policy
  • Clinical management
  • Healthcare ethics
  • Data management

Healthcare administrators understand how to manage the clinical employees and staff members working in their facility. They ensure their organization is updated on the newest healthcare regulations and policies.

Making a difference in their communities, states, and country by ensuring quality patient care is an essential aspect of the job. Communicating with their medical facility’s board members, shareholders, and investors on a regular basis is another component of the job.

Example of MHA Curriculum

An MHA degree can help graduate students develop a vision for how to offer patient care in an ethical way while allowing the facility to function as a business and make a profit. Prospective healthcare administrators need to understand health care’s economic aspects and serve their communities as leaders.

While the curriculum can vary across different MHA programs, most programs have courses pertaining to:

  • Healthcare law/policy
  • Risk management
  • Accounting and budgeting
  • Healthcare ethics
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Health services research
  • Financial management

MHA Careers

Studying different aspects of healthcare administration through an MHA program can help individuals prepare for a variety of leadership and business management careers in the field. Some include:

Medical and Health Services Manager

The medical and health services manager job category can include anything from a clinical manager to a hospital administrator. Healthcare managers can oversee individual departments or entire medical facilities. According to the BLS, most work in hospitals and physicians’ offices.

Some medical and health services manager job duties include:

  • Hiring and training employees and staff members about facility protocols
  • Establishing objectives for each department
  • Making sure the facility is updated on all legal policies and has implemented them
  • Improving patient care through different strategies
  • Setting long-term goals for the facility
  • Putting together a monthly or quarterly report
  • Coordinating medical services with physicians, nurses, laboratory technologists, and other healthcare experts
  • Meeting with board members and investors

Healthcare managers also have administration-related responsibilities including:

  • Examining financial plans and creating budgets
  • Creating schedules with department leaders
  • Organizing facility records and documents pertaining to patients, finances, and staff
  • Taking care of financial documents, such as patient billing

The process of becoming a healthcare manager begins with earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in health administration, business administration, or a related field. Requirements for licenses and certifications can vary across states and medical organizations.

Nursing Home Manager

As the baby boomer population ages, the demand for elder care in the U.S. grows. Nursing home manager and administrator jobs continue to grow in importance as more elderly people need medical attention in assisted living facilities.

Some nursing home manager job responsibilities include:

  • Hiring and managing caregivers, such as registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and licensed practical nurses
  • Earning accreditation for the facility and ensuring it stays up to date on new regulations and policies
  • Meeting new patients and their families and showing them around
  • Going through the paperwork and financial processes with patients’ families
  • Providing training for caregivers on an ongoing basis
  • Coordinating events and services with event planners, food delivery services, and maintenance employees

The process of becoming a nursing home manager begins with earning a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in health administration, nursing, or a related field. Qualified individuals should have a background in management as well as several years of clinical experience.

Some individuals choose to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing, take the NCLEX-RN exam, and work as a registered nurse for several years. They then earn their master’s in health administration degree and gain management experience before working as nursing home managers.

Health Information Manager

As medical facilities have transferred more patient and hospital records from paper documents to digital records, the need to protect information and data has become essential. Health information managers are responsible for creating computer systems and software that store and protect health records.

Health information managers can work at any medical facility that stores patient information, including:

  • Hospitals
  • State health departments
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Federal agencies
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Clinics

Some health information manager job duties include:

  • Using modern technology expertise to create security systems
  • Ensuring patient data security by making sure unauthorized personnel cannot access it
  • Designing and implementing computer software within a facility’s system
  • Having an understanding of healthcare laws and policies regarding electronic health records
  • Teaching administrators and clinical staff about how to use the system to input patient data

Health information managers have expertise in a variety of fields including law, medicine, technology, finance, and management. They typically begin their careers by earning a bachelor’s degree in information technology, finance, or law.

A master’s degree in health administration can help health information managers understand information technology’s clinical and managerial aspects. Gaining experience by working in information technology or healthcare management can help individuals qualify for jobs as health information managers.

What Is the Difference Between an MPH and an MHA?

Individuals who are considering an MPH vs. an MHA should think about their long-term career goals in the health field. One of the main differences between the two degrees is that an MHA focuses more on the business aspects of healthcare than an MPH. Additionally, MPH graduates seek to bring about social change pertaining to healthcare. However, in the long run, MHA and MPH graduates both share the same goal of meeting the healthcare needs of individuals and communities.

Career Path

Deciding on a potential career path can be a helpful way for an individual to determine whether they’d rather earn an MPH or an MHA. Those who are more interested in serving the public by advocating for patient rights and accessibility to healthcare will probably enjoy a career in public health.

On the other hand, those who are interested in health care’s business aspects and the idea of managing a medical facility will probably enjoy a career in healthcare administration.

Work Environment

Work environment is another factor that can have an impact when choosing between the two degree options. Someone who wants to work in a lab, analyze data in an office, or work for a government agency would be better suited for a career as an epidemiologist or biostatistician.

A person who is passionate about connecting with clinical staff members as well as patients on an ongoing basis would probably prefer to work in a hospital, clinic, or nursing home.

MPH Salary

Another consideration when deciding whether to pursue an MPH or an MHA is potential future income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, epidemiologists have an annual median salary of $70,990.

Epidemiologists’ salaries range from less than $44,000 to more than $119,290, based on an individual’s experience, education level, job location, and organization. Those epidemiologists who work in scientific research and development services have the highest median salary at $99,770.

The annual median salary of mathematicians and statisticians, including biostatisticians, is $92,030, according to the BLS. Salaries range from less than $58,100 to more than $162,060.

Job Outlook

The number of jobs for epidemiologists is projected to grow by 5 percent between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS, which is slightly faster than average. The projected job outlook for statisticians is 35 percent growth between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average growth projected for all careers.

MHA Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical and health services managers have an annual median salary of $100,980. Professionals in this category include health services managers, nursing home managers, and health information managers.

Salaries of those with this job range from less than $58,820 to more than $189,000, based on experience, education level, job location, and organization. Those who work in state, local, and private hospitals have an annual median salary of $110,430.

Job Outlook

The number of jobs for medical and health services managers is projected to grow by 32 percent between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS, which is much faster than the average growth projected for all jobs. In 2019, approximately 422,300 professionals worked in a healthcare management role. That number is projected to grow by 133,200 jobs by 2029.

Earn Your Master’s Degree from Tulane

If you’re passionate about helping people and are interested in the health field, you may want to consider earning an MPH or MHA degree. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a healthcare manager or administrator, Tulane University’s Online Master of Health Administration might be the right choice for you. Learn more about how the program can help you achieve your professional goals.

Sources

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

ASPPH, “MPH Core Competency Model”

Balance Careers, “What Does a Health Care/Hospital Administrator Do?”

Balance Careers, “What Jobs Can You Get with an MPH Degree?”

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare Occupations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mathematicians and Statisticians

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

Monster, “Where Can You Work with a Master’s in Healthcare Administration?”