Who keeps the day-to-day operations running in hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare clinics? Who makes sense of the shifting healthcare regulations and protects patients’ privacy? Who manages healthcare organizations’ operational costs, so they stay economically viable without sacrificing the quality of care delivered? Health administrators do these things and more.
The path to becoming a leader in health administration involves earning a Master of Health Administration (MHA) degree. What is an MHA degree? An MHA helps health administrators develop the in-depth knowledge of healthcare systems and business needed to thrive in the field.
While doctors, nurses, and medical technicians give patients direct care and treatment, health administrators manage the support and organizational side of healthcare delivery. The typical preparation for health administrators is an MHA, an advanced degree in healthcare management.
Students enrolled in an MHA degree program can expect to learn about various business concepts as they apply to healthcare including:
- Budgeting and accounting
- Human resources administration
- Strategic planning
- Leadership and management principles
They should also plan to examine industry-specific topics and issues such as:
- Medical facility management and organization
- Factors that influence healthcare spending and costs
- Information systems that manage healthcare data
- Healthcare laws and ethics
MHA programs aim to prepare degree-holders with skills that allow them to successfully lead healthcare organizations. Courses help students develop an arsenal of strategies for improving operations in different types of healthcare organizations ranging from long-term care facilities to outpatient surgical clinics.
MHA curriculums also incorporate analytics into coursework so graduates know how to use data to drive decision-making. Finally, MHA programs offer courses that develop financial skills that allow health administrators to accurately assess the fiscal health of the organizations they work for. Reviewing courses typically found in an MHA degree program can help prospective students understand what an MHA degree is. MHA students often take courses similar to ones described below:
A strategic management course introduces students to strategic planning methods in healthcare organizations. Strategic planning involves managing organizational resources to realize goals, as well as analyzing internal operations and the competition.
Students may examine examples of strategic assessments and plans to learn how to apply their knowledge of organizational behavior, health policy, marketing, and other concepts to the healthcare environment.
Health administrators need a nuanced understanding of the U.S. healthcare system. A course examining health systems covers different healthcare delivery systems and how healthcare resources are allocated. It also helps students learn about forces that affect healthcare policy and gain insight into how people’s behavior and societal values impact health systems.
A quality management course in healthcare explores techniques for examining, assessing, and putting into practice processes that improve healthcare services. Students often examine case studies involving quality management and learn practical applications for quality management theories.
Those wondering if an MHA degree is worth it should consider its potential benefits. In particular, the job outlook is very promising for MHA degree-holders, and they can choose to pursue work in any of a variety of settings. They also can earn handsome salaries.
The number of positions in healthcare is increasing at a dramatic rate. In fact, the job outlook for healthcare positions outpaces that of all other occupations by considerable margins. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects health administrator positions will grow 32 percent between 2019 and 2029. The average growth projected for all occupations lags far behind at 4 percent.
MHA degree-holders can choose from a diverse range of career paths. They also have many options when it comes to work settings.
Organizations of all sorts need the expertise MHA degree-holders possess. In addition to healthcare delivery organizations such as hospitals, physician practices, rehabilitation centers, and government agencies, MHA graduates can choose to pursue work in health-related organizations that include:
- Insurance companies
- Patient advocacy groups
- Healthcare information technology companies
- Public health organizations
This variety provides MHA degree-holders with opportunities to work more directly in patient care or to exercise their skills in office environments.
With an MHA, health administrators can access a path to leadership roles, positions that come with high salaries.
For example, medical and health services managers had an annual median salary of $104,280 in May 2020, according to the BLS. These positions include nursing home administrators, health information managers, and clinical managers (health administrators who supervise specific departments such as nursing in a health delivery organization). Top earning medical and health services managers made upwards of $195,630 annually.
According to PayScale data as of August 2021, the median annual salary of MHA degree-holders is around $78,000.
MHA degree requirements can vary, but to gain accreditation, programs must design curricula that follow standards set by the Commission on the Accreditation of Health Management Education (CAHME). MHA degree programs must consist of at least 40 semester credit hours, but most programs require students to complete between 50 and 60 credit hours. So it typically takes students two years of full-time study to earn their MHA.
CAHME also requires MHA degree programs to incorporate an experiential learning component into curriculums. To fulfill this requirement, many MHA programs include residency programs where students gain hands-on experience. These programs involve working in a healthcare organization under the supervision of experienced health administrators who support students as they apply their classroom learning to the real world.
Additionally, MHA students should anticipate a comprehensive exam requirement. Some MHA programs test students before graduation with an exam that may consist of analyzing a case study and answering questions related to specific competency areas in health administration.
MHA graduates pursue various career paths. They can also choose from different areas within health administration to focus on, including:
- Health regulatory compliance
- Facilities and equipment management
- Health information technology
- Finance and accounting
- Public relations
Positions for MHA graduates fall within four different sectors:
Hospice centers, mental health facilities, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other organizations that directly provide healthcare services make up the sector where most MHA graduates work. BLS data shows that:
- Hospitals employ 33 percent of health administrators
- Doctors’ offices employ 12 percent
- Nursing homes and residential care facilities employ 10 percent
Health administrators serve in an array of positions in these organizations. Job titles include:
- Hospital administrator
- Practice manager
- Risk management director
- Patient safety manager
- Chief nursing officer
- Director of business development
According to a recent Allied Market Research report, the global insurance market will more than double by 2028 to over $4 trillion. With that growth, insurance companies will rely on skilled professionals who understand healthcare systems, laws, and ethics. This sector gives health administrators another place to find work opportunities.
Job titles in health insurance companies applicable to MHA graduates include:
- Quality improvement specialist
- Research analyst
- Strategic planning director
- Client manager
- Utilization management coordinator
Healthcare suppliers provide medical facilities with the services, equipment, and supplies they need to run. That could include everything from ultrasound machines to staffing assistance to management services to training and development.
These organizations also need the expertise of skilled healthcare administrators who understand the ins and outs of how the healthcare industry works. Some organizations where MHA graduates pursue careers include:
- Healthcare consulting agencies
- Healthcare equipment and technology manufacturers
- Biotechnology companies
- Pharmaceutical companies
MHA graduates can pursue careers in organizations that influence healthcare policy as well. These include federal public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local agencies that focus on public health. Additionally, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations with missions related to healthcare also need health administrators to analyze policies and plan as well as organize community health programs.
What is an MHA degree? An MHA degree empowers graduates to transform healthcare for the better by helping organizations run more efficiently and effectively. It also opens a path to many leadership positions across the industry.
Explore how Tulane’s Online Master of Health Administration prepares graduates to launch thriving careers as health administrators.