The U.S. health care industry is large and will only continue to grow. The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services projects that health spending in the U.S. will increase to $6.2 trillion and represent 19.7% of the economy by 2028.
Unfortunately, the massive size of the industry is matched in magnitude by the many challenges it faces. An aging population, a shortage of medical professionals, and disparities in access to care are only a few of the difficulties that confront the industry. Individuals who have the expertise and skills to address those challenges will be in demand.
Finding your niche can be daunting, but two fields in particular — health care administration and public health — are a great place to start your research. Earning either a Master of Health Administration (MHA) or a Master of Public Health (MPH) could lead to a rewarding career, so it’s important to know what earning those degrees entails and what their related career paths are.
Understanding health care degrees’ similarities and differences can be beneficial to anyone considering working in health care administration or public health. While earning an MHA degree could be valuable to individuals interested in a management role, those who are interested in community and population health would benefit from earning an MPH degree. Each degree has many features that could align with an individual’s specific educational and career preferences.
What Is an MPH?
Defining what an MPH is should start with a definition of public health. The American Public Health Association (APHA) compares public health to direct health care as follows: “While a doctor treats people who are sick, those of us working in public health try to prevent people from getting sick or injured in the first place.” Working in public health encompasses encouraging individuals to practice healthy behaviors and promoting the concept of wellness.
According to the APHA, examples of essential public health services include:
- Monitoring and assessing population health
- Addressing health hazards and their causes
- Implementing public health laws, plans, and policies
- Enabling equitable access to health care
- Developing and maintaining the organizational infrastructure to support public health
The APHA explains that MPH degree programs provide students with in-depth public health education as well as practical skills, with the eventual goal of a leadership role in mind. MPH degree programs typically require some type of experiential learning, for example, at a public health agency, that allows students to both gain expertise and practice using that expertise.
MPH Degree Programs
When comparing health care degree programs, it’s helpful to explore the focus of each program. As you might expect, MPH degree programs focus on a number of key areas that are critical to public health. The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) explains that MPH degree programs are structured around public health’s core knowledge areas, such as:
- Social and behavioral sciences
- Emerging public health issues
- Environmental health sciences
Reviewing the curricula of health care degree programs can provide a good overview of the differences between the programs.
An MPH degree program curriculum typically encompasses a wide range of issues relevant to public health. According to the CEPH, MPH program curriculum focuses on topics such as:
- Communication-related to public health
- Evidence-based methods related to public health
- Health care systems and public health
- Interprofessional practices to promote health
- Leadership related to public health
- Planning and managing the promotion of health
- Public health policy
- Systems thinking in public health
Students in MPH degree programs can focus their studies on a host of specializations that align with their interests. CEPH reviewed 184 MPH program curricula in 2020 and categorized program specializations or concentrations in the following areas:
- General public health
- Global health
- Health equity or priority populations
- Health services administration
- Public health practice
- Social and behavioral sciences
While some of the same skills are taught in multiple health care degree programs, many of the skills gained through MPH programs focus on promoting and safeguarding public health. CEPH notes that MPH students can acquire the ability to:
- Apply epidemiological methods to public health situations
- Assess population needs that affect community health
- Choose methods for evaluating public health programs
- Offer strategies to influence public health outcomes
- Negotiate and mediate to address community health challenges
- Communicate public health information to a variety of audiences
Growing Interest in MPH Degree Programs
If you’re interested in earning an MPH degree, you’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an increased interest in MPH degree programs. In May 2021, the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health reported a 40% increase in applicants for 2021 graduate-level public health degree programs as compared to 2020.
A 2020 report in Kaiser Health News noted an increase in Black students applying to MPH degree programs in response to the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black communities. The report also highlighted the fact that younger people have been drawn to public health as a career in which they can take pride and make a lasting difference.
According to a 2021 article in STAT, individuals also have been drawn to public health by seeing public health officials on the news providing valuable health information during the pandemic. For example, numerous appearances by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on news programs have highlighted the critical role that public health officials play in our society, and those appearances have inspired others to enter the field.
One characteristic that most health care degrees share is that they offer numerous career options. Examples of MPH careers in which individuals can apply their skills and expertise include:
Community Health Worker
Individuals in these positions have responsibilities such as educating the public about health care services, conducting outreach programs, and working to remove barriers to health care access. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), community health workers had a median annual salary of $42,000 as of May 2020.
Working as an environmental specialist involves responsibilities such as collecting and analyzing samples of food, soil, air, or water; creating plans to address environmental issues such as pollution; and providing information to officials and private businesses regarding environmental hazards and risks to health. The BLS reported that environmental specialists had a median annual salary of $73,230 as of May 2020.
Collecting and analyzing data to identify the causes of disease or other health issues is an epidemiologist’s primary responsibility. Epidemiologists also communicate their findings to the public and direct public health studies. According to the BLS, the median annual salary of an epidemiologist was $74,560 as of May 2020.
Health Education Specialist
Working as a health education specialist involves educating the public about various topics in health, helping people to locate health care services, and evaluating health educational programs’ effectiveness. The BLS reported that health education specialists had a median annual salary of $56,500 as of May 2020.
Medical and Health Services Manager
Individuals who work as medical and health services managers typically oversee medical and health services for an entire facility or a unit within a facility. As part of that responsibility, they must stay abreast of changing laws and regulations related to health care. According to the BLS, medical and health services managers had a median annual salary of $104,280 as of May 2020.
Public Health Analyst
Working as a public health analyst entails creating solutions to address public health issues, executing communication plans related to those issues, and offering guidance regarding public health policy. PayScale reported that the median annual salary of public health analysts was approximately $66,761 as of December 2021.
What Is an MHA?
Prospective students need to understand both what health administration is and what an MHA is. The APHA describes health administration as a field that focuses on improving the administration of health care services. The field also encompasses research into health care operations, cost-benefit research, health care finance, health care standards, and overseeing how health care services are organized.
One important feature that distinguishes an MHA degree from other degrees in health care is its focus on preparing executive leaders to manage a health care operation. According to a 2019 article in The Journal of Health Administration Education, health administration education covers topics such as leadership, financial management, and planning. Expertise in those areas creates the foundation for students to work as leaders in the management of health care facilities or related organizations such as long-term care facilities or government agencies.
MHA Degree Programs
While promoting and safeguarding public health is the focus of an MPH program, MHA degree programs focus on the business and management aspects of health care. The 2019 article in The Journal of Health Administration Education explains that MHA degree programs can be structured around health care administration’s key knowledge areas, such as:
- Health care performance improvement
- Health care finance
- Health care marketing
- Human resources in health care
- Organizational awareness in health care
MHA degree programs provide a rich curriculum that focuses on topics such as:
- Financial administration of health care
- Health care delivery in the U.S.
- Health care organization policy
- Health care quality improvement
- Information systems in health care
- Managing human resources in a health care organization
Exploring the specializations of health care degree programs helps to draw further contrast among the degrees. A 2021 study in Frontiers in Public Health noted the following examples of specializations that MHA degree programs offer:
- Applied research
- Aging strategy
- Data for decision-making
- Digital health
- Health promotion
- International development in health care
Although overlap can exist in the skills gained through various degree programs focused on health care, many skills acquired through an MHA program are geared toward managerial and leadership responsibilities. For example, the same 2021 article in Frontiers in Public Health noted that MHA students can develop competencies in:
- Leading change in health care
- Decision-making in health care
- Financial and resource management in health care
- Leadership in health care
- Health care planning and marketing
- Health care quality and safety
Growing Influence of Data Analytics in Health Care Administration
As is the case in many other fields, data analytics is becoming a large part of health care administration. According to a 2020 study published in the International Journal of Big Data and Analytics in Healthcare, health care organizations can use data analytics to:
- Manage information. For example, organizations can use data analytics to extract actionable information from digital health records.
- Manage resources. For example, organizations can apply data analytics to improve the efficiency of supply chains and manage valuable equipment such as ventilators and IV machines.
- Strengthen hospital management. For example, hospitals can use workflow analytics to make financial and operational improvements, or use machine learning to make predictions about the length of patients’ stays in the hospital.
- Promote patient outcomes. For example, organizations can use data analytics to strengthen infection management systems, predict hospital-acquired pneumonia, or identify patients who require intensive case management services.
Market research firm Global Industry Analysts Inc. predicts that, by 2026, the size of the global market for health care analytics will climb to $59.7 billion. Growth in the use of data analytics in health care has been driven by factors such as:
- The COVID-19 pandemic, which has spurred demand for analytical solutions to health care issues
- Increased interest in the use of analytics to address health care performance issues
- The ongoing transition from paper-based health care systems to digital systems that can enable real-time analysis and monitoring
While big data is influencing the health care industry, individuals who want to work in health care administration need to be aware of certain data-related challenges that are unique to the industry. A 2021 report in Forbes noted that:
- While the health care industry has a wealth of patient data, strict privacy laws can complicate processes for data modeling, data transformation, and knowledge creation based on that data.
- The health care industry still lacks the infrastructure to achieve consistency across electronic health records.
- While collecting health data through equipment such as wearable devices is becoming more widespread, the health care industry is still working out the proper approaches for the interpretation and storage of that data.
Careers with a Health Care Administration Degree
Earning almost any type of health care degree can lead to a number of career options. A review of careers with a health care administration degree shows that graduates can work in any of several different capacities. The following are examples of positions in which individuals who earn an MHA degree can apply their unique skills and expertise:
Working as a clinical manager involves overseeing a clinic’s operations, including functions such as hiring and training staff, budgeting, ensuring compliance with standards, and patient scheduling. According to PayScale, clinical managers had a median annual salary of about $72,500 as of December 2021.
Health Care Consultant
Individuals who work as health care consultants may work with their clients to improve processes, identify solutions to problems, or make staff-related recommendations in areas such as compensation. PayScale reported that the median annual salary of health care consultants was approximately $79,500 as of December 2021.
Health Care Executive
Health care executives devise strategic plans and implement policies to help ensure that a health care organization can achieve its long-term goals. Those at the highest levels are responsible for all of the activities of the organization. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for chief executives in health care was $160,950 as of May 2020.
Health Informatics Specialist
Working as a health informatics specialist entails focusing on a health care organization’s information technology and, for example, developing new technology or improving specific processes using analytics. Health informatics specialists had a median annual salary of about $66,800 as of November 2021, according to PayScale.
Health Information Manager
Establishing and achieving a health care organization’s information technology goals are the primary responsibilities of a health information manager. Individuals in these positions typically oversee all of an organization’s computer activities. The BLS reported that computer and information systems managers had a median annual salary of $151,150 as of May 2020.
Hospital administrators oversee the functions of a hospital’s operations, including in areas such as finance, human resources, and compliance with regulations. PayScale reported that the median annual salary of hospital administrators was about $87,400 as of December 2021.
Health Care Degrees Offer Significant Career Potential
No matter what specific health care degree you pursue, you will have the opportunity to make important contributions to address our country’s health challenges. You also can launch a career with the potential for advancement.
If you have an interest in advancing your health administration expertise, then explore Ohio University’s online Master of Health Administration program to learn more about how the program can help you pursue your professional goals.
Anyone who aspires to work in public health also can review Ohio University’s online Master of Public Health program to discover how the program can help transform aspirations into reality.
If you become equipped with the right knowledge and skills, a fulfilling career in health care administration or public health could be in your future. Resolve to move toward that future today.
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