MPH vs. MHA: Discovering the Difference Between Two Degrees

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A young girl in a hospital bed smiles up at a friendly female health care professional at her bedside patting her hand.


Health advocacy transforms health care, forging connections between people based on important health issues. Leaders in public health advocacy aim to address social and economic circumstances of people’s lives — income, education, and community environment, to name a few — by asking key questions. For instance, what policies help ensure low-income mothers understand how to avoid sudden infant death syndrome? Which medical practices influence patients to agree to recommended cancer screenings? How effectively do regulations discourage the public from consuming too much sugar?

Proof of health advocacy’s power to change communities lies in the historic downturn in cigarette smoking in the United States. In the mid-1960s, around 42% of Americans smoked cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Today only about 14% smoke, thanks in large part to the hard work of health advocacy groups that pushed for smoke-free laws, developed anti-smoking campaigns, and created smoking cessation programs.

Health care leaders develop important strategies that improve health care delivery. Their work leads to improved care for communities. Interested in a health advocacy career? Consider which educational path is right for you by learning about an MPH vs. MHA.

Defining the Degrees

The Master of Public Health (MPH) and the Master of Health Administration (MHA) each allow students to develop unique skill sets. What makes each degree distinctive?

Master of Public Health

The MPH focuses on how to harness the power of education, research, and policy advocacy to build healthier communities. By studying the social determinants of health — the conditions of where people live and work that affect health quality — aspiring public health professionals learn about solutions that can help communities and individuals overcome obstacles to living healthier lives.

MPH coursework explores what causes disparities in people’s health by considering the impact of social, political, and economic forces. It also covers topics such as biostatistics (the use of statistical techniques to better understand human health and disease) and epidemiology (the use of math and statistics to discover patterns in diseases and injuries) as tools to improve public health. This course of study prepares public health leaders to help communities access quality care and helps providers deliver it.

Master of Health Administration

The MHA focuses on building the skills health professionals need to manage health care facilities, ensuring they deliver excellent medical services. MHA degree programs cover topics related to both business and health care. Courses address human resources and health management, accounting and budgeting, and strategic planning. Additionally, MHA programs cover medical terminology, health information systems and management, and hospital organization. By gaining expertise in both administrative and medical topics, MHA graduates can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the facilities they run, thereby improving the quality of care patients receive.

Professionals in public health and health administration improve the delivery of health care in meaningful ways. Whether they are increasing access to quality care through advocacy or developing policies to make a care facility more efficient, their work translates to better health for patients and communities.

Similarities Between the Two Degrees

MPH and MHA degrees share many features:

  • The two degrees are rooted in improving public health.
  • Both the MPH and the MHA can forge paths toward careers in health care management. For example, those with an MPH can pursue work as medical and health services managers, social and community service managers, and nonprofit managers, while MHA degree holders can work as health information managers, health care executives, and clinical managers.
  • Individuals who earn either degree can be qualified to pursue additional certifications. These certifications help demonstrate a high standard of competency in their respective fields and can increase job options and earning potential. The National Board of Public Health Examiners credentials public health leaders, and the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management certifies health care administrators.
  • Each degree program allows students to develop fundamental leadership skills needed for success in the corresponding fields. Ohio University’s online Master of Public Health program, for instance, offers a comprehensive curriculum that develops students’ abilities to plan, implement, and evaluate health promotion and education programs. Additionally, the curriculum covers the role of health administrators in policy analysis and development. At the program’s end, students complete a practicum that gives them hands-on experience, allowing them to apply their knowledge in a public health agency.

Differences Between the Two Degrees

While the degrees have similarities, the differences in an MPH vs. MHA are worth noting.

  • The MPH degree prepares students to analyze and find solutions concerning health-related issues in a specific community or area of the population, whereas the MHA degree prepares students to manage a health care organization.
  • The MPH curriculum is built around behavioral and social science and research, whereas the MHA curriculum is built around business-related elements of care delivery.
  • Science and research tend to drive the careers of MPH graduates, which can lead them to roles as epidemiologists, for example. MHA careers tend to focus on the administrative side of health care in positions such as health services manager.

Advocate for Quality Health Care by Earning an MPH

Building the skills and getting the right education is key to pursuing a career as a leader in healthcare delivery. The components of the MPH vs. MHA degrees serve distinctive purposes and prepare graduates in different ways, so it’s important to understand them. Those inspired by the opportunity to advocate for policies and build programs that help guarantee better health and greater equity for all should consider the benefits of earning an MPH.

Discover how Ohio University’s online Master of Public Health program helps aspiring public health leaders develop the expertise needed to meet the health needs of all communities.

Recommended Readings

How to Become a Health Educator

How to Become an Epidemiologist in Public Health

3 Lucrative MPH Career Opportunities for Graduates


American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management, “Why Earn an AAHAM Certification?”

American Heart Association, “Smoking in America: Why More Americans Are Kicking the Habit”

CDC Foundation, What Is Public Health?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Tobacco Use — United States, 1900-1999”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States”

National Board of Public Health Examiners, “Credentialing Public Health Leaders”

NCBI, “Health Advocacy”

Ohio University, Online Master of Health Administration

Ohio University, Online Master of Public Health

Public Health Foundation, “Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers