The health care field is among the fastest growing employment sectors in the U.S., with employment projected to expand 18% between 2016 and 2026, adding around 2.4 million new jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This estimated growth will likely generate lucrative career opportunities for students and mid-career professionals alike, both in health care administration and public health occupations. Individuals looking to develop subject matter expertise and functional skills in these areas often gravitate toward Master of Public Health or Master of Health Administration degree programs, which provide unique sector-specific competencies that can facilitate upward mobility in their careers. While there is some overlap, the curricula and career outcomes of these programs tend to vary, so it’s important to understand the key differences before committing to a particular academic track.
What can you do with an MPH vs. MHA degree?
Capitalizing on the upward trend in the health care industry requires a good deal of foresight and career planning, as the field offers a variety of unique employment options with divergent specializations. This partially accounts for why so many health care professionals and recent graduates pursue additional education; postsecondary institutions conferred close to 120,000 master’s degrees for health professions and related programs in 2017 alone, per the latest nationwide data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Although MPH and MHA programs expose students to similar health care topics, each degree emphasizes different sides of the industry. For example, the curriculum of most MPH degrees focuses on health-related sciences, research, and communications, whereas MHA programs center on the business-oriented concerns of health care organizations, facilities, and policies. Both degrees can help professionals advance their careers, but the occupation outcomes tend to differ between concentrations. To get an idea for what MPH and MHA programs have to offer, let’s take a closer look at the educational objectives, career paths, and salary expectations of each degree:
Master of Public Health
MPH programs are geared toward professionals who are interested in large-scale health and wellness initiatives, public health education, and population-based research. Students cultivate skill sets that allow them to analyze and interpret complex health data, organize effective outreach campaigns, and develop communication strategies to stimulate awareness and healthy behaviors. While there are administrative career opportunities for MPH graduates, most professionals in public health pursue roles that allow them to study the impact of infectious diseases and chronic illnesses, occupational and environmental risks, and nutritional deficiencies to advocate for more effective social programs. Some of the principal duties of public health experts include:
- Investigating pre-existent and emergent health trends
- Combating epidemics and disease
- Crafting health policy at the local, state, or national level
- Managing care delivery for various populations
- Supporting individuals to promote better health outcomes
LEARNING OUTCOMES FOR MPH PROGRAMS
The Council on Education for Public Health, an official accreditation body empowered by the U.S. Department of Education, advises colleges to offer instruction on the history of public health, qualitative and quantitative data collection methods, and relevant trends in morbidity and mortality, including those linked to biological, political, and social factors. This curriculum allows students to develop vast knowledge of public health and build technical skills required to monitor new developments as they unfold. The core curriculum of MPH programs typically includes courses on:
- Epidemiologic methods
- Health ethics and law
- Contemporary issues in environmental health
- Social and behavioral sciences
POSSIBLE CAREERS FOR MPH GRADUATES
MPH graduates can find meaningful employment at a variety of organizations, including government agencies, health care centers, nonprofits, and private businesses. Public health professionals work in a range of distinct environments depending on their concentration. For example, epidemiologists spend a majority of their time in research laboratories, though on-site fieldwork is sometimes required. MPH degree holders working in the nonprofit world often manage health care initiatives and on-the-ground operations directly, which may entail frequent travel and temporary living arrangements outside the U.S. Here are some of the most popular career paths for MPH graduates:
- Epidemiologist: This occupation investigates the causes of infectious diseases, chronic health conditions, and injuries in human populations. Epidemiologists work to identify patterns of occurrence and reduce the likelihood of negative health outcomes through scientific research, community outreach, and health policy, according to the World Health Organization.
- Occupational health and safety specialist: Professionals in this role collect data on work environments and industrial practices to ensure employers comply with existing safety and health regulations. Occupational health and safety specialists evaluate workflows, equipment, and hazard disposal procedures to locate risk factors that may harm employees or lead to widespread health issues for the public.
- Environmental scientist: Experts in this career field leverage their knowledge of the natural sciences to safeguard the environment and human health from natural and man-made risks, such as pollution and deforestation. Environmental scientists often have backgrounds in chemistry, biology, or ecology, which help them assess threats to ecosystems around the world and develop comprehensive reclamation strategies.
SALARY EXPECTATIONS FOR MPH PROFESSIONALS
Many public health professionals seek positions that allow them to make a positive impact on human health, rather than earn a large salary. That said, there are plenty of opportunities for MPH graduates to secure lucrative employment with high salary caps. Careers in public health generally come with above-average wages, though some roles pay better than others. The median salary for U.S.-based epidemiologists stands around $70,000, according to the BLS. In contrast, nonprofit health care CEOs can earn an average salary of up to $105,000 per year, according to PayScale.
Master of Health Care Administration
MHA programs are ideal for individuals looking to pursue top administrative posts in hospitals or health care systems. Students seeking these degrees normally develop the multifaceted skill sets needed to address the numerous operational duties that fall under the purview of high-ranking health care leaders. For instance, an MHA degree track might touch on topics such as health information system management and health care quality management while addressing ancillary areas such as marketing, communications, and clinical research. Health care professionals need insight into a wide range of issues to be successful in leadership roles, and MHA degree programs can help them develop this knowledge. Their occupational responsibilities include:
- Overseeing medical facilities and clinical staff members
- Managing an organization’s finances and long-term investments
- Improving the efficiency and quality of health care services
- Communicating with department heads and board members
- Ensuring their facility is compliant with health care laws and regulations
LEARNING OUTCOMES FOR MHA PROGRAMS
MHA degrees help students understand health care administration from a business, policy, and patient perspective, as opposed to the big-picture approach favored by MPH programs. Individuals learn essential administrative skills like strategic planning, accounting and financial literacy, organizational development, and interpersonal and professional communication. They also gain firsthand experience with the health care ethics, governance, finance, and regulations that shape medical organizations and facilities at the highest level. MHA graduates often use their knowledge to support technological advancements and innovations in medical treatment to ensure patients receive the care they need. Most MHA programs offer courses on:
- Concepts in health administration
- Health policy, politics, and perspectives
- Health ethics and law
- Management accounting in health care
- Economics of health care
POSSIBLE CAREERS FOR MHA GRADUATES
While MHA graduates can pursue divergent career trajectories, many obtain management roles in hospitals, private clinics, government agencies, or outpatient care centers. The above average demand for medical and health service managers is projected to increase 20% between 2016 and 2026, per BLS analysts. Most professionals in health administration work in office settings within medical institutions, where they frequently collaborate with doctors, nurses, and other caregivers to facilitate positive patient outcomes. Students looking for career mobility can leverage their knowledge of health care systems and practices to help struggling clinics and hospitals update their procedures. Here are some common career paths for MHA graduates:
- Hospital administrator: These high-level managers plan, direct, and coordinate medical services and health initiatives that support patients’ treatment and recovery. Hospital administrators supervise their facility’s financial budget, securing reliable funding, and hiring qualified staff members to perform important managerial tasks. Additionally, these professionals must adapt to changes in health care laws and regulations to ensure their organizations continue to operate effectively.
- Pharmaceutical quality director: This position oversees the quality of pharmaceutical products created by private companies through comprehensive testing and analysis procedures. If any quality issues are detected, these executives review, troubleshoot, and resolve any discrepancies that may negatively impact the manufacturing process. This executive-level position is also charged with establishing lab policies and procedures that keep pharmaceutical products compliant with government regulations.
- Health information technician: Professionals in this role organize and manage health information and patient data to ensure their organization’s records are accurate, accessible, and secure. Health information technicians utilize various classification systems and software tools to efficiently categorize any rendered medical services that may qualify patients for reimbursement from insurance providers. They are also responsible for tracking patient outcomes for quality assessment purposes and maintaining the confidentiality of all health care records in their database.
SALARY EXPECTATIONS FOR MHA PROFESSIONALS
Most MHA-related positions offer higher salaries than those available in public health career fields, especially executive-level roles. The median wage for health care CEOs working in the U.S. is more than $194,000, according to research from the BLS. Chief operations officers normally earn slightly less than their immediate superiors, taking in almost $147,000, according to PayScale. Moving down the occupational hierarchy, health care administrators can secure an average salary of around $99,730 per year, though this rate often varies between organizations.
How to choose the right degree program: MPH vs. MHA
The health care industry continues to expand at an accelerated pace, encouraging professionals at all levels to pursue a graduate-level education. Most master’s degree programs can be completed in as few as two years, though students who sign up for intersession courses often reach graduation sooner than traditional enrollees. Individuals who have already secured a full-time position in the health care field may not be able to attend classes during the day, but online graduate programs offer the flexibility they require without sacrificing the quality they expect. With so many options available, how do professionals choose between an online MPH and MHA degree?
Selecting the best online graduate program starts with an individual’s employment goals, as MPH and MHA degrees provide disparate learning opportunities. Those seeking an executive administration role may benefit from the management-focused curriculum of an MHA program, as public health degrees do not typically feature courses on health care finance and accounting. In contrast, professionals interested in career mobility and social justice will likely prefer the wide scope of online MPH programs, which tend to offer multiple concentrations in specialized subfields.
The online MPH program at Regis College teaches students about pressing issues in public health alongside many of the strategic concepts that health care administrators use on a daily basis. This allows professionals to target the subject matter and skill sets they’re passionate about without locking themselves into a specific career track. Students can gain the skills and experience needed to make a positive impact on the well-being of the public and in health care organizations across the globe. Regis College’s online MPH features two concentrations that are essential to the success of public health programs and initiatives: Epidemiology and Health Policy and Management. Additionally, the program is 100% digital, meaning aspiring health care leaders can build the knowledge they need to advance their careers without sacrificing their current positions or personal obligations.
Are you interested in learning more about the online MPH degree program at Regis College? Connect with us today to learn more.