Why the MHA vs. MBA?

As a healthcare professional, you may be considering furthering your education in order to advance your career. You may be asking yourself MHA vs. MBA? When making this decision, it is important to understand what type of Master’s program would best serve you and help you to achieve your career goals.

Some questions to consider when making this decision:

  • Am I planning to continue in a career in healthcare?
  • Are there specific skills that healthcare employers seek in their leaders?
  • What degree will best help develop a network that I can leverage as my career evolves?
  • How can I best build off of my existing healthcare experience?
  • Do I want to earn a Master’s degree as an applied approach to building my industry knowledge or as a stepping stone to a Ph.D. or to concentrate on scholarly research?

What is a Professional Master’s Degree Program?

Let’s tackle that last question first. Depending on what you would like your focus to be, you should consider a professional master’s degree . This is a degree that primarily serves working professionals by providing a focused and applied approach to building healthcare industry know-how. It is different from an academic master’s degree, which is designed to help you prepare for contributing to scholarly research in the field. If your long-term goal is to pursue your doctorate, an academic master’s degree may be the better choice. However, if you are looking to advance your career in healthcare by taking on an executive or operations role or if you are evolving from a pure clinician role to one with leadership responsibilities, a professional master’s degree will be more valuable to you.

MHA vs. MBA with Healthcare Concentration

Once you have confirmed that a professional master’s degree program in healthcare is right for you, the next area to focus on is what type of Master’s degree program is best aligned with your career aspirations.

A common choice that healthcare professionals face is whether to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in healthcare or a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) degree. What’s the difference between MHA vs. MBA healthcare degrees?

An MBA is a generalist degree, which means that programs are typically designed to be broadly applicable to a wide variety of industries and professional contexts (e.g., products-driven businesses, services-driven businesses, brick-and-mortar business, digital businesses; professionals in general management, marketing, operations, finance, etc.). The program provides a core curriculum that prepares professionals to address fundamental business needs, opportunities, and challenges as leaders in their fields. Many MBA programs also offer the opportunity to organize electives into “concentrations” or “specializations” such as Healthcare, Human Resources, or Finance. A common model for MBA programs is a curriculum that consists primarily of the general core set of courses with two or three elective courses that serve as the concentration.

The MHA is a tailored degree that addresses the specific needs, opportunities, and challenges of the healthcare industry throughout the curriculum. The curriculum subject areas are similar to the MBA – for example, courses cover topics such as finance, accounting, policy, law, management, and marketing. But from the first course to the final course, students earning an MHA degree are given examples, case studies, projects, presentations, exams, and instructional material that are healthcare industry-specific or are used to illustrate a point of comparison with the healthcare profession.

Healthcare employers and professional associations recognize both credentials in the industry. Why, then, should healthcare professionals consider MHA vs. MBA?

Why the MHA Wins

If you are a healthcare professional seeking advancement to leadership and executive positions, we recommend that you consider the MHA as the priority credential over the MBA with healthcare concentration for the following reasons:

In the healthcare industry, depth and breadth of knowledge are important

Healthcare is a heavily regulated field with unique challenges across functional areas and professional roles. Even professionals who have been working in the industry for a number of years find keeping up with the pace of change demanding. The MHA program can tackle these unique issues across its full curriculum so that students experience both depth and breadth of knowledge specific to the industry. In this way, you can acquire the generalist skill sets to be a valuable team member across a variety of functions and roles, and you deepen your specialist understanding of the healthcare context.

Healthcare employer input into curriculum is critical to support ROI

Enrolling in a master’s degree program is a big decision. You want to be sure that you are making a smart investment in your professional development and your career. A good MHA program develops relationships with the healthcare employer community and considers employers among its critical stakeholders. A great MHA program works with the healthcare employer community to align its curriculum and program competencies with what employers see as critical skills and knowledge areas in their organizations today and tomorrow. Employer input into, for example, student project design ensures that you can immediately use on the job what you are learning in the classroom, and that you are learning what you need to know to get to the next level in your career. The projects are designed with the “real world” in mind (we call this “authentic assessment”). This level of input and specificity is difficult to accomplish in degree program with a broader, more generalist approach like the MBA.

You are not spending time on – or paying for – what you do not need

Any master’s degree is a serious investment of time and money. You want to identify the most efficient and effective path toward completing your degree. The MBA with healthcare concentration has, on average, more credit requirements for completion than the MHA. This is because the MBA program typically asks students to complete a core curriculum and then branch out into industry-specific courses. It is not uncommon to find MBA programs with credit requirements of 55+. Because the MHA integrates industry-specific concerns into each course, the program can be designed with fewer total credits. This translates into savings in terms of both time and money.

You have access to a tailored network

In an MHA program, you are surrounded by a network of professionals who work in the healthcare industry. Your faculty members are generally a combination of scholars and practitioners who have direct experience working in the field and helping to shape the industry through contributions to healthcare organizational and services design, policies, thought leadership, and more. Your peers in your classes represent a range of healthcare functions and roles, often from clinical, administrative, and even entrepreneurial perspectives. Finally, you will be encouraged to join and engage with healthcare specific professional associations and networks as part of your program, and you may even be assigned a mentor or executive coach who has extensive experience and connections in the industry.

Ultimately, Your Career Goals Determine the Winner

In summary, both the MHA and the MBA with healthcare concentration are widely respected credentials that offer you the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge in business and management. However, if you are planning to continue to build your career in the healthcare industry, you may find the MHA degree a more valuable investment in your future. Because your faculty, fellow students, and coursework are all aligned and focused on healthcare from the start, you will be able to apply newly developed skills immediately and the networks developed by being a part of an MHA program will also serve you well in the long-term. You decide who wins the MHA vs MBA argument based on your career goals.