Choosing Between a Master’s in Public Health and a Master’s in Healthcare Administration

Graduating college with a bachelor’s degree is a big step toward unlocking the potential your future holds. Now more than ever having a bachelor’s can give you a significant advantage in the workforce. However, many students elect to continue their studies beyond the bachelor’s level and pursue postgraduate education. For students considering options in the healthcare industry, receiving their bachelor’s degree not only indicates an important watershed moment in their lives, but places them at a crossroads that will directly affect which way they go for postgraduate studies. By examining the similarities between a master’s degree in public health and a master’s in healthcare administration, you may be able to choose the career that best suits your lifestyle and personality.

The Similarities and Differences

At first blush, there’s not much to choose between a public health and a healthcare administration degree. Both are concerned with helping people, crunching numbers, and tailoring healthcare to be more effective in a wide array of settings. The difference is primarily one of management. A master of health administration is primarily interested in assuming a management role in a hospital or government agency such as the Centers for Disease Control, as well as healthcare at the federal, state, and local levels or as a member of a nonprofit. A master of public health, however, may work in a laboratory, hospital, as a social worker, or even as a medical correspondent for a newspaper or national television news.

The Best Person For The Job

Choosing the right master’s program for you is a distinctly personal decision, but there are some signposts you might consider as “markers” for which role you’d be happiest in. An outgoing, friendly, analytical person who’s not as interested in financial or organizational management will probably be happier as a master of public health. Meanwhile, a person who enjoys working with numbers, finances, and who enjoys being “in charge” or is interested in functioning as a member of middle to upper management will probably find themselves enjoying the options a master of healthcare administration is afforded.

Comparison and Contrast of Master’s Requirements

The core disciplines for each master’s degree vary according to the various requirements for the courses. A master of public health will typically have as the core disciplines under consideration biostatics, epidemiology, environmental health, health administration and policy, and social and behavioral sciences. For an MPH, the emphasis will naturally be on dealing with diseases on a one-to-one basis and as statistically significant elements of a larger population. A master of healthcare administration will generally take less “hands-on” courses by comparison to the MPH, taking instead such courses as statistical analysis and application, financial analysis and assessment, governance, leadership, population health, healthcare economics, and strategy formulation and implementation. For the MHA, the emphasis is not on individual interactions so much as the systems that allow the broadest coverage of healthcare to the widest number of people.

After The Master’s Program

People with masters’ degrees have a far wider array of employment opportunities available to them compared with those possessing a bachelor’s, such as governments from local to federal, nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross, and private-sector institutions such as private hospitals. Salaries vary widely depending on one’s concentration and experience, but generally starting salaries begin at a median of $35,711 a year, with a median salary among MHAs of $90,000 per year and $67,534 for MPHs. Public- and private-sector laboratories and agencies have a high demand for both these degrees, and your concentration could easily exceed the medians given here depending on a number of factors.

About the Author

Will Burnham is a Topeka-based healthcare educator and a columnist for Masters Public Health, a resource for students interested in advanced degrees in public health.