Master of Health Administration for managers and leaders

By Gina Pogol

The career of hospital administrator made CNN Money's list of the best jobs in America for 2009 based on criteria such as personal satisfaction, pay and growth prospects, job security, and the benefit to society. Hospital administrator is just one of the career paths available to those with a master's degree in health administration, or MHA.

MHA programs focus on the complexities of medical regulation, rapidly changing medical technology, insurance laws and a growing emphasis on preventive care. Graduates are expected to improve efficiency and quality in the health care facilities that hire them.

Health care managers and administrators must demonstrate strong business skills combined with experience and education in medical care. Candidates accepted into Master of Health Administration schools have usually earned a bachelor's degree, preferably in a business- or health care-related program. MHA programs may also require a minimum GPA or score on an entrance exam.

Master of Health Administration coursework

Campus-based or online MHA degree programs generally require the completion of 36 to 60 credit hours over a two- to four-year period, depending on the school and the student's health care education and background. MHA programs usually combine specific industry-related knowledge with a general business education to equip graduates to run or help run medical facilities. For example, classes may cover economics, human resources, law and finance with a specialized focus on the health care field. Students may also encounter courses such as the following:

  1. Epidemiology and Disease Control
  2. Health Care Leadership
  3. Health Care Strategic Management
  4. Health Information Technology
  5. Health Planning and Marketing
  6. Health Policy

In addition, MHA students gain hands-on experience through a practicum in a medical facility. A practicum is a course designed to give candidates supervised practical application of previously studied theory. An MHA practicum involves a real-world setting, and may have requirements such as the following:

  • A work plan that is submitted and approved
  • Periodic reports summarizing activities
  • Progress on objectives identified in the work plan
  • A final report or presentation summarizing the practicum experience

Two-for-one: the dual degree

For nurses seeking to move into administrative positions, some MHA schools offer special options, such as these dual degree programs:

  • Nursing and health administration
  • Nursing and business education

The Master of Science in Nursing and Master of Health Administration, or MSN/MHA dual degree, could enable an RN to become an advanced practice nurse, nurse educator or nurse administrator while achieving graduate-level education in health care administration. An advanced practice nurse with such a dual degree could be prepared to move into a senior administrative position in a health care organization.

Candidates interested in combining general business administration with nursing could enroll in MSN/MBA dual degree programs.

Online Master of Health Administration programs

Online Master of Health Administration programs can offer advantages to health care professionals, who often work on shifts. Working students can honor obligations to employers; companies may even pay for some or all of the tuition. Online master's programs can facilitate learning for candidates with families. Students who don't live near an institution offering advanced health care administration studies or a dual degree program can earn their online degrees from home.

Master of Health Administration careers

The MHA degree is designed to prepare graduates for several career paths, including:

  • Hospital administration, which could involve running the entire hospital or overseeing specific departments like cardiology or physical therapy
  • Practice management, in which the administrator oversees a laboratory, medical practice or medical group rather than a hospital facility
  • Management of other health-related organizations, such as insurance companies, HMOs, charitable groups and government departments
  • Nursing home administration, a specialty which is expected to show especially high demand in the upcoming decades
  • Health information administration, which involves overseeing an organization's medical records

The MHA degree is not for the faint of heart--careers can involve long hours and lots of stress. Administrators and managers may be called in to solve problems at any time, and many medical facilities operate round the clock. These conditions are reflected in the salaries available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2010, medical and health service managers earned a mean salary of $93,670, ranging from $51,280 for those with the least experience and education to $144,880 at the high end.

Online Master of Health Administration programs target job opportunities in a broad range of settings and industries. The BLS reports that the top-paying opportunities for medical and health service managers include information services, medical research and development, and medical equipment manufacturing, as well as management positions in specialty hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and surgical centers.

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