Which degree should I pursue?
Considerations for those contemplating a master’s or doctoral degree in healthcare administration
If you’re considering an advanced degree, there are a number of options that can help pave the way for a long and fulfilling career in healthcare administration.
Types of Master’s and Doctoral Degrees
First, there are different types of master’s degrees and doctorates. There are MHAs (Master of Health Administration), MBAs (Master of Business Administration), MPAs (Master of Public Administration), and MPHs (Master of Public Health) to identify just the more recognizable three letter administrative degrees. Likewise, there are PhDs (Doctor of Philosophy), DBAs (Doctor of Business Administration), DHAs (Doctor of Health Administration), DrPHs (Doctor of Public Health) and ScDs (Doctors of Science) at the more advanced level. These degrees differ in name mainly based on the school or unit of the college or university where the health administration program is located. But, they will differ also in terms of academic content of the curriculum based on differences associated with being in a business school or a school of public health or in another setting.
Then there are distinctions among academic programs and degrees based on whether students attend full-time or part-time and whether the learning is delivered in a traditional or non-traditional mode. Traditional learning involves being on campus in face-to-face settings designed for learning. Students are often grouped by degree and usually graduates as a class. Non-traditional learning may involve learning via the Internet and/or a program that requires spending limited time in a face-to-face setting such as an academic campus. Non-traditional learning may also be individualized or involve working in a cohort.
Individuals’ Characteristics and Motivations in Seeking an Advanced Degree
Finally, there are distinctions in the characteristics and intentions of individuals contemplating a healthcare management graduate degree. Two key factors for consideration are a person’s prior education and professional experience. For example, if one already possesses a bachelor’s degree in health administration, earning a new MHA may not advance one’s career or result in the competencies sought by employers. In this case, a better investment could be a MBA with a concentration in finance. If one has already established a solid administrative career leading healthcare organizations and is seeking to complement that experience with teaching, perhaps serving as an adjunct or part-time instructor or pursuing a non-research focused doctorate, such as a DHA, may be ideal. Yet another approach for a seasoned healthcare executive wishing to transition from practice completely and enter academia, then following a classic research-oriented PhD curriculum would make more sense.
Depending on background, one can explore the options that suit learning preferences and career aspirations.
Which Master’s Degree is Best?
The influence of individual characteristics, program accreditation and reputation
The answer depends in part on the individual’s prior education and experience as well as the characteristics of the graduate program. If one has a bachelor’s degree in business and majored in accounting or finance, there may be less value in earning another undergraduate degree with a concentration in health services administration. Rather, earning a graduate degree from an accredited MHA or MPH program may make more sense. The most relevant accreditation in healthcare administration is offered by the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). CAHME accredits master’s level healthcare administration programs including a Master of Science (MSc.). CAHME, not the college or university, accredits the program according to standards developed and reviewed by a council of experts and academics in the field of healthcare administration. All CAHME-accredited programs must meet clear criteria related to curriculum content and design, faculty and university resources, and career development and track progress of a program’s graduates.
“Generic” and “differentiated” academic programs
Now, what about generic? All degree-granting programs are not regarded as equals in the employment marketplace. Graduates of positively differentiated programs generally receive a more ready and welcome reception from potential employers than do graduates of more generic programs. Factors that distinguish like programs (MBA vs. MBA, MHA vs. MHA) include the prominence of their faculty members and the professional reputation of their graduates. Positively differentiated programs have preeminent faculties who are widely recognized because they publish and consult. Some faculty members are stars so widely acknowledged as the leaders of their disciplines that the entire MBA program comes to share their reputation. One may find a certain MBA program that is recognized for its contributions in marketing, another for finance, and others for energy or for information technology. Also, such programs often produce highly successful and visible graduates who lead top firms or organizations in an industry.
There are some other subtle but important differences among MBA programs for those seeking graduate education in health administration. The generic MBA program offers no unique health administration courses. If you enter with an established track record of success in healthcare, such a program may serve you nicely. Partially differentiated MBA programs offer a concentration in healthcare management (perhaps 20 percent of all courses required for the degree) and so may allow those with no healthcare background to start on a new career. Fully differentiated MBA-based health administration programs offer a concentration in healthcare bolstered by a long history of prominent faculty, successful graduates and loyal alumni. Some of these programs may have only recently become part of their universities’ business schools.
Program selection factors
A common set of characteristics can help distinguish among programs offering a master’s in health administration whether the degree is a MBA, MPH or a MHA. Even though you may be considering a half-dozen or more CAHME-accredited programs, you should try differentiating them. Factors to consider include: 1) faculty background and experience, 2) are faculty published? 3) experience as an administrator and/or consultant to healthcare organizations, and 4) size and track record among the alumni that supports the program by hiring students and graduates for internships and for full-time jobs.
Finally, you may want to consider whether a program offers a joint degree, such as an MHA/MBA or an MHA/J.D. Although completing such programs may take longer and cost more, some students will seek the greater career flexibility that completing such programs can offer.
What Value Will a Doctorate Offer?
The relationship between individual motivation and type of degree
Whether it will be worthwhile to earn a doctoral-level credential now or in the future depends on two factors: reason for seeking the degree and how others regard the degree. Also, one must weigh the return on investment from both a personal and professional perspective. Does the degree support the achievement of one’s lifelong professional goal? Does the degree support the fulfillment one seeks from their career? You must be clear on what it is you want to do and select a program that grants the degree associated with your goal.
Different doctorates for doing different things
Basically, there are two types of doctoral degrees. There are degrees more closely identified with scholarly research, such as the Ph.D. and Sc.D. and degrees more closely associated with administration or service, such as the DHA, DBA, some Dr.P.H. and in a neighboring field, the Ed.D. (Doctor of Education).
Typically, Ph.D.’s do research, teach and write. If you have a passion for those things, getting the degree will move you closer to being qualified to do that at a college or university. Writing is only a first step toward getting published. Peer review is not necessarily something executives are comfortable with, especially not as carried out by serious academics.
Research is another expectation universities have of faculty. They may be reluctant to support it unless it is funded by an outside source, and outside sources have their own agendas on topics that they feel are relevant. That fact suggests that unless you have an ability to acquire resources to conduct research, you may not be satisfied in academia.
Consider Your Career Goals
When you decide which degree to pursue, be sure to keep your personal career goals in mind. Then use the above considerations to help determine which type of program will help you achieve those goals.
Education, including advanced degrees, is a determinant of job advancement. However, too much education and not enough practice in the right setting may actually limit one’s opportunities.
For more information on university health administration programs, visit the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education .