MPH vs. MHA – Which Degree is Your Best Option?

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You’re comparing notes on MPH vs MHA and debating which graduate degree program is right for you.

MPH vs MHA

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Either an on-campus or healthcare administration online degree may lead to a successful career that’s dedicated to others’ health and wellbeing. To help you decide, consider each program’s focus and the type of jobs that its graduates usually pursue.

Comparing the MPH vs MHA – Key Differences

Health Administrator working on his laptop in his office

Earning a Master of Health Administration may be a good fit for you if your sights are set on serving as a leader in healthcare settings — overseeing staff, making budgetary decisions and running departments.

On the other hand, if your goal is to improve population-wide health through research, education or public policy, then a Master of Public Health may be the degree for you.

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Health researchers working in a laboratory

Figuring out ways to improve health outcomes on a community-wide scale is the driving force behind public health efforts. As an expert in this field, you may be able to tackle issues like disease patterns, food deserts and vaccination rates.

You can expect your MPH program to include many science-focused courses. You’ll explore the latest research on why people behave the way they do, and you may also learn to analyze data and statistics so that you can understand disease trends.

MPH Curriculum

  • Behavioral Science for Public Health
  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental Health
  • Healthcare Public Policies
  • Leadership in Public Health
  • Methods of Epidemiology
  • Programs for Community Health

MPH programs often have an internship component so you may acquire hands-on skills from real-world practitioners.

epidemiologist working in a laboratory

Public health is a broad field, and experts in public health may go many different directions with their careers. To narrow your focus, you may want to select a concentration like epidemiology, health education or environmental health.

If you enjoy research, you might become a biostatistician or an epidemiologist. For those with strong teaching skills, health education fills an important community need. If you’re interested in politics, you may consider a career in public policy.

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)

Healthcare Administrators having a meeting

Health administrators coordinate the people and processes that make healthcare happen. In an administrative role, you may be in charge of personnel or departments in hospitals, doctor’s offices, long-term care facilities and other health-focused settings.

While an MPH program usually involves a heavy focus on science, an MHA typically has a lot more emphasis on leadership, management and working with people. You may also refine your business skills.

MHA Curriculum

  • Finance for Healthcare Organizations
  • Health Law and Regulatory Compliance
  • Healthcare Delivery
  • Healthcare Operations Management
  • Human Resources Leadership
  • Information Management
  • Quality Assurance

It’s possible to gain hands-on experience through healthcare administration internships, but it’s not as common of a requirement as it is for MPH programs.

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For a concentration, consider options like informatics or organizational leadership. If you’re having a hard time deciding between an MPH and an MHA, you might like the idea of a healthcare administration degree with a population health concentration.

Healthcare administrators usually take leadership roles like being a practice manager, an operations director or a hospital administrator. Some hospital executives, including chief executive officers, hold MHA degrees.

For those already working or without a lot of spare time to earn a graduate degree, some universities offer part time MHA programs.

Careers & Salaries

Master of Public Health Careers and Salaries

Just like comparing a MHA vs MBA, it’s important to compare the potential careers and salaries between the two programs. A master’s degree holder can make an average of $78,210 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Work settings for MPH graduates can vary widely. Some people pursue jobs in research settings, whether inside laboratories or out in the field.

Others run community-based programs to help people improve their health choices or gain access to valuable resources. For that type of job, you may consider pursuing the role of a health educator or a program manager.

You might find similar work in a business setting. For example, corporations might hire you to run employee-wellness programs. Also, some companies hire public health experts to promote safe work environments.

Other public health professionals may transform health outcomes through smart laws and regulations. A job in public policy may allow you to have that sort of influence.

Some careers listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the public health field include:

Careers Annual Median Salary
Political Scientist $125,350
Medical and Health Services Manager $104,280
Health Specialties Teacher, Postsecondary $99,090
Facilities manager $98,890
Health and Safety Engineer $94,240
Biostatistician $92,270
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist and Technician $76,340
Emergency Management Director $76,250
Epidemiologist $74,560
Environmental Health and Safety Specialist $73,230

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, epidemiology jobs are growing at a 5% rate.

While public health professionals do very diverse jobs, health administrators’ roles typically are more homogenous. Most hold office jobs in which they coordinate the people and operations that keep healthcare organizations running.

Hospital Administrator meeting with hospital staff

Such roles are often found in hospitals, doctor’s offices, community clinics, surgical centers, nursing homes, dental offices and mental health facilities.

Here are some careers also listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the health administration field.

Careers Annual Median Salary
Human Resources Manager $121,220
Training and Development Manager $115,640
Health Information Manager in Hospitals $112,870
Medical and Health Services Manager $104,280
Marketing Manager in Healthcare $104,240
General and Operations Manager $103,650
Recruiting Managers in Healthcare $101,990
Outpatient Care Manager $100,690
Nursing Home Administrator $89,880
Administrative Services Manager in Healthcare $87,920

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that jobs for medical and health services managers are growing at an 32% rate.

Best Careers for MPH Graduates

Healthcare Consultant talking to an elderly patient

Public health experts often possess valuable knowledge about improving health outcomes. Some employers will pay a respectable salary in exchange for that knowledge, especially if you possess both expertise and a graduate degree.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the top-paying career options with an MPH are:

Careers Annual Median Salary
Chief Executive Officer in Healthcare $160,950
Political Scientist $125,350
Facilities Manager $98,890
Health and Safety Engineer $94,240
Biostatistician $92,270

In addition to your annual salary, public health jobs may also come with the benefit of knowing that you’re contributing to positive health outcomes for people in your community or around the world.

Best Careers for MHA Graduates

Director of Operations meeting with his colleagues

With an MHA, you might be able to rise to a position of high authority. Within hospital systems and other healthcare organizations, top leaders may easily earn six figures.

Potential top-paying MHA careers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, include:

Careers Annual Median Salary
Chief Operating Officer (COO) in Healthcare $160,950
Human Resources Manager $121,220
Health Information Manager in Hospitals $112,870
Top Executive $107,680
Marketing Manager in Healthcare $104,240

Of course, those positions don’t usually come overnight. You’ll need to work your way up to the top with increasing levels of responsibility and authority.

As you hold jobs like operations manager or performance improvement specialist, you may learn more about what it takes to be a successful healthcare administrator who empowers team members to work toward greater organizational success.

Choosing Between a MPH or MHA

Master of Public Health student studying in university classroom

Whether you should get a Master of Public Health or a Master of Health Administration comes down to what you want to do with your life. Both of these programs address ways to improve others’ health, but they go about it in very different ways.

An MPH is for those interested in community health. You’ll study science-related topics and prepare for careers that have to do with research, education or establishing healthy environments. It’s a good degree for those with a science background and data-analysis skills.

An MHA program will help prepare you to lead in healthcare settings. The coursework will address management, leadership, finance and human resources. If you want an office job with business responsibilities, then this program might be right for you.

MPH MHA
Focuses on improving health outcomes at the population-wide level Focuses on managing people and departments in healthcare facilities
Many science and data courses Many business and leadership courses
Concentrations include epidemiology and environmental health Concentrations include health policy and senior care
Career possibilities include epidemiologist and policy analyst Career options include hospital administrator and operations director
Jobs may be in the field, in a lab or in an office Typically leads to office jobs
May eventually want to get a Doctor of Public Health or a PhD in Epidemiology May want to pursue a Doctor of Health Administration or a PhD in Health Services someday

You might earn more with an MHA than an MPH. Future salaries aren’t set in stone, though, so you may not want that to be your final determinant.

What is a Master of Healthcare Administration?

Healthcare Administrator meeting with his staff

Commonly known as an MHA, a Master of Healthcare Administration is a graduate degree that addresses healthcare leadership. Students in this program may learn to take important positions in medical organizations and coordinate the people, operations and facilities involved in health services.

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In an MHA program, you’ll study business and management. The classes can help prepare you to oversee staff, coordinate supply procurement and stay compliant with regulations. You’ll also learn a good deal about how the American healthcare system works.

Jobs for this degree include health services manager, practice administrator and director of operations.

What is a Master of Public Health?

healthcare research analyst working in the laboratory

Professionals in public health are committed to improving the wellbeing of entire populations. They may deal with issues like medical access, vaccination campaigns, healthy behaviors and disease patterns. A Master of Public Health, sometimes referred to as an MPH, is a graduate-level degree for in-depth study of these topics.

The classes for a public health program cover ways to assess community needs or collect and analyze health data. You may then learn to use that information to shape policies, safety measures or educational campaigns.

Jobs that you can pursue with this degree include research analyst, program director or industrial hygienist.

Which is better MHA or MPH?

nursing home administrator talking with patients

You may have a successful career and make a meaningful difference in people’s health with either an MHA or an MPH. A Master of Health Administration may be best if you want to work in hospital leadership. It’s also good for those who want to be practice managers or nursing home administrators.

A Master of Public Health may be a good option if you are more interested in a lab position than an office job. You may also work in community health education or environmental health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for top-paying jobs in the public health field ranges from about $92,000 to $160,000 while those from the health administration field ranges from $104,000 to $160,000 per year.

Is an MPH useful?

epidemiologist examining a blood sample

Yes, many jobs in public health require a master’s degree. For example, a graduate degree is a common prerequisite for getting hired as an epidemiologist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, epidemiology positions are increasing at a 5% rate.

Of course, not all public health roles need a master’s degree. For example, you might get started as a health educator with only a bachelor’s degree. Getting your master’s degree can help you advance in your field, though, and help qualify you for leadership positions like being a program director.

Getting Your MPH or MHA Online

Master of Healthcare Administration studying online at home

You’ve got the ambition to make a positive difference in healthcare. Now you need the graduate-level education to back it up. Depending on your career goals, you may need an MPH or an MHA.

If you’re interested in research, environmental safety, health education or public policy, consider getting your degree in public health. For the opportunity to coordinate staff and services in a healthcare facility, consider a health administration program instead.

Once you’ve identified which program is a better fit for your future plans, it’s time to find schools that offer your preferred degree and send applications to the ones that catch your eye.

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Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.