Healthcare Management Degrees: MBA, PhD & Online Course Info

About this article
Master's degrees and PhDs in healthcare management can lead to a variety of careers in the planning and management of healthcare services. Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD programs and potential careers in this field.
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Studying Healthcare Management: Degrees at a Glance

People who work in healthcare management typically work in various medical facilities. Similar to many professions in health and medical services, healthcare management positions will be in high demand over the next decade, due to longer life expectancies and a large, aging baby-boomer generation. The employment outlook for healthcare managers is projected to grow by 22% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? - Students who know they want to work in the business of health and medical services
- Healthcare workers who want to specialize in management and/or elevate their careers
- Professionals who are new to the healthcare services industry and seeking a career change
- Students who want to work in health research
- Those who want to teach at the college level
Common Career Paths (with approximate (mean* or median**) annual salary) - Medical and health services managers ($96,000)*
- Nursing home administrators ($95,500)*
- Community health director ($90,000)**
- Professor of business, medicine or public health ($99,200)*
- Health science researcher ($138,800)**
Time to Completion Typically 2 years (full-time) 3-4 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Completion of coursework (roughly 60 credits)
- Completion of residency/fellowship (approximately 1,000 hours)
- Master's exams
- Completion of course requirements (80 credits)
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - A bachelor's degree in a related field
- Admissions interview
- Several years of work experience (encouraged)
- GRE/GMAT scores
- Letters of recommendation, depending on the institution
All of the master's requirements plus
- Knowledge of the core issues/topics in health services field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures). **Salary.com (2012 median salary figures).

Master's in Healthcare Administration

The goal of most healthcare administration master's programs is to prepare students for leadership positions in medical settings. Healthcare administration master's candidates can expect a curriculum that combines business and health-oriented courses with a hands-on internship or fellowship. Generally, most master's programs are relatively small and can be quite selective regarding admissions. Master's candidates do not necessarily need to have healthcare experience, but it may beneficial when seeking admittance.

When selecting a master's degree program, keep in mind that not every academic institution is accredited to meet academic and professional standards. The Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) is the only organization that grants accreditation to academic institutions offering master's degrees in this field.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Opportunity to work in a management role and oversee employees
  • Graduates will work in a field that focuses on improving patients' lives
  • As nearly all careers in healthcare services are expected to be in high demand over the coming years, employment opportunities appear positive - particularly for those with graduate degrees.

Cons

  • Master's degree programs in healthcare management can be competitive, particularly if you do not have work experience
  • Job may be stressful and difficult decisions will need to made regarding medical personnel and patient care
  • Graduates may complete with bachelor's degree holders who have multiple years of experience for jobs

Common Courses and Requirements

A typical healthcare management master's program consists of required courses, electives and a residency or fellowship. Core courses focus on business, ethics and health policy topics. Common courses include managerial economics/statistics, healthcare policy, health law, health care accounting/finance, quality management and human resource management.

Additionally, students participate in a residency or fellowship program to apply their education in a real-world setting. Most academic institutions have working relationships with a variety of healthcare facilities and related businesses, including hospitals, insurance companies and government departments of health, where students can perform their residency.

Online Degree Options

There are online healthcare management master's degree options for working professionals or other students interested in distance learning. Online master's degree programs in healthcare management are typically 30-40 credits and include courses that are similar to traditional on-site master's degree programs, focusing on health policy, finance and management. Online programs may require residency credits as well.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

As the healthcare industry becomes a more and more popular career choice, you may find that obtaining a master's degree is not enough to set you apart from the crowd. If you have the time, consider volunteering at a healthcare facility or health-related business that interests you. Not only will you gain valuable experience and increase your marketability, but volunteer positions can lead to full-time job offers upon graduation and introduce you to a new network of people you wouldn't otherwise have met.

You may also want to consider specializing in a particular topic that interests you and tailoring your electives around this niche. For example, if you are interested in information technology, you can take electives that focus on healthcare recordkeeping - in addition to IT classes that may not be included in your major, or obtain a certificate in information technology to supplement your MHA.

PhD in Healthcare Management

Many PhD programs in healthcare management focus on improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare organizations, development of health policy and the delivery of services. Graduates with a PhD in Healthcare Management often seek careers in research, private industry, academia and government.

PhD candidates predominately have a background in the social sciences or business, with direct knowledge of the core issues affecting health services. Generally, PhD candidates will need to complete 70-80 credits of courses; pass preliminary examinations in the field; and research, write and present a dissertation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The majority of professionals in the healthcare management industry have master's degrees. A PhD can set you apart from other applicants in this field
  • A PhD program may offer students a chance to teach and supplement tuition
  • A PhD is often required for careers in academia and research

Cons

  • PhD programs can be competitive, as they draw candidates from medicine, economics, health systems and business
  • A PhD is not required to work in administration positions
  • Without relevant work experience, PhD candidates may appear overqualified and under-experienced to prospective employers.

Common Courses and Requirements

A typical PhD in Healthcare Management features several components. The program requires that students complete research and seminar courses on current health issues and healthcare policy, economics, organizational management, biostatistics and ethics. Students will need a passing score on a preliminary examination, typically following their first year. Upon passing, students will begin to prepare for their doctoral dissertation, which they will ultimately research, write and present to a faculty panel.

Online Degree Options

At this time, online PhDs in healthcare management are not widely available and may not be accredited.

Stand Out with this Degree

Many PhD programs allow students to specialize in an area that interests them through a certificate program. For example, students could pursue a certificate in bioethics, health access/inequality, economics and public health. Staying up-to-date in the latest technology can help with research and educating college-level students.

Alternate Degrees

A Doctorate of Public Health is also an advanced professional degree that focuses on health services. This is an alternate degree for those who would like a professional practice career in a public health setting.

Students who are interested in the business of healthcare may also obtain an MBA degree in healthcare administration/management. These programs, housed in a college or university's school of business, offer similar courses to a master's degree in healthcare management, but have more of a business-focus.

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