Health Systems Management Degrees: At a Glance
Students in a health systems management graduate degree program receive comprehensive training in the operations, leadership and management skills needed to successfully run a health service organization. Careers in medical and health service management typically require at least a bachelor's degree; however, master's degrees are becoming increasingly popular, particularly for leadership positions. Master's degree holders can pursue work as nurse administrators, clinical directors and social/community program directors, while PhD holders typically work in academia, policy and research. Some graduate programs require potential students to possess a bachelor's degree in nursing and/or a valid RN license.
Salaries and occupational data vary with each particular career path. Employment demand for medical and health services managers, also known as healthcare executives or administrators, is expected to see above average growth, at 22%, from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similar to many careers in the healthcare industry, the overall demand for services is expected to be strong, and admission into graduate degree programs remains highly competitive. Students should also be aware that some healthcare facilities may require staff to work evenings, weekends or overnight shifts.
|Who is this degree for?||- Students with bachelor's degrees in nursing, management or a related degree|
- People who are interested in making a career change
- Experienced professionals who want to advance their careers/pursue leadership opportunities
|- Students who want to work in healthcare policy or research|
- Master's degree holders with a background in healthcare or business
- People who want to teach at the post-secondary level
|Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary)||- Medical and health services manager ($96,000)*|
- Social/community service manager ($63,300)*
- Clinic manager ($87,300)**
|- Professor ($74,000)*|
|Time to Completion||Approximately 2-3 years (full-time)||Approximately 4-5 years (full-time)|
|Common Graduation Requirements||- Complete coursework|
- Maintain GPA standards
- Satisfy thesis requirements
- Satisfy practicum requirements
|- All the master's requirements, plus|
- Research, write and present dissertation
- Pass qualifying exams
- Complete teaching or research assistantship, if applicable
|Prerequisites||- Bachelor's degree in a related field|
- Verification of current RN license
- GPA standards
- Letter(s) of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Recent GRE scores
|- All of the master's requirements plus|
- Graduate transcripts, if applicable
- Samples of professional writing from master's thesis or other relevant work
- GRE or MCAT scores
- Relevant work experience
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures). **Salary.com (2012 median salary data).
Health Systems Management Master's Degrees
Students in a health systems management master's degree program learn to manage policy, operations and resources in diverse healthcare settings. Program structures vary but are generally formatted as a Master of Science in Health Systems Management or as a Master of Science in Nursing Health Systems Management. Degree programs typically focus on coursework, electives and a practicum requirement.
In a typical health systems management program, students will learn the essential business and leadership skills required for careers as executive nurses and health service managers. Students will study a variety of courses including human resource administration, information systems, ethics and strategic planning. In addition to earning a bachelor's degree, you may need to have experience working in a medical setting to gain admittance.
Pros and Cons
- Graduate courses are often taught by respected faculty who bring their real-world experiences into the classroom.
- According to the BLS, the employment outlook for medical and health service managers is promising, due to the increasing baby-boom population and overall demands for medical services.
- Because a bachelor's degree is the most common degree in this field, students with master's degrees are poised to stand out among job applicants.
- Admission into a master's degree program can be highly competitive.
- There are some barriers to entry into a master's degree program, including prerequisite courses and background checks.
- Some programs require applicants to have a prior nursing experience.
Common Courses and Requirements
Students in a health systems management master's degree program will likely study fiscal and organizational planning, applications of research to practice, strategies in nursing management, statistics, case management and business ethics. Depending on the program, you may be able to declare a concentration to focus your studies and pursue a thesis topic.
To obtain a degree, you need to satisfy several requirements beyond academic coursework. Students in a health systems management master's degree program will typically need to pass qualifying examinations and complete a relevant practicum, where they can apply their academic knowledge to real-life situations.
Online Course Options
Online master's degree programs in health systems management are widely available. Some schools offer a hybrid degree option, where you can take some classes online and some classes on campus. In these cases, you will likely need to find an approved practicum site.
Similar to many online degree programs, curriculums are likely designed to accommodate the schedules of working professionals, with full-time and part-time options. Admission and curriculum requirements are very similar to those of a traditional on-campus program.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Consider obtaining an additional graduate certificate to showcase your wide range of skills. Post-master's certificate programs are designed for students who already have a master's degree and want to further specialize in a particular specialty, such as nursing administration, acute ambulatory care or home-health care. Students in a post-master's certificate program may need to complete additional practicum requirements and coursework. Additionally, you may want to consider learning or brushing up on project management software that can help set you apart from your peers and may improve your efficiency in your everyday work.
Health Systems Management PhD Degrees
In a typical PhD program, students will study the strategies and delivery of health care systems in the United States and around the world. Many programs focus on healthcare policy and improving the delivery of services, particularly in underserved areas. Admission into doctoral programs is highly competitive, due to the promising employment outlook and popularity of healthcare careers.
To graduate from a PhD program, you will need to complete approximately 90 academic credits; pass preliminary examinations; and research, write and present a dissertation. Upon graduation, students typically pursue careers in research, academia and clinical practice.
Pros and Cons
- Due to the small class sizes in PhD programs, you will have close interaction with faculty members.
- Financial assistance or gradate assistantships may be available to students with demonstrated achievement.
- Research or teaching assistantships are usually available to qualified students.
- With changing healthcare policies, professionals must be able to adapt to new laws, regulations and technology.
- Acceptance into a PhD program can be competitive because only a handful of applicants are accepted each year.
- You may be over-educated for some positions outside of academia; a bachelor's degree is the most common degree in this field.*
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Common Courses and Requirements
Courses in a typical health systems management PhD program include:
- Biostatistical methods
- Database management
- Grant writing
- Healthcare economics
- Foundations in public health
As a PhD candidate, you will perform research, complete academic coursework, take preliminary examinations and prepare a doctoral dissertation. If you plan to become a postsecondary professor, you will also likely satisfy a teaching assistantship requirement. Additionally, you will need to research, write and present an original dissertation on a related topic of your choosing.
Online Course Options
Some schools offer a number of their classes online; however, students must take a prerequisite introduction to online learning. The coursework in online programs is generally very similar to that of a traditional academic institution. In addition, if you choose to take continuing education courses throughout your career, many of these courses are also available online.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
If you plan to work in academia or research, you can begin to pursue teaching and research opportunities while you are enrolled in your PhD program. Schools typically offer teaching assistantships, though they may be limited and competitive. On-campus literary journals and publications enable budding researchers to produce published works.
If you plan to work in a clinical setting, consider volunteering at a local nonprofit or community organization. While you gain valuable on-the-job experiences through volunteering, you'll also discover different types of health care settings, which can ultimately help you determine a future career path.
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) are two other advanced professional degrees focusing on health services. A DrPH is a good alternative for individuals who are interested in professional practice careers in various public health settings. Alternatively, an MBA degree in healthcare administration/management offers similar courses to a master's degree in healthcare management program, but with more of a business focus.