Study Health Services: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a health services program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers in health services.
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Master's and PhD Programs in Health Services at a Glance

Graduate degrees in health services offer you career opportunities in the analysis and management of health-related issues. You can work for private or public sector health and research institutions to improve the delivery, funding and effectiveness of health services. Additionally, a PhD degree can prepare you for a career teaching and researching at a postsecondary institution.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment opportunities for medical and health services managers will grow by 22% from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). This anticipated growth is due to the expansion of the healthcare industry. Over the same time period, the BLS stated that postsecondary teachers are expected to experience a 17% growth rate. While growing college enrollments will spur growth, government cuts may limit some job opportunities.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in leadership or research roles in healthcare systems in the private or public sector Individuals who want to work with the government or in academia to affect and improve healthcare policy decisions
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Health services manager ($86,000)*
- Health care analyst (N/A)
Same as master's, plus:
- Health specialties postsecondary teacher ($80,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 4-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 12-20 courses
- Thesis or capstone project
- Master's exams
- Roughly 20-33 courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in a social science or medical field Bachelor's or master's degree in a social science or medical field
Online Availability Yes Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Health Services

In the field of health services, there are two distinct types of degrees that prepare you for different careers. The Master of Science - Health Services Research (MS-HSR) degree is focused on research, and the Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA) degree prepares you for a management role. These programs may be offered by the same schools and share some classes.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • MS-HRS degree programs train students in research without the onerous requirements of a PhD program
  • MS-HRS degree programs may be used as preparation for those seeking a PhD in the field
  • MHSA degree programs are considered effective preparation for management positions

Cons

  • MHSA degrees do not guarantee career promotion
  • MHSA degrees may lack a thesis option in some cases, which may make them less effective preparation for a doctoral program
  • MS-HRS degrees may not be adequate for teaching or researching at a postsecondary institution

Courses and Requirements

In addition to having research requirements like a thesis, a research master's in health services may cover such topics as the following:

  • Biostatistics applications
  • Biostatistics theory
  • Econometrics for health services
  • Epidemiology theory and application
  • Health systems and policies
  • Healthcare cost analysis
  • Healthcare research methods
  • Information technology and health

MHSA programs may address similar topics, such as biostatistics and information technology, but they also address the business aspects of the field. These may include courses in administration and management, accounting and organizational theory. Not all administration programs will require a thesis, and a capstone project may be used as a substitute.

Online Degree Options

At the master's level, there are programs available in both research and administration that are offered either completely online or as hybrid programs. Programs that require some on-campus commitments may offer courses in the evenings to benefit working professionals. Experience opportunities may also be available through internships, which will require additional in-person commitments.

Stand Out with This Degree

For research programs, you may want to get involved in ongoing research early, because it may advance the development of your research skills. If you are following the administration track, you may benefit from pursuing internships that will help you practice and develop leadership skills. These can also be a source of networking opportunities. In both cases, you should be familiar with the latest healthcare technology. The BLS indicates that being knowledgeable about electronic health record (EHR) systems could be helpful in some cases.

Doctorate in Health Services

PhD programs in health services are research-centered paths of study. These programs require the completion of a bachelor's or master's degree in a related area. Health services PhD program graduates provide data and analysis with the goals of improving healthcare, saving lives and reducing medical errors. You will conduct research and write reports on various health-related topics, such as the effects of environmental factors on public health, health disparities between different sectors of the population, food safety and how the delivery of health services can be improved.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • These research programs provide the opportunity to develop your own original research
  • May be advantageous when seeking a research position in private industry and competing against individuals with master's degrees
  • Doctoral programs in health services research provide the necessary academic credential for postsecondary teaching

Cons

  • Doctoral programs in health services represent a serious commitment of time and effort
  • Even for graduates with PhDs, competition for university and research positions is high
  • May be overkill for administrative positions

Courses and Requirements

In addition to coursework, you will work under the supervision of faculty conducting original research. This research culminates in a doctoral dissertation and defense. You will focus your research on a particular area of emphasis, such as occupational health, child health, global healthcare or health demography. Some of the topics covered in a PhD program may include:

  • Epidemiology
  • Health and economics
  • Health policy and systems
  • Medical biometry
  • Population health and disparity
  • Research design and data analysis
  • Research in health policy

Online Degree Options

At this time, online and hybrid doctoral programs in health services are rare. This is likely due to the significant research and residency requirements of these programs. The online programs available may provide concentration areas and amenities like MP3 lecture recordings. You should investigate any prospective online program to ensure that it is properly accredited.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you are looking to stand out with a health services PhD, you may consider pursuing a research topic that is relevant to a majority of the health services field. You should also look to take advantage of networking opportunities, such as conferences or seminars. Similar to individuals in a master's program, you should look at becoming proficient with EHR systems and related software.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Health Care Admin
      • PhD in Business Admin - Health Care Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • Knoxville, TN

    The University of Tennessee

  • Online Programs Available
    6. Trident University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Health Sciences (Ph.D. HS)
  • Chapel Hill, NC

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Newark, NJ

    University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

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Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Health Care Admin
  • PhD in Business Admin - Health Care Admin

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership

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Trident University

  • Health Sciences (Ph.D. HS)

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey