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Masters in Health Administration vs. Masters in Public Health: 3 Differences Between the Programs

BY Meghan MalasApril 25, 2022, 1:22 p.m.

The President’s Residence at Tulane University is decorated for Mardi Gras, as seen in February 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Josh Brasted/Getty Images)

If you are looking to advance your healthcare career, you may need to consider what type of higher degree you should pursue to get the job you want. A Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Public Health (MPH) will help you advance into fast-growing roles in healthcare, but these career paths may differ in the versatility of the jobs available. , salary and program curriculum.

Medical and health services director jobs, which are typically filled by people with MHA degrees, are expected to grow 32 percent from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Jobs for epidemiologists, which can be filled by people with an MPH degree, are expected to increase by 30% over that same 10-year period.

Both programs are comparable in cost, with a wide range of tuition fees depending on the institution. MHA and MPH programs do not always require special academic or professional experience for admission.

To sort out a master’s program in public health and a master’s program in health administration, Fortune spoke with Suzanne Chase, assistant dean for enrollment and admissions management at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Below are three of the biggest differences she highlighted.

Master in Public Health: ‘A super broad degree’

As the name suggests, a master’s degree in public health prepares graduates to work on issues related to public health, including hospitals, government agencies, universities, and more.

“The bottom line is that MPH is a very broad degree and has many different specialties,” Chase says. “You can do anything from biostatistics to epidemiology, health policy, international health or sustainable development.”

Most schools have specified tracks in their MPH programs to prepare students for the health care field they choose. Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine offers 12 different tracks in its MPH program, four of which are offered online.

It’s not uncommon to change tracks after starting the program, says Chase.

“When you take these foundation courses, it may be your first exposure to a specific goal or discipline within public health,” she says. “Thus, our programs have electives built into the MPH curriculum, as we anticipate public health students will have many different interests when they arrive.”

Master in Hospital Administration: a diploma for executives

Meanwhile, MHA degree programs are usually designed for a more specific set of jobs than MPH programs. A master’s degree in health administration prepares graduates for management careers in the healthcare industry, such as C-suite leadership roles in public and private hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.

MHA degree holders can also become health information managers, nursing home managers, medical and health services managers, financial analysts, or chief operating officers.

“While someone with an MPH degree can get into one of these leadership positions, most institutions are looking for professionals with an MHA degree,” says Chase.

Does one degree generate higher income than another?

Salaries are across the board for MPH holders. The median annual salary for community health workers was $42,000 in 2020 and epidemiologists had a median salary of $74,560 per year, according to the BLS. Meanwhile, a senior biostatistician earns a median salary of over $137,000 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.

The salary for MHA holders tends to be a bit higher, due to the leadership positions that graduates typically pursue. Medical and health services managers earned a median base salary of $104,280 in 2020. Healthcare administrators earned a median base salary of $87,000, according to Glassdoor.

Salaries are indicative of funding in these industries, Chase says. “Local or county health departments won’t pay you six figures for program planning and evaluation, but a hospital system earning millions or billions of dollars can afford to pay more for its leadership.”

How do the curricula of the MPH and MHA programs differ?

Simply put, the MPH is a broader degree that allows for more choice, while the MHA is more prescribed.

“The MHA is a bit like the MBA which is specific to healthcare,” she says, adding that MHA courses cover topics such as leadership of healthcare organizations, analytics, economics, finance, management, population health, communications and strategy.

The MPH program curriculum consists of a core curriculum of introductory courses on topics such as biostatistics, epidemiology, and then specific courses corresponding to the student’s chosen track.

At Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, both programs are approximately two years long for full-time students. The MHA program is 54 credits, while the MPH program is usually around 45 credits, depending on the MPH track a student enrolls in.

“The programs can seem quite similar in structure and there are no specific experience or courses required for admission into either program,” says Chase.

While Tulane’s MHA and MPH programs accept students from all majors, Chase notes that many more business majors will go into MHA, while MPH has students from a wide range of disciplines.

One advice Chase gives to prospective students who aren’t sure which degree to pursue is to visit the jobs website and look up the credentials for the profession you want. Then talk to faculty and admissions staff at your potential schools and see which program will give you the right qualifications.

“It’s important to do your research beforehand,” she says.

Find out how the schools you’re considering have landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s programs in public health, business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.

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