Masters in Public Health vs Public Administration

If you are trying to decide whether you should study towards an MPH (Master’s in Public Health) or an MPA (Master’s in Public Administration), you will quickly find that the degrees appear very similar on the surface. It is certainly true that there are distinct similarities between the two, but there are also some very significant differences. It is very important that you understand both the similarities and differences so that you can choose the degree that is most relevant to your goals.

The Master’s in Public Health

An MPH degree is seen by the majority of experts as the highest possible degree within public health leadership. The program is designed for those who want to work in local, federal, or state health agencies. They work together that are actually at grassroots level in the community, ensuring overall health is maintained and improved, and putting methods in place to stop disease outbreaks.

With this degree, you will do some administrative work as well. However, the breadth of your job will be to be out there, on the ground, in the community. Your goal will be to educate and inform people about healthy choices, preventing diseases as you go along.

With this degree, you will get to work in an interdisciplinary field with a variety of other professionals who focus on disease and health in entire populations. You will discover new diseases, describe them, and respond to their patterns. You will focus on the financing, the development, the operation, and the evaluation of various health initiatives and programs in the communities.

It will generally take you two years to complete this degree program, although some accelerated programs also exist. You can also study online, allowing you to study and work at the same time.

The Master’s in Public Administration

With an MPA degree, you will be employed in public service, rather than health departments. You will become a strong leader, having all the necessary skills to serve the public as a whole. You will also be able to work in both the public and private sectors. The program has been created to make sure that you learn how to control and understand, as well as analyze your environment. In so doing, you will be able to promote good and positive changes in nonprofit and public arenas.

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This degree aims to deliver executive leaders who can manage programs related to public administration. The degree, by many, is seen as more closely related to the Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), and is actually often offered as a dual degree. It usually takes two years to complete this program and students can choose between full time, part time, distance, and online learning depending on the school they apply for.

MPH and MPA Students

Both the MPH and the MPA are graduate degrees. This means that there is an expectation that those who enroll in the programs already hold a bachelor’s degree or if they don’t, then they need to have a significant amount of work experience in lieu of the bachelor’s degree. There are usually quite significant differences between the standard profile of an MPH student and that of an MPA student. Those enrolling in MPH programs usually have a background in health, nonprofit work, sociology, and other ‘soft’ sciences. In contrast, MPA students usually come from a background involving things, such as politics, business, or mathematics. However, this is not necessarily a requirement, although this does depend on the school that you enroll with.


There are significant differences between the curriculum of the two degrees. With the MPH, you will study topics, such as:

  • Epidemiology
  • Environmental health sciences
  • Social and behavioral aspects of health
  • Health care systems and financing
  • Program evaluation
  • Biostatistics
  • Law and ethical issues in public health
  • Quantitative and qualitative research methods
  • Sociology
  • Health care administration

The curriculum, as such, combines sociology, science, and organizational topics. You will learn how to apply research methods, both quantitative and qualitative, to public health. You can also usually choose a certain concentration, so that your degree program becomes more specific to your personal needs and interests. Different schools offer different concentrations, so consider this when you are deciding where to enroll.

In an MPA program, by contrast, you will generally study elements such as:

  • Finance
  • Organizational governance
  • Criminal justice
  • Administration
  • Policy analysis
  • Human resources
  • Information resource management
  • Government administration

Furthermore, with the MPA degree, you will usually have to take part in some real world experiences before you can graduate. The MPA has a much stronger focus on the business side of policies and governance, and less on community work. Graduates have strong skills in marketing, administration, business, and marketing and drive policy that is then implemented by others.

Jobs and Careers

Within the field of public health, a number of career opportunities exist if you hold an MPH degree. Work is available in private, public, and nonprofit sectors alike and, in your job, you will likely have to implement and plan health programs, conduct studies, perform research, and provide administration for health services. The list of positions available for an MPH degree holder is almost endless, but positions are usually found in:

  • Federal, state, or local government agencies
  • Clinics and health departments
  • Community based organizations
  • The military
  • National and global agencies
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Once you hold an MPA degree, you can expect to work in various positions, such as:

  • Bank officer
  • Attorney
  • Financial aid specialist
  • College or university administrator
  • Health care administrator
  • Hospital administrator
  • Benefits administrator

As you can see, the two degrees have distinct differences and similarities. Overall, however, the MPH is a degree that is more designed for those who want to work closely with the public in order to prevent health issues from occurring there. It is designed for those who have a direct interest in health itself, and who want to be on the ground, at the grassroots level. In contrast, with the MPA, the focus is for those who are interested in working behind the scenes, driving policy and administration. This may or may not be linked to health care and public health. That being said, the MPA degree often has a strong focus on health care, and the MPA and MPH programs often share courses as part of their curriculum. At the end of the day, only you can decide which area is more suitable to you.

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