Public Health vs Health Care Administration

The Master in Public Health (MPH) and the Master in Health Care Administration (MHA) are two degrees that, on the surface, seem similar. In reality, however, there are some significant differences between the two. The similarity is that they both have a health care focus, which is why the curriculum usually overlaps in some of the core courses. However, the rest of the curriculum is very distinct and individual to each of the two degrees. That being said, it important that you learn what these differences are, so that you can choose the degree that is most suitable to your personal needs and career aspirations.

The Master in Public Health

The MPH degree is designed for those who want to get to work in public health. This is a field in which many disciplines meet together, focusing on disease and health within populations. This includes prevention and education. Public health professionals focus on describing and discovering new patterns of diseases, and formulating responses to these. They also develop community health programs focused on treatment and prevention, looking at financing, operations, and evaluation of these.

Typically, it takes two years to complete an MPH. However, it is becoming increasingly common for universities to also offer accelerated programs, which means it can be completed in as little as 12 to 18 months. Additionally, more and more universities now offer this degree to working professionals by delivering the program part time, through distance learning, or even online.

The curriculum of the MPH blends organization topics with sociology and science. Some of the core courses that most students will have to take part in, include:

  • Behavioral science
  • Epidemiology
  • Environmental health
  • Biostatistics
  • Health care administration
  • Sociology

The topics will, by and large, be focused on society and health. As an MPH student, you will learn how to apply qualitative and quantitative research data and methods to issues affecting public health. Usually, you will also be able to choose from one of several areas of concentration, which means you can specialize your degree outside of the core curriculum to an area that you find most interesting. Different schools offer various concentrations, so it is important that you research these before you decide where to enroll.

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Once you have graduated, a number of career opportunities will be available to you, suiting a huge array of interests and skills. You can find work with your degree in the private, public, and nonprofit sector. Generally speaking, you will be responsible for the development, planning, and implementation of new health programs, while also conducting studies and performing research. Furthermore, you will hold responsibility for the administration of various health services.

MPH graduates most often work in governmental agencies at local, state, or federal levels. They are also found in clinics and health departments, community based organizations, the military, and a range of global and national agencies, including NGOs and other nonprofits.

The Master of Health Care Administration

With the MHA degree, you will be trained to become an executive leader of programs and organizations that relate to health. It is different from the MPH degree in as such that it focuses much less on specific diseases. Rather, it emphasizes overall health care delivery, which can be specific or within communities. In fact, the MHA degree is actually more closely related to the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, although the focus is specifically on the business of healthcare, and is therefore a less generalized program.

As a student, you will be empowered to develop your leadership skills and become a true business manager. This is needed within today’s health care system, which is now more market based.

As with the MPH degree, it will generally take you two years to complete this program, although accelerated versions also exist. Similarly, you may find a school that offers part time, distance, and online learning.

MHA degrees are offered in different formats by different schools. Hence, some schools may include public health and public policy courses as part of their core curriculum, whereas others do not. Generally speaking, the curriculum focuses strongly on the business of health care delivery. Additionally, you will likely take classes in:

  • Medical law
  • Medical informatics
  • Health care policy
  • Ethics

The emphasis of the curriculum, clearly, is not on the science of health. Rather, it is on issues, such as marketing, management, accounting, and finance. The ultimate goal of an MHA graduate is to deliver the highest quality health care in the most affordable possible way.

As an MHA graduate, you will be ready to take on a range of different careers. Commonly, graduates find work as hospital managers, or managers in other types of health care settings. Depending on the size of the organization for which you work, you may manage a single department such as public relations, health policy implementation, human resource management, or finance; or you may hold responsibility for all of those departments. In fact, hospital CEOs are most commonly MHA degree graduates, as are those in other top senior management positions within various health care organizations across the country.

MPH or MHA – Which One to Choose?

Choosing between an MPH and an MHA is completely down to your personal preferences and career aspirations. It all depends on where your interests lie. If your passion is to solve health problems within entire populations, driving policy to improve public health, and developing solutions to improve health outcomes across the world, then the MPH degree will provide you with all the necessary skills and knowledge to achieve that. If, however, you want to focus more strongly on the proper management of a health care setting, ensuring that they operate within budget without compromising on the quality of care of individual patients, then the MHA degree is more suitable to your needs.

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Spend some time doing your research into the differences between the two degrees, and the various schools that offer programs. A starting point should be to think about what you want to achieve in life with your personal career. From there, you will be able to determine not just which one of the two degrees is best for you, but whether or not you should take a specialization as well.

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