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Question: What Are the Differences Between MHA, MSHA, and MBA in Health Administration Degree Programs?

Answer: Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA) are largely equivalent designations for degree programs that focus primarily on leadership and management of hospitals, healthcare organizations, and businesses that operate in the healthcare sector. In contrast, an MBA in Health Administration is a Master of Business Administration degree program with a concentration, track, or specialization that provides students with several courses in topics specific to healthcare management and administration. Most of the coursework in an MBA program is devoted to general training in business functions, such as accounting, finance, logistics, marketing, personnel and project management. MHA and MHSA programs devote all or most of their curriculum to studying the healthcare system, healthcare policy, and the application of business principles in the field of healthcare. MBA in Healthcare Administration programs devote only a portion of their curricula to topics specific to the healthcare sector.

Business Administration vs. Healthcare Administration

Business administration refers to the management, oversight, and coordination of a wide range of business functions and activities, including but not limited to accounting and financial management, marketing and public relations, human resource and personnel management, project and operations management, and general organizational leadership. Proficiencies in these areas are typically applicable across many different types of businesses in various sectors of the economy, from manufacturing and service industries, to technology and research firms, to entrepreneurial start-ups and non-profits. Training in business administration at the master’s level is aimed at preparing students for a range of careers in the business world.

Health or healthcare administration refers specifically to the operation and management of agencies, organizations, and companies in the healthcare sector, including but not limited to hospitals and clinics, long-term and residential care facilities, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers, health insurers, and wellness service providers. Operating in the healthcare sector requires knowledge of the regulatory environment for health service providers and of the ethical concerns inherent to business activities involving patient safety and information privacy. While healthcare administrators may engage in and oversee many of the same business functions and activities as administrators in other sectors of the economy, including accounting, budgeting, marketing, sales, and personnel and supply-chain management, healthcare professionals must take into account the unique features of the healthcare system and the legal constraints placed on businesses that provide products and services for patient care.

Master’s in Health Administration Degree Programs: MHA vs. MSHA

Master’s in health administration is a general classification for Master of Health Administration (MHA) degree programs and Master of Science (MS) degree programs in health/healthcare administration, healthcare management, and healthcare leadership and management. While there are structural and curricular variations in health administration master’s programs offered by different schools, these variations are typically not dependent upon whether the program is an MS program or an MHA program. For most purposes, an MHA program and a Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA) program are largely equivalent.

The variations that are found in curricula and graduation requirements for master’s in health administration programs generally have more to do with the school or department offering the program than with the name of the program. For example, some master’s in health administration programs require students to complete an applied capstone project, while others may require a research-based master’s thesis. There are also programs that incorporate an internship or practicum into their curriculum, which may take the place of a master’s thesis and/or be incorporated into a capstone project. These variations are not contingent upon the name of the program, but rather on the program’s pedagogical approach.

Designations for MHA Programs

The terms “health” and “healthcare” (or “health care”) are used interchangeably among master’s programs that train students for careers in the management and administration of healthcare businesses and organizations. Typical designations for these master’s programs include but are not limited to:

  • Master of Health or Healthcare Administration (MHA)
  • Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA)
  • Professional Master of Health Administration (PMHA)
  • Master of Science in Health or Healthcare Administration (MSHA)
  • Master of Science in Health or Healthcare Management (MSHM)
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership and Management (MSHLM)
  • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration (MAHHSA)
  • Master of Science in Health Sciences in Health Care Quality (MSHS-HCQ)

MBA in Health Administration Degree Programs

An MBA in Health or Healthcare Administration or Management is essentially a Master of Business Administration degree program that provides students with coursework in topics relevant to the management of businesses in the healthcare sector. Students in a standard, two-year (four semester) MBA program typically spend much of the first year taking foundational courses in economics, financial accounting, principles of marketing, managerial science, and other core topics.

The second year of a two-year MBA program is often devoted to more advanced and specialized coursework, which may include case studies in business leadership, and/or classes in investments and debt financing, real estate and development, and/or business technologies and data systems. Some of this specialized coursework may be in the form of electives, which allow students to choose from among a selection of classes in specific areas of business administration. However, many MBA programs provide students with the option of one or more designated concentrations in a primary business function like accounting, marketing, and finance, and/or in specific types of business administration, such as hospitality management, sport management, and healthcare management. These specializations generally consist of several classes that cover topics in the chosen concentration.

An MBA with a specialization in healthcare management typically incorporates three or four concentration courses in topics such as healthcare policy, hospital management, and finance and budgeting for health organizations.

MHA vs. MBA in Health Administration Programs

A useful way to conceptualize the differences between an MBA and an MHA program is to consider the focus of the curriculum. The core MHA curriculum is essentially a modified MBA curriculum. In an MBA program, students learn the general business administration theories and principles and their application across a broad range of endeavors. Students in an MHA program learn to apply many of the same theories and principles to operating businesses that must contend with the complexities of the healthcare system, which encompasses insurance companies, government agencies and welfare programs, scientific researchers, point-of-care clinicians and other allied health professionals, and patients who may have life-threatening illnesses and privacy concerns. An MBA program with a specialization in healthcare administration provides students with coursework that covers some of these topics, but not as comprehensively as an MHA program.

The table below offers a side-by-side comparison of coursework that is typical for MHA and MBA in Healthcare Administration programs. While specific course titles vary by program, the course names are drawn from actual MBA and MHA programs and provide an accurate reflection of the types of classes that are typically taken by students in these programs.

MHA ProgramsMBA in Healthcare Administration Programs
Principles of Healthcare AdministrationTheories of Management
Healthcare Law and PolicyBusiness Law
Healthcare Economics & BudgetingManagerial Accounting
Organizational Leadership in HealthcareLeadership & Organizational Change
Healthcare Research & AnalysisBusiness Intelligence & Analytics
Operations & Quality Control in HealthcareSupply-Chain Management
Health Program Evaluation, Development, & FinancingFinancial Planning & Investment
Hospital AdministrationThe American Healthcare System
Managerial EpidemiologyMarketing in Public Health
Health Information Systems & Data SecurityLeadership in Healthcare

Accreditation for MBA and MHA Programs

Another significant difference between MBA and MHA programs concerns accreditation. There are three organizations that provide accreditation to business schools and colleges that offer MBA programs: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International); the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). While there are philosophical differences between these three agencies, they all stress that training in business administration at the master’s level should include instruction in the functional aspects of business (accounting, finance, marketing, operations, and personnel); practical communication and leadership skills; and business law and ethics.

MHA programs may apply for and receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), the primary accrediting body for health and healthcare programs. In addition to accrediting MHA programs, CAHME accredits Master of Public Health (MPH) programs and MBA programs with a health or healthcare management or administration specialization. As a result, CAHME accreditation standards focus mainly on the integrity and viability of the program and the academic resources the program provides, rather than on specific aspects of a program’s curriculum. CAHME requires accredited programs to include at least 120 hours of synchronous instruction, which is mainly a consideration for online programs. Synchronous instruction takes place in real time, so CAHME accredited online MHA programs must provide for at least 120 hours of live-streamed classes or a combination of live-streamed classes and face-to-face campus-based instruction totaling 120 hours.

The CAHME website includes more extensive information on accreditation requirements. For details on accreditation for MBA programs, refer to the websites of AACSB International, ACBSP, and/or IACBE.

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