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Question: What Are the Differences Between an MHA and an MPH Degree?

Answer: Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Public Health (MPH) are designation for two different types of graduate degree programs that prepare students for careers in the healthcare sector. While there is some overlap in MHA and MPH curricula, the focus of the training and instruction students receive in these programs is quite different. MHA programs offer coursework that covers various aspects of healthcare organizational leadership and operations management, including marketing, finance, human resources, strategic and interpersonal communication, logistics, and project planning. In contrast, MPH programs focus the application of social science research, epidemiology, and biostatistics to addressing community and population health problems like substance abuse, malnutrition, environmental hazards, and the spread of infectious disease. MHA program graduates typically seek employment at the administrative level in hospitals, clinics, and residential care facilities, and with other types of health service providers. Graduates from MPH programs may also work in healthcare administration, but they are trained for roles that involve health policy research and development, the coordination of health education programs, and the implementation and assessment of public and private sector healthcare initiatives.

Health administration and public health refer broadly to two different but related areas within the healthcare sector and within the academic study of healthcare. The field of health administration encompasses the various business functions of organizations operating in the healthcare sector, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. These functions include the management of budgeting and finance, marketing and public relations, accounting and regulatory compliance, personnel and patient-care services, and a range of other issues concerning day-to-day and long-term operations. Public health refers to government and private sector policies, programs, and initiatives aimed at addressing, alleviating, and preventing community and population health problems. Infectious disease outbreaks, poor nutrition, environmental hazards, and high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse are some of the issues that typically fall under the purview of public health professionals, who conduct research to identify the causes of specific health problems and design and implement programs to improve the health of affected populations.

Health Administration and Public Health Graduate Programs

While some aspects of health administration and public health may be studied at the undergraduate level, professional advancement in both of these fields generally requires the type of specialized training offered at the graduate level in Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Public Health (MPH) programs. MHA programs provide students with a foundational understanding of the healthcare system, health insurance industry, and healthcare regulatory environment in order to prepare them for the complex managerial and operational challenges of running healthcare organizations. In contrast, students in MPH programs learn the science of health policy research and analysis, study evidence-based approaches to raising public awareness about health problems, and cultivate an understanding of a range of factors that affect the health and wellbeing of communities and large population groups.

MHA vs. MPH Program Curricula

The differences between MHA programs and MPH programs become evident when you compare a typical MHA program curriculum with that of a typical MPH program. While there may be some overlap, the focus of the coursework that students commonly complete in these programs is quite different. For example, MHA and MPH programs commonly include a course in statistics and statistical analysis. However, students in an MHA program may learn to apply statistical tools to operational and administrative concerns such as budgeting and patient safety protocols, while MPH students learn to use statistical models to find patterns of illness among population groups, identify the likely causes of public health problems, and develop evidence-based policies for addressing community-wide health issues.

Similarly, while MHA and MPA programs may require students to complete internships, residencies, or practicums, these supervised work experiences generally take place in different settings. An MHA internship might involve working at a hospital or medical center in an administrative office, while MPH internships typically take place at state, federal, and non-governmental agencies that conduct public health policy research and program development, and/or coordinate the implementation of health education and community health programs.

The table below offers a side-by-side comparison of common MHA and MPH program courses, highlighting some of the major differences between these two types of master’s programs. It should be noted that curricula vary by school and by program, as do course titles and descriptions. However, the names and descriptions of the courses listed below are drawn from actual MHA and MPH programs and offer a representative overview of the types of classes that are commonly part of MHA and MPH program curricula.

MHA CoursesMPH Courses
The US Healthcare System: An overview of the structure of the American healthcare system and how it operates.The Public Health System: An overview of the history and evolution of public health policies, programs, and initiatives.
Leadership in Health Organizations: Principles of managerial science applied to organizational leadership and decision-making in healthcare businesses.Research Methods in Public Health: Experimental design, data collection and reporting, and methods for analyzing and interpreting public health studies.
Healthcare Finance: Budgeting, financial analysis, pricing models, and other tools for assessing and managing the finances of health organizations.Public Budgeting: An examination of federal, state, and local funding sources for public health programs, and private sources for research grants and program funding.
Health Law: An examination of the legal and regulatory environment for healthcare providers, including state and federal statutes concerning patient rights and third-party payers.Public Health Program Evaluation: Methods for the systematic and critical evaluation and assessment of public health programs and policy initiatives and the processes for reporting findings.
Human Resource Management in Healthcare: Hiring, staffing, compensation, and professional development issues in healthcare administration. Biostatistics: The use of statistical reasoning and modeling in biomedical, clinical, and population-based research to solve problems, make decisions, and design policy in public health.
Strategic Planning & Marketing in Healthcare: An examination of strategies for evaluating consumer needs, developing effective healthcare delivery models, and marketing health services to potential consumers.Behavioral & Social Aspects of Public Health: The application of social and behavioral science theories to the design and implementation of public health and health education programs for individuals, communities, and broader populations.
Ethical Concerns in Health Leadership: An examination of prevailing theories and models for the ethical delivery of healthcare services from a clinical and administrative perspective.Epidemiology: The science of studying patterns of disease and injury in large population groups, and the use of statistical software to identify and track various types of public health problems.
Evaluation & Quality Improvement in Healthcare: The use of evidence-based methods to measure efficiency, effectiveness, and overall quality in the delivery of health services.Environmental Health: The biological, physical, and chemical factors that may impact the health of communities through human interactions with the surrounding environment.

MHA and MPH Program Specializations

In addition to core coursework, which may or may not include a required internship and/or capstone project, MHA and MPH programs may offer electives and/or designated specializations. These specializations serve to illustrate some of other differences and similarities between these two types of degree programs. It is worth noting, for example, that health administration/health management is a specialization that is offered by some MPH programs, and health policy analysis is an area of specialization offered by some MHA programs. The table below provides and overview of some of the specializations/concentrations that may be options for students enrolled in MHA and MPH programs.

MHA SpecializationsMPH Specializations
Healthcare Operations ManagementEmergency/Disaster Management
Health Policy AnalysisHealth Education
Healthcare FinanceGerontology
Health InformaticsGlobal Health
Quality of CareMaternal and Child Health
EntrepreneurshipMental Health/Substance Abuse

Accreditation for MHA and MPH Degree Programs

Another means by which MHA and MPH programs can be differentiated concerns programmatic accreditation. Unlike institutional accreditation, which is administered by regional agencies that assess the overall integrity of a college or university, programmatic accreditation is granted by independent organizations that evaluate programs offering training in a specific field or discipline. The Commission on the Accreditation of Health Management Education (CAHME) is the organization that provides accreditation to MHA programs, as well as to Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs with a healthcare administration specialization and Master of Science (MS) in health and healthcare administration and management programs. MPH programs receive accreditation from a separate body, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), which accredits schools of public health as well as undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in public health. These accreditation bodies maintain distinct assessment criteria and set separate benchmarks for master’s-level education and training in health administration and public health.

Additional information about accreditation for MHA and MPH programs is available on the CAHME and CEPH websites. A more in-depth exploration of CAHME accreditation can be found in our FAQ entitled, Does the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) Accredit Online Master of Health Administration (MHA) Programs?.

For information about online MHA and MPH degree programs, refer to the following program pages on OnlineEducation.com:


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