Comparing a Master of Health Administration vs. a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management

At the beginning of 2018, The Atlantic announced that the healthcare industry became the US's largest employer1, surpassing both manufacturing and retail, and establishing that "[healthcare] services are the new steel" when it comes to driving the American economy.

The Atlantic goes on to explain that as the population ages, the demand for healthcare increases, and with this comes the need for healthcare managers to oversee, organize, manage, and lead a rapidly expanding field. To put it into perspective, healthcare will soon account for one-third of all new employment.2

While there are benefits to each program, a Master of Health Administration (MHA) has a strong focus on healthcare specialization and expertise. A Master of Business Administration that offers a concentration in healthcare management (MBA in Healthcare3) will feature core curricula that focuses on transferable business skills.

This article provides a side-by-side comparison of an MHA and MBA in Healthcare and the unique components each program provides students to be successful in a healthcare career. Starting by introducing some of the key features of the MHA and MBA in Healthcare programs, we’ll then analyze MHA and MBA in Healthcare curricula, as well as typical differences in admissions criteria. Finally, we’ll discuss the demand and career opportunity for MHA and MBA in Healthcare graduates. 

MHA vs. MBA in Healthcare: At a glance

Choosing a graduate program that best meets your needs, whether an MHA or MBA in Healthcare, involves examining how each program will uniquely prepare you for your healthcare career aspirations. Below we’ve provided a snapshot of the MHA and MBA in Healthcare programs. This comparison highlights each program’s goals, focus, skills emphasis, and career preparation. We also follow with a brief overview of common MHA and MBA in Healthcare admissions requirements.     

  MHA MBA in healthcare
Program goals and strengths
  • Strong emphasis on management and leadership
  • Depth and breadth in knowledge of the healthcare industry
  • Strong emphasis on management and leadership
  • Knowledge of the healthcare industry within a survey of other business sectors
  • Using critical thinking to provide evidence-based solutions to a variety of core disciplines
  • Strategy and operations

  • Healthcare organization management

  • Healthcare policy

  • Applied, practice-based focus

  • Healthcare cases and examples

  • Using critical thinking to provide evidence-based solutions to a variety of core disciplines 
  • Strategy and operations

  • Leadership and business strategy

  • Financial accounting and reporting

Skills emphasis
  • Day-to-day healthcare operations and administration
  • Accounting and budgeting
  • Human resources management
  • Healthcare law and ethics
  • Quality improvement
  • Influence and implement healthcare policies
  • Day-to-day healthcare operations and administration
  • Accounting and budgeting
  • Human resources management
  • Marketing and entrepreneurship 
  • Data and analytics


Admissions requirements for MHA and MBA in Healthcare programs vary by university and college; however, most programs have similar entrance requirements.

Education: You must possess a bachelor’s degree to enroll in either program; however, specific academic requirements, such as minimum GPA and standardized test scores (i.e., GRE or GMAT), depend on the program’s reputation and quality. MBA programs, whether specialized or not, often require that you achieve competitive scores on the GMAT, whereas an MHA program will typically allow you to choose between a GMAT or GRE. 

Work Experience: Many MHA and MBA in Healthcare programs require that you have professional work experience and submit a resume along with your application. If you do not have work experience in a relevant field, it would be advantageous for you to do so. Gaining experience underscores your interest and motivation to pursue a career in the field, and, importantly, helps you learn and use course material more effectively.

MHA vs. MBA in Healthcare curriculum

When considering a graduate program, pay close attention to course offerings to determine whether the program will prepare you for the demands of your next job. While both the MHA and MBA in Healthcare prepare you for the management and oversight of complex organizations, there are important distinctions between the curricula of MHA and MBA in Healthcare programs.  

A noteworthy contrast between an MHA and MBA in Healthcare is that MHA programs are grounded in schools of public health, allied health professions, and public service, and faculty are leading researchers in healthcare management and policy, and top managers in hospitals and healthcare systems. MBA programs, even those including specialization in healthcare management, are grounded in schools of business, and faculty are leading researchers in management and business and practitioners in healthcare organizations. Understanding this point is important for deciding which program will help you meet your goals.   

MHA Curriculum

MHA programs are business-oriented and focus on management and execution of healthcare operations. MHA students may or may not come from a clinical background, but are nonetheless interested in leading the healthcare industry by influencing policy and improving organizational performance. MHA curriculum typically includes:

Healthcare Organization Management: CEOs and program managers must have the ability to manage resources and timelines to execute their programs within budget. Resource allocation and management are critical skills.

Healthcare Law and Ethics: Leaders in healthcare organizations may encounter patent laws,patient care, and ethical issues, such as in pharmaceutical development. Once out of the program, students are prepared to tackle many common, and complex, legal and ethical questions.

Healthcare Policy: Effective healthcare managers need to understand the US healthcare system, including its policies and politics. Leaders of healthcare organizations often advocate for more effective policies to support their missions to provide greater access to high-quality, cost-effective services. Courses in health policy and systems prepare students for these roles.

MBA Curriculum

Conversely, while students of MBA in Healthcare programs share the desire to have an impact on healthcare, courses are taken alongside students who want to work in other business sectors. Even with a healthcare specialization, your core MBA curriculum will be general. While you will gain exposure to healthcare issues and concepts through elective courses, an MBA is designed to be broadly applied. The broad nature of an MBA can be an advantage if you are not dedicated to a single industry. Schools of business require MBA in Healthcare curricula to include knowledge and skills in: 

Leadership and Business Strategy: Leaders across a diverse range of industries must be exposed to core business disciplines and have the ability to increase their depth of understanding in specialized areas. Foundational business principles allow you to integrate, lead, and collaborate in complex and diverse environments.

Financial Accounting and Reporting: One of the most important competencies in business leadership involves principles in financial accounting and reporting, given the extensive influence funding has on business and operational functions. 

Healthcare Management Specialization: Applying evidence-based business and management knowledge, skills, and abilities will allow you to address the complex and dynamic needs of the healthcare industry. It’s particularly important to gain a comprehensive understanding of the laws and policies that govern and influence the healthcare industry. 

You can find MHA and MBA in Healthcare programs that are offered online and on-campus, as well as on a full-time or part-time basis. How quickly you want to complete the program and whether you plan to continue working while you pursue your master’s degree will determine which program structure will best meet your needs.  

Demand for MHA and MBA in Healthcare graduates

Becker's Hospital Review4 indicates that future challenges facing healthcare will only be solved by skilled and experienced leaders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 20% growth5 for healthcare manager roles from 2016-2026. But it’s not the job market that makes healthcare one of the most desirable fields. A job in healthcare administration promises fast-paced, exciting, and challenging work at leading organizations. With the healthcare industry driving the American economy, healthcare managers are needed to steer health services through this period of rapid growth.  

NYU Wagner's Online Master of Health Administration

If you plan to pursue an MHA, consider New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, which accepts applications in the Spring, Summer, or Fall semesters from students wishing to start the Online Master of Health Administration. We have taken the best components of our CAHME-accredited, on-campus healthcare management-focused program and brought them online in a part-time program designed with working professionals in mind. You can now access the same resources and faculty, along with innovative online tools and instructional methods.

If you want to learn more about NYU Wagner's Online Master of Health Administration and initiate the beginning of an exciting and purposeful career, request more information and get started today.

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