Comparing a Master of Health Administration vs. a Master of Public Health

Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Public Health (MPH) degree programs have similarities and differences, but both enable individuals to contribute significantly to the healthcare field. MHA programs prepare students to manage and lead a variety of healthcare organizations, while MPH programs provide understanding of diseases, illness, and health, as well as the tools needed to promote health.  

This article provides a side-by-side comparison of MHA and MPH degrees and the distinctive components each program offers to students looking to build a successful career in healthcare. We’ll first briefly introduce key features of the MHA and MPH degree programs, and then analyze MHA and MPH curricula. We'll conclude by discussing the demand for MHA and MPH graduates, and salary implications for participation in either program.  

MHA vs. MPH: At a glance

It's important to examine the unique strengths of each program so you can choose a path that best fits your career aspirations. Below is a snapshot comparison of the MHA and MPH programs that highlights each one’s goals, focus, skills emphasis, and career preparation. A brief overview of common MHA and MPH admission criteria follows.  

Program goals and strengths
  • Strong emphasis on management and  leadership
  • Deep knowledge of the healthcare industry
  • Breadth of knowledge in public health
  • Application to public health issues
  • Managing and leading organizations to ensure access to high-quality and cost-effective healthcare services
  • Learning to use management tools from key business disciplines (e.g., finance, organizational behavior, and strategy, and marketing)
  • Applied, practice-based focus at the organizational level
  • Population health, epidemiology, environmental health, and patterns of disease
  • Learning to use a variety of tools from core public health disciplines (e.g., epidemiology) to prevent disease and promote health
  • Practice at the level of populations and communities
Skills emphasis
  • Day-to-day operations, administration, and strategy for healthcare organizations
  • Accounting and budgeting
  • Human resources management
  • Marketing and entrepreneurship
  • Healthcare law and policy
  • Quality improvement
  • Epidemiology—learning how to measure the distribution of health and illness
  • Knowing the social and behavioral determinants of health, and how to change unhealthy behavior
  • Analyze environmental health—the influences of quality of air, water, and physical environment on health
  • Using public policy to promote health
Career preparation
  • Manage and lead healthcare organizations 
  • Develop and apply evidence-based strategies to improve organizational performance
  • Collaborate with leaders across organizations and sectors to improve healthcare services and reduce disparities
  • Influence and implement healthcare policies 
  • Use statistical methods to analyze public health issues 
  • Use epidemiologic methods to analyze patterns of disease and injury 
  •  Develop solutions for environmental and individual health problems 
  • Plan and implement health promotion programs


Admissions requirements for MHA and MPH 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. MHA and MPH programs are often competitive, especially because the demand is high for healthcare and public health professionals.

Work Experience: Many MHA and MPH programs require that you have professional work experience and submit a resume along with your application. If you do not currently have work experience in a relevant field, it would be advantageous for you to gain experience because doing so 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. MPH curriculum

There are several important distinctions between MHA and MPH programs' curricula. One of the most prominent is that an MHA provides exceptional development of management and leadership skills. The MHA resembles an MBA in the sense that it prepares you for all aspects of managing complex organizations, but it specifically focuses on organizations within healthcare.

MHA Curriculum

MHA students come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, including those who have liberal arts degrees in fields such as psychology, literature, and languages; those who have undergraduate majors in business and economics; and those who have clinical backgrounds in nursing, medicine, or allied health professions such as physical therapy. What MHA students have in common is their desire to improve cost, quality and access to healthcare services. An MHA curriculum typically includes:

Managing and Leading Healthcare Organizations: Managers at all levels of an organization need the ability to make decisions about how to allocate resources, including money, time, and people to reach mission-driven goals and objectives. Using evidence and tools from key business disciplines promotes optimal decision-making. MHA curricula typically include several courses to develop skills in financial management, strategy, leading individuals and teams, operations management, and quantitative methods for managers.

Law and Ethics: Leaders in healthcare organizations encounter a wide range of regulations, laws, and ethics, for example, in sales and distribution of pharmaceutical medications. Graduates of MHA programs are prepared to tackle many common, complex, legal, and ethical questions.

Marketing and Strategic Communication: Healthcare organizations need to communicate effectively with many stakeholders, including patients and their families, community members, legislators, and the media. To reach their communication objectives, healthcare organizations develop marketing strategies that rely on newsletters, press releases, and advertisements, using both traditional and social media. It is important for healthcare managers to have the skills to market their services and communicate effectively with prospective and current patients as well as other key stakeholders, including physicians and insurance firms.

Health 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.

MPH Curriculum

MPH programs, on the other hand, focus on the study of the causes of disease and illness, with further emphasis on how to prevent disease and promote health, including, for example, launching community education and awareness campaigns of emerging threats to individual and neighborhood health. These students have a deep curiosity for understanding community health issues and a desire to develop and manage programs to protect and promote health. The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), the body that accredits Schools of Public Health, requires MPH curricula to include knowledge and skills in:

Environmental Health: This branch of public health focuses on understanding the relationship between our physical environment and health. Environmental health courses develop students' ability to assess and reduce environmental pollutants to improve the quality of air, water, soil, food, and housing. Environmental health courses also focus on policies that promote health (e.g., laws to regulate pollution).

Behavioral Science: These courses draw on social and behavioral science to build students' skills in developing, implementing, and assessing programs to promote individual and community health. These programs include initiatives to increase fitness (e.g. installing bike paths in a community); increase use of practical prevention strategies, such as seat belts; and provide vaccinations.

Epidemiology: This is often referred to as the "queen" discipline of public health because it examines the distribution of health and illness in populations and, at the same time, aims to develop and apply tools to identify the causes of disease and illness.

Biostatistics: This is an applied field of statistics that is closely related to epidemiology because it focuses on using statistical methods to analyze data about the distribution and patterns of health and illness in communities and populations.

General Leadership and Management: Building leadership skills and management strategies necessary for successful administration of public health departments at the local, state, and national levels is critical for MPH graduates. These individuals manage public health systems, community-based clinics, and hospitals.

You can find MHA and MPH 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 MPH graduates

Healthcare jobs increased by more than 2.5 million between 2004 and 20141, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the BLS indicates that the healthcare industry employment rate is expected to grow faster than any other sector over the next decade. Graduating with an MHA or MPH makes a considerable difference in your eligibility and earning potential as a healthcare professional. The positive outcomes of an MHA and MPH include a variety of career choices.

An MHA provides a clear path for candidates who wish to manage and lead a variety of organizations, with the day-to-day focus being on a single healthcare entity, such as a hospitals, clinic, or full-care facility. A survey of healthcare professionals2 reported that of the executive-level employees who held a master's degree, 45 percent majored in health administration. The BLS reports that the job market for health administration managers will increase by 20 percent by 2026.3 This is much faster than the national average for all other occupations, including non-healthcare-related fields, and illustrates a growing need for employees with these credentials.

An MPH introduces graduates to careers in epidemiology, a field that is expected to grow by 9 percent by 2026,4 and environmental health, which is projected to grow by 11 percent by 2024,5 according to the BLS.

MHA vs. MPH salary potential

Your MHA or MPH salary and potential earnings depend on the career path you pursue after acquiring new skills, knowledge, and hands-on experience from your graduate program.

MHA graduates are leaders in the healthcare industry, taking on management roles in such varied organizations as hospitals, insurance companies, and consulting firms. Currently, the BLS reports a median salary for a health services manager of $98,350 per year.6 MPH graduates seek to protect human health and hold positions such as an epidemiologist7 and environmental specialist.8 The average salary as reported by the BLS for both of these occupations is around $70,000 per year.

However, the BLS also reports that the highest ten percent of health services managers earn $176,130,9 while the top 10 percent of environmental specialists and epidemiologists earn $122,510,10 and $113,560,11 respectively. 


If you think an MHA is the right path for you, consider New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, Online Master of Health Administration, which accepts applications for students wishing to start in the Spring, Summer, or Fall semesters. 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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