Online Master’s in Health Care Administration: An Overview
Health care is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, thanks in part to advances in medical technology and changes in federal regulations affecting patients, hospitals and insurers. Professionals who work in health care administration and management oversee day-to-day operations in hospitals, doctor’s offices and other health care facilities. They may also work in related positions for corporations, nonprofit organizations or government agencies.
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical entry-level education required of medical and health services managers is a bachelor’s degree, but an online health care administration and management master’s degree can help professionals advance to leadership positions more quickly. It may also be beneficial for individuals looking to transition into the field.
Coursework for an online master’s in health care administration focuses on the business and management side of health care. This area of the industry has been linked to high rates of employee satisfaction. More than 80 percent of medical and health services managers say their job has high meaning, according to data from PayScale, a careers website.
What is an online MHA?
A growing number of colleges and universities now offer master’s in health care administration degree programs online. The online MHA program is an ideal pathway for students who wish to study from home, particularly those with other responsibilities like full- and part-time jobs or child care obligations.
How long does it take to earn a master’s in health care administration?Typical MHA degree programs can range from 32 to 60 credits. Students enrolled full time can complete most online master’s in health care administration programs within two academic years. Alternatively, some joint-degree online MHA programs and certain master’s specializations may take up to three or four years to complete.
How much does a master’s in health care administration cost?The overall cost of an online MHA program will depend on several factors. Students attending a college or university in their home state may pay lower tuition rates – sometimes as little as around $200 per credit hour. Out-of-state students, on the other hand, may pay higher tuition rates in the range of around $700 to $1,500 per credit hour.
In-state students should expect to pay anywhere from about $6,500 to $36,000 for their entire MHA degree program, while out-of-state students should expect an overall degree cost that can range from about $26,000 to $75,000. However, some schools charge a flat tuition rate for all students, regardless of their home state.
Online MHA degree admissions requirements
Applicants to online master’s programs in health care administration are generally expected to have work experience in the health care field. However, some online master’s degree programs may admit professionals without a background in health care.
GRE score requirements will vary by institution; in some cases, applicants will not need to submit a GRE score at all.
Choosing an accredited online MHA degree program
Accreditation status is one of the most important considerations for prospective students. Colleges and universities in the U.S. receive accreditation from agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education; the accreditation process involves an extensive review of a school’s educational programs and student services.
A school’s accreditation will impact course credit transferability, as well as student eligibility for federal financial aid, so students should ensure the school offering the program has earned national or regional accreditation.
Online MHA Coursework
The coursework for online MHA programs includes studies in finance, research, marketing, human resources and management – all delivered with an emphasis on health care services. Other courses may discuss issues specific to the health care industry, such as medical supply chains, health information systems and global health.
Health care administration master’s students also learn about the various laws, regulations and ethical standards in today’s health care industry.
Online MHA programs often culminate in a capstone course or thesis, allowing students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have gained with a comprehensive research project. Practicum courses may be required as well; these allow students to receive on-site training from experienced professionals at hospitals, clinics and other health care providers.
Health care administration degree specializations
Some online master’s in health administration programs allow students to concentrate their coursework in a specialization, which can cover niche areas of the health care industry. Specializations for MHA students include:
Health care ethics
Health policy and management
Environmental health science
Maternal and child health
In an acute or long-term care specialization, students can complete courses that address the specific challenges a manager or administrator may encounter in an acute care facility, such as a hospital, or a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home.
Students who pursue a health informatics or health information technology concentration learn about different technology programs and platforms used to track data related to health care services. Courses in these specializations cover health care and the internet, health information management systems and data infrastructure.
Health care ethics and health policy and management specializations are designed for students interested in health care regulations, patient advocacy and other legal areas of the industry. The minority health concentration is dedicated to issues and challenges surrounding the treatment and care of minority groups in the U.S. Similarly, the gerontology specialization focuses on health care demands and concerns for elderly people.
Leadership in health care administration
Health care financial management
Health care strategies in competitive markets
Health care information systems
Health care ethics and decision making
Health care law and compliance
Epidemiology and health planning
Job Outlook and Salary for MHA Graduates
Signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has expanded medical coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans. This influx of people seeking insured medical care for the first time has increased the need for health care managers and administrative personnel. The aging baby boomer population has also fueled the demand for qualified health care administrators, particularly those with a background in gerontology.
As a result, rapid growth is expected in the health care industry for years to come. The BLS projects the number of occupations in the health care sector will grow by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024, resulting in roughly 2.3 million new jobs. Additionally, the outlook is strong for health care management professions. Jobs for medical and health services managers, for example, are expected to grow by 17 percent from 2014 to 2024 – an increase of roughly 56,300 positions over the decade.
What can you do with a master’s in health care administration?Many careers in health care administration are attainable with a bachelor’s degree or less, so students who graduate with an MHA are in a good position to compete for these specialized careers. The BLS notes that as of 2013, 24 percent of employed medical and health services managers held a master’s degree. By comparison, 32 percent of these employees held only a bachelor’s degree and 44 percent held neither a bachelor’s nor a master’s degree.
Several career paths are available to graduates of master’s programs in health care administration:
Medical and health services managers
Health care social workers
Medical records and health information technicians
Administrative services managers
Medical and health services managers – sometimes called health care executives or health care administrators – oversee administrative duties at hospitals, clinics and other health care institutions. They evaluate personnel, technology and other aspects of their workplace to ensure that the institution meets all applicable laws and regulations, and that patients are treated with the utmost care.
Some medical and health services managers must be licensed to work; nursing home administrators, for example, must complete a state-approved training program in most states and pass a national licensing exam before seeking employment.
Health care social workers offer assistance to people living with chronic, acute or terminal medical conditions, as well as their spouses, children and other family members. They help clients coordinate certain services, such as caregiving or patient counseling, and may also provide referrals.
Medical records and health information technicians collect, organize and maintain patient data records at health care institutions. Due to advances in technology, they are usually familiar with both paper-based and electronic data systems. Their job also requires a strong attention to detail as data classification systems include different codes and categories used for billing and insurance purposes.
Administrative services managers oversee teams of administrative personnel for a wide range of companies and organizations. They also draft budget plans, manage equipment repairs and facilities upkeep, and maintain an up-to-date inventory. According to the BLS, roughly 13 percent of these managers work in health care and social assistance.
Professional associations in health care administration
Students and job-seeking graduates who obtain membership with a professional organization can learn about networking and career development opportunities, such as conferences and seminars, online and on-site training courses, job openings and advocacy programs. Some of the most prominent professional organizations in the health care administration field include the following:
Association of Healthcare Administrative Professionals: AHCAP is a nonprofit organization that offers numerous member benefits, including lower tuition costs for continuing education courses, an invitation to the association’s annual national conference and at least six free webinars every year.
Health Care Administrators Association: Established in 1980, the HCAA is dedicated to third-party administrators in health and medicine. Current members represent a wide range of employers, including insurance providers, audit firms and health care consultants. HCAA offers a Certified Self Funding Specialist certification for employees working in self-funded health care planning; this credential consists of seven courses.
American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management: AAHAM was founded in 1968 and today oversees more than 30 regional chapters nationwide. The association offers five professional certifications in revenue cycle, revenue integrity and compliance. AAHAM also hosts the Annual National Institute, a conference attended by nearly 600 members and exhibitors.
Salaries for MHA graduates
MHA graduates enjoy relatively high earning potential. A PayScale College Salary Report estimates that students with a master’s in health care administration earn a median annual salary of $57,100 during their first five years on the job and $89,900 after a decade in the workforce. The table below illustrates the higher annual earnings for employees with an MHA, compared with those with a bachelor’s or associate degree in health care administration.
DEGREE MEDIAN ANNUAL SALARY FOR ENTRY-LEVEL EMPLOYEES (0-5 YEARS) MEDIAN ANNUAL SALARY FOR MIDCAREER EMPLOYEES (10+ YEARS)
Associate degree in health care administration $29,600 $38,800
Bachelor’s degree in health care administration $39,400 $59,900
Master’s degree in health care administration $57,100 $89,900
per the PayScale College Salary Report
Is a master’s in health care administration worth it?
As the table above shows, employees with an MHA out-earn those with less education by a considerable margin. This trend also extends to specific jobs in health care administration. For instance, the median annual salary reported by the BLS for medical and health services managers with a master’s is $20,000 higher than the salary for a bachelor’s degree-holder in the same occupation.
Medical executive management professionals with master’s degrees earn a median salary of more than $162,000, according to a 2014 report from the Medical Group Management Association, a professional association representing the field.