What is a Healthcare MBA Program?

Graduate education in healthcare management offers students many more choices than in the past. MBA degrees in healthcare provide a range of benefits for professionals with experience in the industry as well as those new to the sector.

An organization may encourage a healthcare professional with a background in science, medicine, engineering, or information technology to assume a managerial role at some point. A healthcare MBA can expedite that transition by providing management skills ideally matched with the healthcare industry and can help professionals build upon years or decades of experience to develop specialized expertise.

For those new to the healthcare field, a healthcare MBA can help them quickly secure one of the many management jobs created each day within healthcare organizations. A strong business background combined with knowledge and skills matched to the healthcare industry competitively positions these graduates.

Such matching skills enable healthcare MBA graduates to carry out managerial responsibilities within a broad range of healthcare systems, medical centers, hospitals or hospital networks, clinics, rehabilitation centers, or public health organizations.

This guide presents the benefits of an MBA program with a healthcare emphasis and contrasts them with an increasingly competitive alternative: specialized master’s degree programs in healthcare management.

Featured Healthcare Programs
Grand Canyon University Online MBA - Health Systems Management View Full Profile
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Purdue Global Online MBA - Health Care Management View Full Profile
Purdue Global Online MSN-MBA View Full Profile
Texas A&M International University Online MBA - Healthcare Administration View Full Profile
Southern New Hampshire University Online MBA In Healthcare Management View Full Profile
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Online MBA in Healthcare Administration View Full Profile
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The Value of a Healthcare MBA

Traditionally, the most versatile and flexible curriculum option for prospective students planning a career in healthcare management is an MBA program with a healthcare management focus. Like all MBA programs, healthcare MBAs teach business management fundamentals while challenging students to think strategically.

Students first explore key business concepts in “core” courses that focus on marketing, accounting, business ethics, finance, statistics, project management, and other business administration disciplines. Typically, only minor differences exist in these standardized core courses, which bear relevance to a broad range of industries and sectors, especially among AACSB-accredited business schools.

Upon satisfying core requirements, healthcare MBA students then take courses that specifically focus on management in healthcare settings. These programs are organized into majors, fields of concentration, specializations, or electives. These courses typically examine topics, such as managed care, clinical management, healthcare information systems, and healthcare regulatory compliance. They can vary widely from one school to another.

The online healthcare MBA at George Washington University is a great example of the common classes involved in a healthcare MBA program. GW offers students a wide range of course options that they can align with their professional goals. These include 12 hours of healthcare-focused electives in public health and health sciences from other schools at the university. Topics include patient safety systems, the clinical research industry, and epidemiology.

Students may also complete one of seven certificates designed by the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, that are offered in healthcare quality, integrative medicine, clinical research, and other subjects. The school’s requirements include two courses on global trade along with a healthcare management foundations course.

Here are a few other examples of top healthcare MBA programs:

The Growing Popularity of Specialized Master’s Programs

Because of recent changes in graduate education, MBA programs are suddenly facing competition. These days, prospective students can also take advantage of a specialized master’s degree program. These programs are often designated as business master’s degrees or non-MBA degrees and positioned as MBA degree alternatives. For more on this point, prospective students may be interested in reading BSchools’ guide: MBA vs. Other Master’s Programs.

Master’s degrees in management are not new. Their history includes master’s degrees in accounting that date back to the 1940s at the University of Texas and in leadership dating back to the 1950s at Stanford University. What is new is the explosive growth that such programs have experienced during the past decade, especially in the last few years.

“Among the adaptations forced upon business schools by 21st-century realities, the rise of specialized master’s programs is likely eclipsed in scale only by that of online education,” wrote Ethan Baron in Poets & Quants. He reported that half of the top 25 business schools introduced new specialized master’s degree programs. Furthermore, Fortune recently pointed out that “many schools offer part-time and specialized programs in accounting and finance, which students are increasingly choosing over a traditional MBA.”

One of the most succinct explanations of this trend appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

Students saddled with heftier college debt have become more reluctant to leave their jobs for two years to pursue one of the nation’s most expensive degrees, school administrators say. That has spurred schools to offer a flurry of specialized master’s programs that take less time to complete or offer greater flexibility for working professionals.

Another aspect of this trend comprises the extent to which university divisions have started offering these alternatives to MBA programs outside of business schools. This trend encompasses healthcare management programs offered by medical schools and schools of public health marketed to prospective students as preparation or substitutes for MBA degrees, like the two examples at Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania cited below.

However, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) latest report, “Among candidates who prefer to study in the United States, 31 percent prefer the full-time two-year MBA. The full-time one-year MBA is second most popular (23%), followed by the business master’s program types of Master of Finance (4%) and Master of Data/Business Analytics (4%)”.

Healthcare MBAs vs. Specialized Master’s Programs

Several characteristics distinguish specialized master’s programs from MBA programs, and many non-MBA healthcare management programs also display these features. First, most non-MBA degrees take substantially less time to complete, with many requiring a year or less full-time.

Second, although exceptions exist among some specialized master’s degrees like the Johns Hopkins Healthcare Safety program, in general, specialized master’s programs are pre-experience degrees. That means these programs do not call for the multiple years of work experience that many MBA programs require. Because of this, specialized master’s programs tend to attract a younger demographic than MBA programs—often 24 years old or younger—although some non-MBA programs target mid-career professionals.

Third, coursework in the non-MBA programs tends to emphasize technical or quantitative skills that are not necessarily enhanced by work experience, instead of “soft skills” like leadership. Not surprisingly, Eric Johnson, dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, explained to Poets & Quants that “we don’t see these programs as sort of ‘MBA-lite.’ They really are much closer to undergraduate programs on steroids.”

The aspirations of these non-MBA students also differ from those of MBA students. Specialized master’s students usually seek technical and industry-focused skills that they can market to employers offering early- or mid-career jobs. By contrast, students seek much more general managerial and leadership skills and capabilities from MBA programs that will serve them during the duration of their careers. In general, specialized master’s graduates will need to return to MBA or executive MBA programs later on to develop the latter capabilities.

Despite these differences, similarities between these two programs exist. Like MBA students, specialized master’s students also benefit from connections with a university’s alumni network. Many non-MBA students who move into higher-ranked graduate schools benefit from associations with university brands that are more powerful than their undergraduate degrees. In addition, non-MBA programs in healthcare also benefit from career services like access to interviews and jobs through a career placement center that may offer industry-specific contacts within the hidden job market and among alumni.

Specialized Master’s Programs in Healthcare Management

Non-MBA programs in healthcare management may offer some of the MBA program benefits listed above, and business school faculty may teach many of the courses in specialized masters in healthcare programs. However, the curriculum differs significantly from MBA programs.

Consider the master’s degree in patient safety and healthcare quality at Johns Hopkins University. This curriculum focuses on preventing patient harm by designing safer systems and measuring safety and quality. Outside of two statistics classes and one change leadership course, the curriculum looks nothing like what one might expect from competing business school programs. Introductory topics begin with public health and patient safety science, then follow two epidemiology courses and three quality and safety classes involving case studies, measurement, and evaluation.

As another example, the master’s degree in healthcare innovation at the University of Pennsylvania focuses on three areas related to healthcare delivery innovation: health policy, behavioral economics, and operations management. Unlike business school core courses, the core courses include topics on the American healthcare system, evaluating health policy and programs, healthcare operations, and innovations in health economics.

Here are a few other examples of specialized master’s degree programs in healthcare management:

Careers and Compensation Comparisons

The TransparentCareer employment database reports an average compensation of $153,498 for MBA healthcare graduates. That’s about $50,000 less than the top earnings paid to MBA grads by management consulting firms and some technology and internet companies.

However, the quality of life and work-life balance ratings for this industry more than offset these lower compensation packages. “The overall happiness score comes in at an incredible 8.4 of 10, one of the highest of any industry in our database of over 3,500 MBA employers worldwide,” notes TransparentCareer. The company also points out that the high impact of work and company culture ratings drive this satisfaction trend.

Prospective graduate students choosing between healthcare MBA programs and specialized master’s degrees in healthcare must consider whether they need the broader capabilities applicable to the wider variety of industries, careers, and job functions that an MBA can provide. MBA degrees in healthcare offer much more power and flexibility in the job market because they train students in strategic analysis, concepts, and tools that benefit a wide variety of industries beyond healthcare.

By contrast, many of the specialized master’s programs in healthcare management appear to focus exclusively on the healthcare industry and may not offer benefits that transfer to other sectors. Many of these non-MBA programs also tend to train graduates in relatively technical, specialist roles having little to do with business strategy, leadership, or general management.

One approach might be to consider whether one might work or seek employment in industries besides healthcare in the next 40 years. From there, one can then determine the optimal steps that would meet this kind of strategic career objective.

For more research and analysis on important topics relevant to those planning careers in healthcare management, check out the MBA in Healthcare Management guide.

Featured Healthcare MBA Programs (HMBA)

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University offers an online flexible MBA specialization in healthcare management, innovation, and technology exposing students to the knowledge, practices, and experts at its Carey Business School. Designed to fit the demanding schedules of working professionals, this flexible MBA curriculum blends project-based and traditional courses allowing graduates to successfully advance in their current field or transition into a new sector.

Made up of 54 credits, the program includes courses such as frameworks for analyzing healthcare markets; health innovation and evaluation; emerging frontiers in health technologies and strategies; accounting and financial reporting; marketing management; operations management; and statistical analysis.

Applicants to the program must submit a current resume, two essays, one letter of recommendation, official transcripts, and GMAT or GRE scores (waivers available).

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 31 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $ 1,730 per credit

Boise State University

Built on innovation, Boise State University’s online MBA program allows students to advance their credibility, confidence, and career in a flexible online format. With six start dates offered throughout the year, students can immediately begin and complete their degree while they continue working.

The healthcare leadership emphasis will allow students to explore leadership techniques and group dynamics while learning project management and creative processes that will transform their business. Featuring 100 percent digital content, this online MBA will help students in developing the core management and decision-making abilities that are fundamental to improving the business of healthcare.

Comprising 49 credits, the curriculum includes coursework in business foundations; design thinking and strategic management; operations and supply chain management; leadership for health professionals; healthcare systems and delivery; and healthcare operations and financial management.

Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, an undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 or higher, two years of significant, full-time management experience, and GRE or GMAT scores. There are waivers available for GMAT or GRE scores.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as medical directors, medical and health services managers, risk directors, medical practice managers, quality assurance directors, clinical directors, or hospital administrators.

  • Location: Boise, ID
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $750 per credit

Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management offers an online MBA in healthcare management which is structured to provide students with a sophisticated understanding of accounting, business strategy, and finance as they relate to the healthcare industry. Students in this program will develop the analytical skills necessary to turn raw data into actionable information.

Focused on helping students develop evidence-based business management skills that are applicable and relevant to the healthcare industry, the program’s 48-credit curriculum includes courses such as experiential learning in healthcare; healthcare decision making; AI in healthcare; finance issues & applications in healthcare; economic issues and applications in healthcare; digital innovation in healthcare; and lean operations in healthcare systems, among others.

Graduates of the program will be able to take up roles such as business development officers, hospital administrators, clinical managers, healthcare managers, medical and health services managers, pharmaceutical managers, and nursing home administrators.

  • Location: Cleveland, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Eight academic terms
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,561 per credit

Concordia University

Concordia University offers an online master of business administration program with a specialization in healthcare management preparing students with the business principles and trends specific to healthcare. Students in this program will be on the cutting edge of technology and will possess industry-specific knowledge. They will be ready to serve as confident healthcare leaders in today’s healthcare systems and hospitals.

Consisting of 39 credits, the program includes courses such as healthcare strategic leadership; quality practices; healthcare informatics; applied ethics for healthcare leaders; tools for managerial decision analysis; legal environment for managers; and strategic human resource management.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must submit a completed online application, official transcripts from a regionally accredited institution stating the conferral of a bachelor’s degree or higher with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0, and a personal statement.

  • Location: St. Paul, MN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $625 per credit

Drake University

Drake University’s online MBA program requires no GMAT or GRE scores and can be completed entirely online. There are no scheduled online class meetings or in-person requirements. The faculty of the program includes expert professionals who are experienced practitioners and recognized scholars. Students in this program will have the option to customize their degrees based on their career aspirations and personal interests. Emphasis areas include healthcare, business analytics, and individualized study.

The healthcare concentration helps students in deepening their understanding of the healthcare industry, through an in-depth series of courses that focus on healthcare administration, healthcare policy, law, advocacy, and ethics. Made up of 39 credits, the program includes courses in health care policy; health care administration; beyond ethics: policy and health care; health care regulation, law and advocacy; corporate finance; leadership & human capital development; and project management.

Application requirements for the program include a complete online application, official transcripts from all colleges or universities previously attended, an electronic copy of curriculum vitae, a one-page essay, and two professional recommendations.

  • Location: Des Moines, IA
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $718 per credit

Florida International University

Florida International University’s Alvah H. Chapman Jr. Graduate School of Business offers an online MBA in healthcare providing students with complex leadership and business skills required for advancing their careers in the healthcare industry. Students will explore current practices and issues in this rapidly changing field and will gain specialized knowledge in global and federal health policy processes, financing and reimbursement of health systems, effective decision-making for executives, senior administrators, and healthcare managers, and legal issues facing providers.

The program involves three residencies that are designed to help students in enhancing their professional skills and expanding their networking opportunities with faculty, classmates, senior healthcare executives, and an alumni network of more than 300 healthcare professionals. Additionally, students will also be able to gain multiple certifications.

Requiring 42 credits of graduate-level coursework, the curriculum includes courses such as accounting for managers; corporate finance; managerial decision making in health economics; management of healthcare finance and reimbursement; management of healthcare organizations in the 21st century; master’s project in management; and organizational behavior.

The major admission requirements for the program include a four-year US bachelor’s degree or equivalent from an accredited institution, two years of professional work experience, a GPA of 3.0, and good standing with all previously-attended colleges and universities.

  • Location: Miami, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB); Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $59,892

The George Washington University

The George Washington University School of Business offers an online healthcare MBA program that is ideal for experienced and aspiring healthcare professionals seeking to acquire solid business skills with a clear health focus. This unique program allows students to complete one of the seven available certificates offered by the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences as part of the curriculum. Certificate options include health care quality; health sciences; regulatory affairs; integrative medicine; clinical research administration; clinical research practice; and clinical & translational research.

The program comprises 46.5 credits involving coursework in business essentials for dynamic markets; financial accounting; organizations and human capital; health information, quality, and outcomes; introduction to global regulatory affairs; issues and trends in health systems; and patient safety systems.

For admission to the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a college or university in the United States, at least three years of professional work experience with some experience in the healthcare field, GMAT or GRE scores (waivers available), official transcripts of all post-secondary academic programs attended, a current resume, one letter of recommendation, a statement of program objectives and professional goals, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for students who have not completed a degree in the U.S.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $2,215 per credit

Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU)

Our Lady of the Lake University’s (OLLU) online MBA in healthcare management degree is a perfect fit for professionals who desire to get into leadership roles on the business side of health care. This fully online program does not have any residency requirement, nor does it require GMAT or GRE scores for admission. Using written assignments and case studies, students in this program will be able to create policies, plans, and healthcare strategies, ensure the continuous improvement of health services, and empower nurses, physicians, and other staff to work together as a team.

Comprising 36 credits, the program includes courses such as managerial control systems; marketing strategies and policies; information systems for management; supply chain and operations management; management of healthcare institutions; healthcare planning and policy; and managed care for commercial, medicare, and Medicaid populations.

Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with a GPA of 2.5, official transcripts from all previous post-secondary work, two references, a personal statement, and a current resume.

  • Location: San Antonio, TX
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $925 per credit

Rivier University

Rivier University’s online MBA in healthcare administration will help students in enhancing their understanding of compliance, information management, policy development, risk management, healthcare finance, healthcare law and ethics, and related subjects.

Preparing students to become business-savvy administrators in the healthcare industry, this online MBA consists of 36 credits. As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as healthcare finance; organizational dynamics; healthcare administration; healthcare information systems; compliance and risk management in healthcare settings; and healthcare law and ethics.

Graduates of the program will be prepared to take up roles in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, consulting firms, health insurance organizations, consulting firms, pharmaceutical organizations, and mental health organizations, to name a few.

  • Location: Nashua, NH
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $629 per credit

Rockhurst University

Rockhurst University’s Helzberg School of Management offers an online MBA program with a concentration in healthcare management. This MBA program is designed to help students move into management positions, better understand roles in a company, and improve their leadership skills. They will learn essential techniques for assisting business decisions in the healthcare industry.

Comprising 32 credits, the program includes courses such as compass learning community; managerial communications; competitive analysis; financial strategy and decision making; organizational behavior; healthcare systems; medical practice management; health policy; healthcare information technology; and quality improvement in healthcare.

  • Location: Kansas City, MO
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $775 per credit

Southern Oregon University

Southern Oregon University offers an online MBA in healthcare administration program helping students in enhancing their management and leadership skills as they learn to develop and apply a strong foundation of business concepts specific to the healthcare setting. The program will equip students with the industry insights needed for advancing in this growing field.

Graduates of this program will be ready for roles such as health services and medical managers, medical practice managers, quality assurance managers, hospital administrators, risk managers, sales managers, and communications directors in healthcare organizations.

The program consists of 45 credits involving coursework in process improvement; advanced health communication; healthcare in the united states: structures, systems, and policies; marketing management and strategies; strategic operations management; information systems; and legal and ethical issues in business and management.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, a grade point average of 3.0 (a GPA of 2.75 with three years of work experience is also acceptable), transcripts from all previous educational institutions attended, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students.

  • Location: Ashland, OR
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU); Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 16 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $430 per credit

University of Louisiana

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette offers an online master of business administration program in healthcare administration providing students with the skills and knowledge to positively impact business and patient outcomes while growing their careers.

Made up of 39 credits (15 credits of core courses, 18 credits of healthcare administration courses, and 6 internship hours), the program includes courses such as analytical methods for planning and control; managerial economics; advanced financial management and policy; health care information systems; health care delivery systems; quality management in health care; and strategic management in health care.

Upon successful completion of the program, graduates can take up roles such as hospital administrators, pharmaceutical project managers, healthcare administrators, health information managers, and directors of operations.

  • Location: Lafayette, LA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $15,127.32

Virginia Wesleyan University

Virginia Wesleyan University’s online MBA is designed to provide students with the leadership skills and give them the foundation to succeed in any field, regardless of their background. With both part-time and full-time options available, this ten-course program can be completed in as little as 12 months.

Virginia Wesleyan University’s online MBA empowers students to pursue several career paths, with health services management being one of them. Sample some of the coursework: accounting information and management decisions; operations management and supply chain management; advanced strategy and policy integration; organizational psychology and behavior; and ethical management in a global environment.

  • Location: Norfolk, VA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 Months
  • Estimated Tuition: $499 per credit
Douglas Mark
Douglas Mark
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While a partner in a San Francisco marketing and design firm, for over 20 years Douglas Mark wrote online and print content for the world’s biggest brands, including United Airlines, Union Bank, Ziff Davis, Sebastiani, and AT&T. Since his first magazine article appeared in MacUser in 1995, he’s also written on finance and graduate business education in addition to mobile online devices, apps, and technology. Doug graduated in the top 1 percent of his class with a business administration degree from the University of Illinois and studied computer science at Stanford University.

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