A master's degree in healthcare administration (MHA) is mostly a blessing with a bit of a curse tossed in.
It's a blessing in that you'll be able to explore management-oriented careers in a wide range of healthcare-related organizations and settings once you've finished your program. You'll also have the potential to oversee an assortment of essential activities: financial matters, regulatory and legal compliance, human resources functions, facilities and equipment, technology, public relations and policymaking, just to name a few.
But for some students studying healthcare administration -- also known as health administration, healthcare management or health services administration, depending on the school and program -- the seemingly endless variety can be an unexpected curse: The career confusion that stems from having so many opportunities, known and unknown.
"Haziness is common," says Susan Odegaard Turner, a nurse executive. "Folks just don't know what to do with [this] degree."
In fact, one of the more common questions on Monster's Healthcare Careers message board is, "What can I do with a master's degree in healthcare administration?"
The short answer: All kinds of things. The longer, more helpful answer: You can get your hands around the various possibilities by thinking in terms of four employment sectors specified by the Association of University Programs in Health Administration: providers, suppliers, insurance organizations and policy organizations.
Providers account for the most common and most obvious career paths for graduates of healthcare administration programs.
Leading the way are hospitals, which employ about 30 percent of all healthcare administrators, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. But hospitals aren't the only providers in town. Healthcare administration grads can also find jobs with:
- Group physician practices.
- Nursing homes and elder-care facilities.
- Home healthcare organizations.
- Outpatient care centers.
- Mental health organizations.
- Rehabilitation centers.
Among the many job titles you might investigate in this sector: administrator, director of business development, executive director, practice manager, vice president, chief nursing officer, director of risk management and director of patient safety.
Healthcare facilities can't function without the organizations that provide them with essential supplies and equipment, key services (in such areas as staffing, operations, finance/accounting and technology), and training and development. Thus, some graduates of healthcare administration programs pursue careers with:
- Consulting firms.
- Healthcare management companies.
- Companies that develop, manufacture and market healthcare supplies and equipment.
- Pharmaceutical organizations.
- Biotechnology companies.
- Educational organizations.
Job titles to explore in this sector include: consultant, marketing manager, buyer, sales director, director of market research, faculty/instructor, product manager and analyst.
Health Insurance Organizations
One result of the expansion of healthcare offerings in the United States is the ongoing rise in associated costs. Perhaps it's no wonder, then, that insurance companies and health maintenance organizations continue to grow. With that expansion comes another career avenue for healthcare administration graduates to consider.
Some of the job titles in this sector are research analyst, utilization manager, quality improvement coordinator, client manager and director of strategic planning.
Healthcare Policy Organizations
Some healthcare administration program graduates decide to address health-related issues on a broader scale by finding jobs with either government organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control at the federal level or a state public health agency, or nonprofits with health-oriented missions.
Job titles in this sector include: communications director, legislative assistant, policy analyst, community healthcare organizer and health planner.
No matter which career path you end up pursuing, you'll need some healthcare-related experience if you want to be competitive in your job search and gain access to the full range of opportunities.
"People sometimes expect to land a management role right out of school with no healthcare experience," Turner says. "It never happens. Healthcare experience is essential."
How to get it? If you eventually want to pursue a high-level job in a clinical area, Turner says, "clinical tech, certified nursing assistant and phlebotomist roles are terrific." If you aspire to a nonclinical leadership position, on the other hand, start by working in an administrative assistant role in the business office or as a receptionist or admissions clerk, Turner advises.