MHA vs Healthcare MBA: Which Program Is Right For You?

Raychel Ria

Raychel Ria

Agramon-Gacayan, BSN, RN, MPM

Updated & Fact Checked: 04.03.2024

For those who are interested in leading and managing healthcare organizations, two educational options usually come to mind: a Master in Health Administration (MHA) and a Healthcare Master in Business Administration (MBA). So what should you pick? Let’s dive into the similarities and differences of these graduate degrees to find out.


An MHA program is a specialist degree that is focused solely on healthcare administration. The curriculum includes business courses but is taught from a healthcare viewpoint. As such, MHA students are not only taught to improve revenue but to enhance the organization’s healthcare outcomes as well.


While there are many MHA programs in the US and Canada, only a select few are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). These programs are deemed to have:

  • High-quality education
  • Impressive national rankings
  • Top-tier students
  • Best practices
  • Industry-exclusive partnerships
  • Strategies for continuous improvement
  • Access to scholarship programs


Applicants must have a good undergraduate GPA, ideally 3.0 or higher. Some schools may ask for a Graduate Record Exam test score, although many have decided to nix this requirement.

Healthcare experience is also a must, with traditional programs requiring at least 1-3 years of experience. Executive MHA programs, on the other hand, demand 5 years or more of experience.

MHA Curriculum

MHA programs usually cover the following courses:

  • Health policy
  • Healthcare management and organization
  • Health administration ethics
  • Strategic planning and marketing of healthcare services
  • Health system financing and reimbursement
  • Health human resource management
  • Health information systems
  • Long-term care management
  • Health research

Depending on the school, a student may need to complete a thesis/research paper and/or undergo an administrative residency program.

MHA programs, whether taken online or in-campus, can last anywhere from 2-3 years as they often require a minimum of 45 credit units. That said, there are accelerated programs that full-time students can finish in a year.

Healthcare MBA

A Healthcare MBA program provides students with management and industry-specific expertise through business and health administration courses. This generalist graduate degree usually comes in two forms: Healthcare administration and healthcare management.

Healthcare administration focuses on human resources, staffing, and day-to-day operations. Healthcare management, meanwhile, is all about running the entire organization. As such, it deals with financial strategies and business efficiency, among many other things.


Many schools offer a Healthcare MBA program, but only a few are accredited by these three governing bodies:

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

Founded in 1916, AACSB is considered the most prestigious accreditor for business schools. It takes AACSB about five years to accredit a program based on educational excellence, student success, curriculum development, and published research.

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs

ACBSP accredits business programs worldwide, thus giving schools that are recognized with global recognition. Accreditation of the program takes about three years and is measured through educational excellence, student success, and continuous improvement pledges.

International Accreditation Council for Business Education

IACBE accreditation takes about 2-4 years. Compared to the above-mentioned organizations, it focuses on educational outcomes and teaching processes.


Similar to MHA requirements, Healthcare MBA programs require a good GPA score and years of administrative experience. Some may also require the submission of a GRE or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score.

Healthcare MBA Curriculum

Healthcare MBA students are usually taught the following foundational business courses:

  • Accounting
  • Corporate finance
  • Strategic management
  • Marketing management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Information systems

The curriculum also includes healthcare-specific courses, such as:

  • Healthcare organization management
  • Health economics
  • Healthcare finance and reimbursement
  • Healthcare fraud and law regulation

Healthcare MBA students may also pursue certifications alongside their degree. For example, many schools offer a Lean Six Sigma Certification, which demonstrates the student’s proficiency in continuous process improvement and business efficiency.

Online or in-campus MBA programs usually take 1-2 years to finish, depending on course load and study status. After all, MBAs require fewer credit units (minimum of 36.)

Which Program Should You Choose?

Given the many similarities between the MHA and Healthcare MBA programs, you may have a hard time deciding which to take. As such, be sure to consider these factors before lodging your application:

Skill Set

A specialist skill set, which an MHA provides, is preferred by many healthcare employers as the industry faces unique issues and challenges. The general business skills offered by a Healthcare MBA program are helpful, but they are not as exhaustive as the competencies you’ll gain from an MHA program.

Work Environment and Career Transition

As mentioned, MHA teaches industry-specific skills. As such, graduates are usually limited to working in healthcare institutions, such as hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, governmental health agencies, health facilities, and biomedical research centers. The program is perfect for professionals who see themselves working in healthcare for as long as they can.

Healthcare MBA graduates, meanwhile, are not limited to the above-mentioned institutions. Because they are also taught core business courses, they can qualify for C-suite positions in other industries.

Career Path

Despite the differences in curriculums, MHA and Healthcare MBA graduates are considered highly qualified to take on the following roles:

  • Hospital Chief Executive Officer. Responsible for the organization’s overall performance, they are the go-to person for top-level decisions.
  • Hospital Chief Operations Officer. As the second-highest ranking official in the system, they are in charge of overseeing plans that improve performance and profitability.
  • Healthcare Consultant. As an industry expert, they are tasked to provide healthcare institutions with insights and strategies on how to improve their performance and services.
  • Pharmaceutical Executive. This senior-level employee helps ensure profitability by overseeing production levels, regulation compliance, and many other processes.

Because Healthcare MBA programs have a heavy emphasis on business finance, its graduates are preferred for jobs that require budgeting or revenue management, such as that of a Hospital Chief Financial Officer.


As mentioned, MHA and Healthcare MBA graduates can secure executive-level jobs. However, since the latter are not limited to jobs in healthcare organizations, they can make a little more money. According to Payscale, MBA graduates earn an average base salary of $88,000 a year. MHA graduates, meanwhile, take home an average pay of $80,000 a year.

Program Cost

MHA programs usually cost less than Healthcare MBAs (be sure to explore our list of affordable MHA programs here.) But, as mentioned, graduates of the latter usually earn more than those of the former.

The Takeaway

Both MHA and Healthcare MBA programs pave the way for administrative careers. Pay ranges don’t differ much as well. However, MHA graduates have a specialist skill set, which limits them to managing healthcare institutions. MBA graduates, with their generalist skills, can easily transition to other industries as needed.

Lastly, if you’re looking to earn the educational benefits of both, there’s always an option to take an MHA-MBA dual degree.