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A Master of Healthcare Administration is very different from a Master of Business Administration—here’s how.

Healthcare in America is big business—$3.5 trillion a year big.1 But is the healthcare business like other businesses?

That’s the question you may be asking if you’re deciding between a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Do you really need a healthcare administration degree to succeed in healthcare, or is an advanced business degree just as good?


To help you answer that question, here’s how a master’s in healthcare administration differs from a master’s in business administration.

The Core Difference

When discussing how healthcare is different from other industries, healthcare expert Dr. Jorg Westermann points out that healthcare has professional associations separate from other business associations, academic associations separate from other business-focused academic associations, and—yes—degree programs separate from other business and management degree programs. And there’s a good reason for this.

“Healthcare is so significantly different,” Westermann says. “It has its own reimbursement mechanism, which is based on third-party payers … it has its own ethics issues, including life and death issues … [and] it has its own policy issues, with specific government regulations.” All of that combines to create an industry with its own unique challenges—challenges that are not fully addressed at even the best business schools. Those schools and their business administration degree programs are for people who want to go into traditional business. MHA programs, on the other hand, are for people who want to gain the specific knowledge needed to go into healthcare administration.

Differences in Courses

An MBA program will likely have courses on leadership, fostering innovation, competing in a global community, and other subjects designed to help you become a business manager or consultant. You can also specialize in specific areas such as corporate finance, human resource management, marketing, or social entrepreneurship. Some of the top MBA programs even offer a healthcare management specialization—but that specialization still requires you to take core business courses.

All courses taken in an MHA program should be about issues related to healthcare. Typical courses include Contemporary Topics in the U.S. Healthcare Delivery System; Law, Ethics, and Policy in Healthcare Administration; Healthcare Operations Management; and Healthcare Quality Management. In other words, MHA courses should be designed to give you an in-depth understanding of the business of healthcare, while MBA courses take a broader approach to business.

When it’s time to select a program, be sure to carefully review course titles and descriptions. Some universities use the same courses for their MBA and MHA programs, which won’t provide the healthcare focus you’re looking for. Make sure the course titles and descriptions speak specifically to healthcare.

Differences in Learning Outcomes

When you graduate from a business administration master’s program, you’ll be prepared to take on the challenges faced by most businesses. In some instances, those challenges overlap with the challenges faced in the healthcare industry. But healthcare has its own unique challenges as well, ranging from complicated revenue streams to layers of government regulation. It’s those unique challenges that an MHA degree prepares you to handle.

How Can You Earn Your MHA Degree or MBA Degree?

Whether you plan to start or advance a healthcare administration career—or start or advance a management career in a different industry—you can earn the right degree through online learning. MHA programs and MBA programs are both available at online universities and, in both cases, the online education format can make earning your degree more possible.

In an online graduate degree program, you can complete your coursework from home, taking classes via the internet. An online MHA program or online MBA program will also allow you to choose when in the day you attend class, making it possible to continue working full time while you earn your degree.

If you want to work in healthcare administration, an MHA degree is a fantastic choice. If you want to work in another business field, then an MBA degree is probably the right choice. But no matter which degree you choose, online learning can help you reach your goals.

Dr. Jorg Westermann joined Walden University in 2006 and is currently the dean of the university’s College of Heath Sciences.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,