Health Care

MHA vs. MPH vs. MS in Health Informatics: Which Master’s Degree is Best for You?

Jonathan Mack PhD, RN-BC, NP

Jonathan Mack PhD, RN-BC, NP

Director of Health Care and Nursing Informatics and Health Systems Leadership

Health care is one of the healthiest job markets in the U.S. today, with an estimated 2.4 million new jobs expected to be added by 2026. There is also a talent shortage in the fields of health care administration and health care informatics, meaning that employers are paying top dollar for candidates who possess the right combination of skills and education.

Because many of the most sought-after positions in health care administration and informatics typically require a master’s degree, many aspiring health care managers or administrators are evaluating their advanced degree options to determine which programs are most likely to position them for success. This post will take a closer look at three of the leading options:

  • Master’s in Public Health (MPH)
  • Master’s in Health Administration (MHA)
  • Master of Science in Health Care Informatics (MS-HCI or MSHI)

Comparing these three advanced degrees will be helpful as you evaluate your options in the context of your own strengths, your interests and your career goals.

The MPH Option (Master’s in Public Health)

“Public health,” according to the American Public Health Association (APHA), “promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play. … From conducting scientific research to educating about health, people in the field of public health work to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.”

The focus of public health includes working to “track disease outbreaks, prevent injuries and shed light on why some of us are more likely to suffer from poor health than others,” says APHA, while also “spreading the word about ways to stay healthy and giving science-based solutions to problems.”

A Master’s in Public Health degree is considered ideal for those who want to focus on the management of community health services or public, governmental and nonprofit health care agencies. Notable career paths for those who possess a master’s in public health include running community health facilities, state health organizations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or working for agencies like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control.

Course topics in a master’s in public health program customarily include:

  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental science
  • Epidemiology
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Communications and informatics
  • Public health biology and management

Public health jobs run the gamut from vaccine researcher and HIV specialist to bioterrorism researcher and tropical disease expert. According to APHA, more traditional jobs that fall within the field of public health include:

  • Health education/outreach workers
  • First responders
  • Restaurant inspectors
  • Health educators
  • Scientists and researchers
  • Nutritionists
  • Epidemiologists
  • Public health nurses and physicians
  • Occupational health and safety professionals

A Payscale.com listing of job titles and salaries for health care professionals who earn a master’s in public health degree reports the following:

  • Health Care Consultant ($76,586 average; up to $108,000)
  • Public Health Analyst ($62,281 average; up to $84,000)
  • Industrial Hygienist ($77,320 average; up to $112,000)
  • Epidemiologist ($57,833 average; up to $78,000)
  • Infection Control Practitioner ($72,780 average; up to $96,000)
  • Environmental Health & Safety Manager ($90,287 average; up to $126,000)

The MHA Option (Master’s in Health Administration)

A Master’s in Health Administration degree (or MHA) is designed to train health care professionals who aspire to leadership roles that require a comprehensive understanding of how business and legal issues impact the delivery of quality health care services.

Course topics in a master’s in health administration program customarily include:

  • Foundations of health care administration
  • Law, ethics and policy in health administration
  • Health care human resources management
  • Health care financial management
  • Organizational behavior and leadership theory
  • Health information technology, management and systems

MHA degree programs are designed to produce skilled administrators who are needed to manage the effective delivery of services at a range of health care facilities. Potential employers include hospitals, clinics, medical practices, nursing homes, hospices and home health care organizations, as well as consulting firms, bio-pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies.

Common job responsibilities range from operations management and quality care management to policy development, hospital administration, human resources, finance and more.

A Payscale.com listing of job titles and salaries for health care professionals who earn a master’s in health administration degree details a number of roles with six-figure income potential.

  • Chief Executive Officer ($176,000 average; up to $321,000)
  • Nursing Home Administrator ($84,000 average; up to $115,000)
  • Hospital Administrator ($100,000 average; up to $193,000)
  • Health Care Consultant ($77,000 average; up to $110,000)
  • Medical Practice Manager ($66,000 average; up to $86,000)

Earning potential will vary significantly based on your geographic region, the size of the organization and your level of health care leadership experience. An additional option for those interested in this field is to earn an MBA with a concentration in health care administration.

Master of Science in Health Care Informatics

For those who are more interested in working in technology or advancing in the fast-growing discipline of health informatics, a new option exists with the M.S. in Health Care Informatics.

The field of health informatics offers an abundance of job openings and employers paying top dollar for those who possess a sought-after combination of experience and education in both health care and information technology

The Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society (HIMSS) defines health care informatics as “the integration of health-care sciences, computer science, information science and cognitive science to assist in the management of healthcare information.”

The Public Health Informatics Institute calls it “the process by which raw data turns into information and, subsequently, knowledge,” describing the discipline as “an applied information science that designs the blueprints for the complex data systems that keep information secure, usable and responsive to the user’s needs.”

In the continually evolving field of health informatics, the goal is to use data and the insights it produces to:

  • Improve patient care at the individual and clinical level
  • Improve the health of entire populations (for example, by using data to predict and even prevent outbreaks of disease in a particular geographical area)

A Payscale.com listing of job titles and salaries for health care professionals who earn a master’s in health informatics degree reports many roles with six-figure income potential, including Director of Informatics and Health Informatics Analyst as well as the following:

  • Clinical Informatics Manager ($111,746 average; up to $145,000)
  • Clinical Informatics Specialist ($88,482 average; up to $129,000)
  • Project Manager, Information Technology ($87,366 average; up to $117,000)
  • Chief Clinical Informatics Officer ($155,000 average; up to $247,000) *generally requires an M.D.
  • Nursing Informatics Director ($103,000 average; up to $150,000) *must be a licensed nurse

A master’s degree in health care informatics typically emphasizes mastery of the relevant and necessary knowledge in both health care and information technology.

For example, the Health Care Informatics master’s degree program offered at University of San Diego includes courses such as Health Care Leadership, Financial Management in Health Systems, and Strategic Planning and Management of Health Systems, in addition to the more technical coursework in systems analysis and design, knowledge management, clinical documentation and clinical analytics. The strong focus on core MHA-style business topics and skills provide students a framework for understanding how informatics supports and complements health care leadership and hospital administration.

MPH vs. MHA vs. M.S. in Health Informatics: Other Factors to Consider

Whatever advanced degree option you ultimately select, here are some of the attributes you may wish to prioritize when evaluating which option is best for you.

  • Leadership development is emphasized in the curriculum.
  • Coursework is designed to be practical and applied, not abstract or theoretical.
  • The classes offered align with your professional interests and career aspirations.
  • The university has collaborated with industry professionals and agencies to ensure that the program has a relevant, real-world focus.
  • Faculty is comprised of experienced health care professionals, not simply academicians.
  • Flexible class scheduling makes it possible for you to complete your coursework while continuing to work full-time.
  • The program has achieved regional accreditation, which is favored over national accreditation and is more widely accepted and trusted in terms of transfer credit and eligibility for employer tuition assistance programs.
  • The path toward graduation is reasonable in duration, ideally two years for a master’s degree.
  • The graduation rate for the program is high, indicating there is a low drop-out rate and that most of the students who enroll are able to complete the program.

Benefits of Earning Your Degree Online vs. On-Campus

Many working professionals who are considering a master’s degree prefer an online format because it offers more flexibility to schedule academic responsibilities around the demands of professional obligations and family life. Fortunately, top universities now offer online degree programs that are just as academically rigorous, if not more so, than their on-campus counterparts.

The most effective online master’s degree programs typically emphasize robust interaction with fellow students, enabling professionals working in a variety of settings around the country to learn from one another’s diverse experiences.

Another important indicator of the quality of an advanced degree program is whether it has been endorsed by industry advocacy organizations. For example, the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) accredits graduate programs in health care management (MHA) programs, and HIMSS confers Approved Education Partner status on degree programs (such as University of San Diego’s innovative online M.S. in Health Care Informatics) that meet rigorous standards for delivering “world-class, effective healthcare and health IT education.”

Whether online or on-campus, the goal is to select a master’s degree program that is designed to make you a more competitive job candidate and open the door for greater advancement and earning potential.

 

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