Health Administration Master’s Degrees: Informatics vs. MHA vs. MPH

5 min read

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.

What Is a Master’s in Public Health (MPH)?

According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), “public health 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.”

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 policy
  • Population health and social determinants of health

A Master’s in Public Health degree should be accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Public Health?

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

  • Health education/outreach 
  • First response
  • Restaurant inspection
  • Health education 
  • Science and research
  • Nutrition
  • Epidemiology
  • Public health (medicine, nursing, etc.)
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Health and safety engineering
  • Public health program management 
  • Medical or health services management 

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

  • Healthcare Consultant ($81,504 average; up to $116,000)
  • Public Health Analyst ($64,451 average; up to $86,000)
  • Industrial Hygienist ($81,714 average; up to $120,000)
  • Epidemiologist ($62,751 average; up to $88,000)
  • Infection Control Practitioner ($72,780 average; up to $96,000)
  • Environmental Health & Safety Manager ($90,287 average; up to $126,000)

What Is a Master’s in Health Administration (MHA)?

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 and strategic planning 
  • Law, ethics and policy in health administration
  • Health care human resources management
  • Health care financial management and reimbursement 
  • Organizational behavior and leadership theory
  • Health information technology, management and systems
  • Health care quality and patient safety 

A Master’s in Health Administration should be backed by the Commision on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Health Administration?

There is a lot you can do with this type of advanced education. Potential career paths for degree holders include:

  • Clinical analytics
  • Clinical information systems
  • Health information technology
  • Health information administration
  • Electronic health record (EHR) implementation and/or training
  • Population health informatics 
  • Nursing informatics

A Payscale listing of job titles and salaries for healthcare professionals who earn a master’s in health informatics degree reports many roles with six-figure income potential, including:

  • Clinical Informatics Specialist ($85,140 average; up to $116,000)
  • Health Informatics Specialist ($69,626 average; up to $95,000)
  • Project Manager ($79,185 average; up to $108,000)
  • Chief Information Officer ($136,987 average; up to $193,000) 
  • Informatics Nurse ($108,485 average; up to $132,000)
  • Health Information Manager ($79,697 average; up to $105,000)

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 offered at the 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 in addition to the technical/programmatic coursework provides students a framework for understanding how informatics supports and complements health care delivery and hospital administration.

Which Health Administration Master’s Degree Is Right for You?

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 and Prevention.

A Master’s in Health Administration is geared toward professionals who aspire to leadership roles in hospitals, medical groups and heathcare systems that require a comprehensive understanding of how business and legal issues impact the delivery of quality health care services.

A Master’s in Health Informatics is designed for those who are interested in working in data analytics and modeling, health information and governance, process optimization, clinical analytics or any of the evolving roles involved with the growing health informatics discipline.

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.
  • The program’s faculty is composed of experienced health care professionals, not simply academicians.
  • Flexible class scheduling allows you to choose between full- or part-time, online or in-person. Class days and times should be scheduled at a time that fits your current work and family commitments.
  • 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.

Exploring Your Future in Health Informatics?

Download free Career Guide: “A Career in Health Care Informatics: How Big Data & Technology Are Creating New Opportunities to Work in Health Care”

Health Informatics Career Guide