Health Care Administration vs. Public Health: What You Need to Know

Are you ready to make a bigger difference in the health care field? Whether you’re more interested in the business aspect of health care or prefer working directly with patients and their families, careers in both health care administration and public health can be highly rewarding and fulfilling.

If you’re debating between a career path in health care administration or public health, it can be difficult to choose between the two. By understanding how these fields differ from each other and the kind of education you’d need to break into each, you can make an informed decision regarding your future.

What Is Health Care Administration?

Health care administration refers to the management of medical facilities at the business level. Those working in health care administration may be responsible for anything from operations management and human resources to inventory and supply chain management. Health care administrators also tend to handle more of the everyday business operations of a facility, including:

  • Finance and accounting
  • Patient information management
  • Regulatory compliance

Health care administration workers may oversee entire medical facilities (such as physicians’ offices) or may work in larger facilities (such as hospitals) overseeing one department.

Regardless, working as a health care administrator requires strong leadership skills, communication skills, and a solid background in business and operations management.

What Is Public Health?

When looking at public health versus health care administration, there are some notable differences to keep in mind. Whereas health care administration focuses more on the business and operations aspect of running a medical facility, public health tends to be more about managing programs that promote health and wellness while protecting the well-being of entire populations or communities.

More specifically, those working in public health are more concerned about developing health and wellness programs within their communities. They also help with disease prevention and infectious disease response. In addition, public health workers may advocate for changes to health policy as a means of protecting individuals and their communities.

Those interested in the public health realm need strong leadership skills as well as a solid understanding of health policy and overall population health trends. Likewise, many public health professionals work alongside other community health experts to develop new policies and programs, so being able to collaborate and work as a team is essential.

MPH vs. MHA: What Kind of Education Do You Need?

Professionals in health care administration and public health generally hold advanced degrees. A Master of Public Health (MPH) or Master of Health Care Administration (MHA) is usually required to work in either area. This means you would also need to have earned a bachelor’s degree to be accepted into either graduate degree program; in most cases, your undergraduate degree should be in a related field (such as nursing or a similar area of study).

Master of Public Health (MPH)

A master’s degree in public health provides students with the foundational knowledge needed to identify and address health care issues in their fieldwork. Typically, these programs of study take anywhere from two to three years to complete, depending on the number of credit hours required and whether a student is enrolled part or full time.

Topics covered in an MPH program can vary (especially if specializations or concentrations are available), but some common subjects of study within this kind of degree program may include:

  • Chronic and infectious diseases
  • Environmental health
  • Occupational health
  • Substance abuse and mental health
  • Epidemiology
  • Health policy and management

Master of Health Care Administration (MHA)

A master’s degree in health care administration is also an advanced degree program that typically takes between two and three years to complete. However, its areas of focus are more likely to involve administrative and operational topics, including:

  • Clinical management
  • Health information systems
  • Data management
  • Accounting and budgeting
  • Health care law and policy
  • Financial management

Career Opportunities in Public Health and Health Care Administration

There are many potential job opportunities and career paths throughout the health care industry for people who hold either a MPH or MHA.

Public Health Career Paths

Several common careers for those with an MPH include:

  • Health educator — This type of health care professional creates and presents programs to better the health and wellness of populations.
  • Epidemiologist — This professional works for a federal agency to study diseases and research ways to treat and prevent them. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for epidemiologists is expected to grow an incredible 27% between 2022 and 2032.
  • Biostatistician — This health care expert is responsible for analyzing health care data for communities. Such data is used to make important public health policy recommendations and changes that can affect large numbers of people.

Jobs in Health Care Administration

An MHA could prepare you for any number of roles in the health care administration field, with some of the most common including:

  • Health information manager — This health care professional is responsible for the safe and secure storage of sensitive health records within hospitals, federal agencies, and other medical facilities.
  • Medical and health services manager — This individual works as a clinical manager or administrator in a health care setting, such as a hospital department or medical facility. These experts are responsible for day-to-day operations that can range from hiring and training staff to putting together reports and adhering to budgets.

The Impact of Public Health and Health Care Administration on Society

Both public health and health care administration play critical roles in the quality of health care patients receive throughout communities and within medical facilities. While public health professionals may be more directly responsible for working with populations firsthand, health care administrators play more of a behind-the-scenes role, ensuring these facilities have the staffing, supplies, and systems in place to deliver the highest standard of care.

Regardless of whether you decide on a career in public health or health care administration, you can rest assured you’ll be doing your part to make a difference in the lives of others.

MPH or MHA: How to Choose

If you’re more drawn to the business of running a health care facility, then a degree in health care administration is probably a better fit for you. On the other hand, if you’re interested in working directly with patients and populations to improve health and well-being, a career in public health could be your calling.

At Excelsior University, we’re proud to offer a Master of Science in Health Care Administration program that could prepare you to overcome the complex challenges many modern health care facilities face. This program consists of 36 credit hours, with the ability to transfer up to 18 credits and no GRE required. Learn more about this online MHA program, or start your application today!