There has long been a perception that the fields of public health and health care administration are essentially two sides of the same coin. For many, the image of “public health” is that of a clinic provider in an impoverished area, while the health care administrator is little more than a bean counter who has little to no involvement with patients. Both of these descriptions are extreme oversimplifications, though, and only capture a tiny part of what either field entails.
In fact, there is more overlap between public health and health care administration than most people think. While they remain separate disciplines, each with a specific focus and priorities, there is also a growing number of health care facilities looking to hire administrators with experience in the realm of public health. Opting to earn an MPH degree, then, can actually prove to be an even more versatile degree than you might think if you are considering a career in an administrative capacity.
MPH vs. MHA: What’s the Difference?
To begin the discussion of how a master’s in public health (MPH) can help you achieve a role in the hospital executive suite, it’s useful to look at the primary differences between that degree and a master’s in health care administration (MHA).
In truth, most programs in both disciplines require coursework in a few key areas, such as public health systems, environmental health, the marketing of public health, health policy, and the business aspects of health. It’s generally within the concentration-specific courses and electives where the program focus changes, with MHA students continuing their studies on the business aspects of health care and how to manage health care systems and programs, while those who select public health focus their attention on more specific public health issues and research and measurement.
MPH programs are primarily concerned with the prevention of diseases and injury and developing programs and resources to ensure the health of the population as a whole. Health care administration deals more with the delivery of health care, and the management of individual patients within the context of the facility environment.
Still, because of the overlap in the general skills, there is potential for MPH graduates to move into executive positions within health care facilities. However, because there is still a perception that public health programs are focused almost entirely on the science aspects of health care, rather than the business and administrative aspects, it may not always be immediately apparent that a public health background is useful.
Roles for Public Health in Hospital Administration
Thanks in large part to the Affordable Care Act, many health care facilities, health care systems, and other health businesses, like insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, are looking for ways to reduce health care costs while simultaneously improving the quality of care. There is also a renewed focus on population-based health care, and using the best practices learned from caring for specific types of patients to care for others with similar conditions.
Public health, with its focus on education and diseases prevention within specific populations and communities, is uniquely positioned to help with these efforts. Many organizations are now looking to hire public health professionals to serve in roles like Environmental Health Director, Communication Specialist, Health Educator, and other administrative functions to put their knowledge of population health to work. In addition, a growing number of hospitals are hiring public health administrators to serve as part of their executive team, ensuring that specific public health related issues are addressed and that programs and initiatives are developed and implemented with public health best practices in mind.
Another important role for public health professionals is within emergency preparedness and management. With emergency preparation a priority for many local health facilities and systems, public health professionals are a key part of the planning process. MPH graduates often find jobs as Emergency Preparedness Directors, working closely with local authorities and agencies to develop and implement disaster response plans, using their knowledge of public health to help ensure that the impact of the disaster is minimal and that the community is kept informed.
So while health administration and public health may seem like different fields, they are actually very closely tied to each other, and more and more hospital executive suites are welcoming public health experts. If you have a passion for health and want to be involved in both the delivery and the management of health care, then a MPH may be the right degree program for you.