April 22, 2021

Is There a Difference Between a Degree in Health Care Management and Health Care Administration?

Much changed in 2020, including healthcare. The Covid-19 pandemic has left healthcare facilities struggling to work short-staffed because healthcare providers and responders have gotten sick or have become exhausted and burned out. Vaccines are finally ready to administer, but who gets the first doses, and how will the medication reach underserved populations? How will the over-taxing of hospitals with a disease that disproportionately affects the poor and the elderly who may rely on Medicaid and Medicare, programs that do not allow full reimbursement, impact healthcare facilities? The answers to those timely questions provide some insight into the differences in healthcare management vs. healthcare administration.

To the layman, healthcare management and healthcare administration sound like the same fields of study. Is There a Difference Between a Degree in Health Care Management and Health Care Administration? Although there are many similarities between the two degrees, their career paths can be quite different.

Laymen are not the only ones who “muddy the water” between the two professions. Employers such as healthcare facilities and governmental organizations often post positions on job boards that use the terms interchangeably. Universities offer nearly identical degree programs capriciously listed in their catalogs as healthcare administration or as healthcare management. Still, there is a difference in
healthcare management vs. healthcare administration. A simple explanation is that administrators deal with issues of the facility and that managers deal with the staff.

Going back to the issue of the pandemic, the professional who deals with the logistics of the vaccines is a healthcare manager. Of course, the Covid-19 vaccine presents very specialized and complicated issues such as how to keep the vials of vaccine cold and how to reach isolated populations with the medicine, but at the heart of the matter even the national director associated with vaccine safety and distribution is a healthcare manager. Managers are concerned with healthcare facilities and physicians’ practices along with things like governmental restrictions, pricing, claims recovery and other financial issues. They must even consider things like replacing aging medical equipment fatigue and facility repair. That person will have business acumen and understand how to generate good healthcare outcomes in a cost-effective manner. In fact, healthcare managers often specialize in accounting. Additionally, while they have to understand medical terminology and coding practices, the intent of healthcare managers is in billing and handling insurance claims. The manager focuses on the “big picture” of the facility or even the service delivery system.

A recent off-shoot of the generalist healthcare manager, according to the Journal of Healthcare Management, is the Chief Research Information Officer. The CRIO is concerned with collecting and using data to do everything from “paying the bills,” as the magazine says, to making certain that facilities are compliant with federal regulations. They track and manage the purchase, maintenance and replacement of medical equipment such as robotic surgery arms and X-ray machines. So, in addition to business expertise and abilities, this new type of manager must understand software and data fields.

Health Care Management

Is There a Difference Between a Degree in Health Care Management and Health Care Administration?

A career in health care management nearly always requires an advanced degree, such as an MBA in Healthcare Management. A career in health care management requires employees to manage mainly the business aspects of health care offices.

An undergraduate degree earned in health care management focuses on coursework in entry-level management and effective communication techniques. A student can expect to learn health industry regulations, leadership techniques in healthcare, and caring for patients’ needs from an administrative standpoint.

A graduate degree earned in this field focuses on issues in health care organizations such as policies and laws, finances, and human resources.

Closer Look at Degree Programs

Universities may have separate degrees for healthcare management and healthcare administration, or they may lump them together in one degree. Often, students will graduate with a master’s degree in healthcare management/healthcare administration adding concentrations like risk assessment or managed care that differentiate the programs.

Both degrees are based dually in healthcare and in business. They both contain courses on medical terminology, health law, ethics, healthcare organizations, healthcare economics, and other fundamentals. Master’s programs allow for specialization in areas like global health, hospital administration, health informatics, mental health and addictions, geriatric health and others.

Ideal for a healthcare manager, the MBA with a specialization in healthcare gives the student a thorough background in business with the specialized knowledge needed to work in healthcare. The bachelor’s degree programs are basic business-oriented with an overview of the healthcare system.

Beyond the Bachelor’s

Although some positions as healthcare managers are available with only an undergraduate degree, graduate degrees are becoming the “gold standard” in the field. Some people go straight through undergraduate programs to graduate programs without a break. That is not common, nor is it necessarily a good idea. In addition to student burn-out, some graduate schools only admit people with work experience to their graduate healthcare manager programs. As a side note, working for a few years before entering a graduate program makes paying for the advanced degree easier.

Curriculum in a master’s program in healthcare management include courses like business foundations, health economics, data analysis, operations and safety chain management, policy in healthcare and the regulation of healthcare industries.

Master’s programs in healthcare administration often include management of healthcare systems courses, global health systems, finance for healthcare, healthcare marketplace and others. There are usually courses in psychology and organizational behavior as well.

Again, the main difference is that management centers on the facility including financial aspects and billing, regulations and law and business techniques including the collection and analysis of data. Administration concerns itself with leadership and human asset management along with other aspects of running a healthcare facility including some business skills.
Certifications and continuing education are also important in this profession. There are several organizations for healthcare managers and administrators as well as some for managers that offer certifications. The American Institute of Health Care Professionals, for instance, has a certification program for managers that involves completion of 220 “contact hours of continuing education.” The applicant must either be a member of a certain demographic or have five years of experience as a healthcare manager. Upon completion of the program, the professional can add the initials HCM-C to their credentials The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that these managers can expect to draw a median salary of $100,980. The highest pay in this profession, however, is for health information managers like the CHIO. According to the BLS, these executives can earn a median $104,690. Management consultants can earn even more. The chief financial officer of a hospital can easily earn more than $200,000, and a CEO of a hospital system like or a hospital system such as Kaiser Permanente or Good Samaritan, can make $500,000 or more.

The Healthcare Financial Management Association, or HFMA, is an excellent online source to learn more about issues health care managers face.

There are many job opportunities available to graduates of a health care management degree program. Some of the places a person in this field can expect to work include:

  • Government health care facilities
  • Consulting firms
  • Hospitals
  • Information technology companies
  • Medical device companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Outpatient care centers and
  • Regulatory agencies

Health Care Administration

Is There a Difference Between a Degree in Health Care Management and Health Care Administration?

Salaries and Specialties

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that these managers can expect to draw a median salary of $100,980. The highest pay in this profession, however, is for health information managers like the CHIO. According to the BLS, these executives can earn a median $104,690. Management consultants can earn even more. The chief financial officer of a hospital can easily earn more than $200,000, and a CEO of a hospital system like or a hospital system such as Kaiser Permanente or Good Samaritan, can make $500,000 or more.

Healthcare Administrators

So, while the healthcare manager is looking at the “big picture,” the administrator is looking at one facility or department. He or she is thinking about the daily operations of the facility like staffing and budgets.

Going back to the issue of the pandemic, healthcare administrators are the professionals who must deal with overworked staff who also struggle with depression and with fear. Nurses, for instance, commonly work long shifts, but during the pandemic they have been asked to stretch even those hours. Overtime can cause nurse fatigue and burnout. The reality is that, apart from recruiting more people to become nurses, healthcare managers must understand creative scheduling and supportive services such as counseling. Leadership ability is a vital skill in this profession. Communication is important as well. Managers work hand-in-glove with HR departments to utilize the “talent” in the employee pools in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

Neither administrators nor managers usually interact with patients face-to-face, though nursing home administrators may have residents peek in to their offices with issues to be solved. Administrators, however, make a big difference in the quality of healthcare patients receive by addressing issues such as staffing and quality control in healthcare delivery.

A career in health care administration focuses on the management of staff at health care facilities. This includes the finer details of health care offices like staff scheduling, hiring and wage issues, patient fees and billing, and supply records. Most health care administrators start off their careers getting hands-on experience as a CNA or nurse before obtaining a degree in this field.

Health care administrators need to stay abreast of various topics in the healthcare field. MDLinx offers a great resource for learning about topics related to the field.

Unlike a career in health care management, many job opportunities only require an undergraduate degree for entry level jobs. There is growth potential for those seeking to obtain a master’s degree in health care administration.

Some job opportunities a person with a degree in health care administration can expect to see include:

  • Human resource manager
  • Social service manager
  • Training and development manager
  • Practice manager
  • Health insurance specialist and
  • Administrative services manager

According to the bureau of labor and statistics, the job outlook for both of these types of health care careers is growing much faster than average, at about 17 percent. This means that a person obtaining a degree in either of these areas can expect to find a job quickly with little concern for job loss.

The salaries and job duties for healthcare administrators depend largely upon where the professional is employed. That refers to the area of specialty as well as to the geographic area. For instance, a recent job listing was for someone to work in the US Department of Human Services as a supervisory health insurance specialist. There was no education requisite for applicants, but they would be in a supervisory position within a Medicare office, directing staff. The salary was $120,000 to $160,000.

Another opening was for a nursing home administrator. This person would have all the responsibilities of a healthcare administrator and perform many managerial tasks as well. Nursing home administrators earn around $100,980 according to the BLS, but those in smaller facilities where the administrator would also have the responsibilities of a manager, can earn significantly less. One recent listing on a job board gave a salary of $75,000.
The number one location for healthcare administration, considering both job growth and salary, is California. This is followed by Florida and Massachusetts.

The question initially posed about whether there is a difference in the two professions, then, can be answered yes and no. They are as disparate or as similar as the person asking the picture sees them. Employers may certainly view them as the same occupation under two names. Job boards listing responsibilities for openings in both management and administration often list the same duties. The major difference seems to be in the focus of the jobs, but even then they overlap.

Our quandary about the Covid-19 vaccines seems to help a bit. Managers are intent on getting the vaccines approved and disseminating information about them, arranging transportation and storage of the medicines and getting them delivered to the populations that need them. Administrators are the professionals who structure nurse schedules, make certain people are adhering to mandates and procedures and who run the facilities in spite of departmental and personal issues.

Is There a Difference Between a Degree in Health Care Management and Health Care Administration?

The only people who see the differences clearly are the students who have either a predilection toward business and data or an ability to lead, encourage and organize. The programs differ in their emphasis on business, finance and regulations or on regulations, finance and human capital.

The differences between obtaining a degree in health care management and health care administration are distinctive and need to be looked into before deciding which career to pursue. The question, Is There a Difference Between a Degree in Health Care Management and Health Care Administration?, is an intricate one, but easily answered when there is adequate information available.

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