Should I Get an MPH, MPA, or MHA?

career development college education graduate degree mha mpa mph Dec 12, 2023

Are you hearing about master’s degrees lately and feeling pressured to choose one that suits you best for your career options and budget? Are you concerned whether or not you made the “right choice” with your master’s degree now that you’re in the job hunt? Let me give you some reassurance – regardless of whether you’re considering a master’s level degree or have one already – that you did not choose wrong. There is no WRONG choice. But there are choices that can give you an edge within certain sectors of the public health industry.

After 3 years of guiding hundreds of public health professionals and students with their job searches and career trajectories, even pivoting from other disciplines -  trust me when I say that you are still learning your options as you discover the job market. The reality is that while in school, you barely scratch the surface of job options and usually they're presented to you through networking opportunities, guest speakers, and maybe a resume revamp from the college career center. But that’s it! It’s only until you actively apply for public health jobs that you FEEL for yourself how much you have to understand requirements, qualifications, and all the jargon that goes into these job announcements.

So as you start to dig and complete your due diligence to find suitable jobs with your educational background and experience, you will start to notice something stated at the bottom of these job announcements….

  • Master's degree preferred
  • Graduate degree in relevant field
  • Master's degree in relevant field required.
  • MPH, MHA, MBA or relevant degree
  • Master of Public Health, Social Work, Psychology, or relevant field
  • Master of Business Administration, Healthcare Administration, Social Work or relevant degree required

When you take a closer look... you realize that you meet the qualifications of ANY of these listed above as long as you have either a Master of Public Health, Master of Public Administration, or Master of Healthcare Administration (or related field). 

So for your reading pleasure, I’ve broken down what I’ve learned about the 3 top cited degrees in public health jobs and how to position your degree in the industry if you have either: Master of Public Health, Master of Public Administration, or Master of Healthcare Administration. 

And while your next question is "but what if my degree is completely different from those 3" or " what about my concentration? doesn't epidemiology concentration matter too?" I would like to keep this layer of the conversation to the top 3 degrees CITED on jobs only. And yes your degree is likely under the umbrella of "relevant degree" so you're ok. (For now let's not include concentrations or specialities, more to come on concentrations in the next blog!)

Again, these are reflections from a public health career coach and having noted instances when degrees have helped or hindered job seekers in public health. The best way to describe what I've noticed is by reminding us of the 6 main types of organization that hire public health professionals or those with related degrees like public administration or healthcare administration. Here, I list the order the PREFERRED DEGREES EARNED by nonprofits or large nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, hospitals and health plans, universities and research, philanthropy foundations, and private consulting groups.

Now taking into account these 6 types of companies, in general, this is how they RANK their preference for their workforce IF they have any one of the degrees listed. This means that when they look at candidates, the hiring managers are leaning towards one degree more than another especially if your colleagues and counterparts also hold that same degree. But there are plenty of companies with a mixed bag of degrees among their public health workforce, so you still have a good chance at getting the job if you position your experience correctly and use their key terms (as we practice and teach in the HIRED Masterclass). Absorb the following comments with openness and know that this comes from my own professional opinion as a career coach in public health, given the extent I help you all apply and secure these public health jobs across all industries:


      1) MPH 2) MHA 3) MPA

Nonprofits are community-based organizations are prefer individuals who are comfortable interfacing with the public in outreach, fundraising, and just anyone who is willing to engage constituents or stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. Yes, social determinants of health and health equity are big parts of the mission for nonprofits. Hence they lean more towards public health disciplines when hiring their workforce over health administration or public administration, unless the nature of the mission for the nonprofit is within healthcare or access to care. This is why MHA and MPA can still compete against MPH - it all depends on the mission and specialty of the company. While in general, MPH is welcomed and easily understood as a degree for nonprofits and large NGOs, so you can't go wrong with this choice. 


     1) MPA 2) MPH 3) MHA

This can also depend on the department or sector, for example Medicare vs CDC could lean more on one versus the other like MHA or MPH, respectively. But if you're hesitant on the scope of work and whether or not you want to dedicate yourself to public health entirely as a career, you can still be part of the discussion and get great paying jobs in government with a Master in Public Administration and jump between departments. In general, you have a greater chance to enter into government roles with an MPA degree because it covers the disciplines of public service administration, project management, contracts management, compliance and regulations, and even leading as a civil servant. So if you want to work in government, MPA should be a heavy consideration for you but ONLY if you really want to commit to government jobs of varying skillsets. 


      1) MHA 2) MPA 3)MPH

The Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) is listed first because it is made specifically to meet the demands of the healthcare field. Master of Public Administration is listed second because many transferable skills come from this degree and training, PLUS there are fewer public health or community benefit roles in healthcare compared to other jobs in administrative and operational support (non-clinical) roles. If you have an MPH and want to work in hospitals, I highly recommend you search more jobs using the term "Community Benefit" because that's the name of the departments for each hospital's non-profit initiatives and grant-making practices.


      1) MPH 2) MHA 3) MPA

Due to the nature of universities and research, obviously they are a hub for just about ANY type of research and look to advance fields across the board. Something you need to know is that universities work to either serve their campus and students OR work to serve the community. I see many jobs for universities that want a Campus Health Educator PLUS another job that states they want a Community Health Educator for a youth initiative in the area. So you simply have to be aware of the TARGET AUDIENCE when you apply to jobs. Some thing with research - know your target audience. If you can identify the audience the job will serve, then you can position your background and degree accordingly. I stated MPH first simply because you're more likely to be engaged with the public or community members through health education or research coordination with an MPH and you can keep growing from there. On the other hand, MHAs and MPAs would be okay, but you need to lift target audiences and how you engage with them. So if you're behind the desk and not stewarding patients, participants, helping with questions and answers then it's a harder to land these jobs. 


       1) MHA 2) MPH 3)MPA

These are companies that are usually subcontracted by government sectors, hospitals, and other private groups. So they typically seek specialists or someone who's been in a very specific environment like within substance use, Medicare expansion, military health, etc. So it mostly depends on what company and department they are hiring from. Example private consulting groups include Guidehouse, EY consulting, A&C Consulting, LEIDOS, and many more. MHA is cited first because MANY of these consulting groups work with healthcare for data needs, analysis, audits, implementation, quality control and so much more. So often times they naturally want someone with healthcare background but you can still compete with an MPH or MPA for these roles if you READ THE JOB correctly and align their key terms to your background as much as possible. (please note, I have helped mentees get jobs at all the companies cited above and all of them had either an MHA or MPH).


      1) MBA* 2) MPH 3) MHA 4) MPA

*If you want to work in large philanthropy or even corporate social responsibility, sorry to throw a wrench into this, but Master of Business Administration (MBA) is highly cited for these jobs because they want someone who cares about revenue generation, donor development, grants management and more (aka make money). So please be aware that philanthropy and foundations lead with fundraising (also known as Development roles). Most jobs are about donor development and getting funding for the mission so if you want to break into these organizations, then learn to highlight your contracts and grants management skills over the mission delivery. Yes mission is important but philanthropy wants to know how you will sustain their growth, help them grow presence, help them attract sponsors, donors, etc. MPH, MPA, and MHA can compete ONLY if you hit hard on this and beat out your competitor with an MBA.


You can still get your foot in the door because you also need to leverage your experience on your resume, whether paid unpaid or lived experience. So yes, degrees can help ease the screening process but you will have to justify your qualifications and your degree within your resume summary, cover letter and especially within interviews. Grab the HIRED Masterclass so you can finally land the job of your dreams and make over $70,000 with your Masters Degree in Public Health, Masters in Public Administration, or Masters in Healthcare Administration.

Contributor: Zoila Reyna, MPH is the proud Latina founder of Public Health Hired and the industry authority of getting jobs in public health. She comes with over 16 years of public health experience working in government, nonprofits, research, private, and hospitals/clinics ranging from tobacco prevention, community engagement, chronic disease management, strategic planning, and working with underserved communities both rural and urban. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has dedicated her extra time outside of her full-time job to public health colleagues across the nation and globally to guide hundreds to of public health colleagues through job applications, interviews, and salary negotiation. Her HIRED Methods have proven time and time again to make the public health job search more successful with real job offers that require zero networking or connections. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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