Earning a doctoral degree in healthcare administration means that you are serious about becoming a top-tier leader in the healthcare field, whether as an educator at a leading college or university or high-level supervisor at a major medical facility or healthcare organization. And pursuing that doctorate online is a great option for busy working professionals. To get you started in your search for the right online healthcare administration doctorate for you, we’ve profiled three “best-in-class” degree programs. These fully-accredited programs represent excellence in a number of important areas, including affordability, academic comprehensiveness, and study flexibility. Here’s our take on the standout online doctoral programs in healthcare administration for 2020.
Walden University’s PhD in Health Services with Healthcare Administration specialization prepares degree holders for leadership positions throughout the healthcare industry. The degree program requires completion of 106 to 108 quarter credits of foundational core, research core, and specialization coursework, culminating in the writing and defense of a dissertation. All coursework is completed entirely online. However, students are additionally required to attend four residencies (two required face-to-face, two optional) for a total of a minimum of 16 days. Residencies are held at various locations throughout the U.S.
Walden additionally offers an accelerated program option for students with a Master of Healthcare Administration degree. With this option, students can transfer in 34 to 35 credit hours from previous academic coursework to substantially reduce the completion time of the PhD program. Students without an MHA degree may also be able to transfer in previously-earned credits to reduce their program length. All PhD students are allowed up to eight years to complete their degree regardless of their program option choice (regular or accelerated).
Central Michigan University
Central Michigan University’s online Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA) degree program takes a “theory to application” approach designed to prepare graduates for executive careers with healthcare organizations throughout the profession. The degree program consists of 15 internet-based courses, six two-and-a-half-day, in-person seminars, and the writing and defense of an evidence-based dissertation. All coursework in the 63-credit hour program must be completed through CMU as part of the degree curriculum. The program follows a cohort format in which students who remain in a single cohort progress through their coursework and seminars together in a carefully-planned sequence. Students may opt for an alternate study plan that progresses across multiple cohorts. Regardless of cohort option, all degree candidates complete their dissertations individually with the guidance of a three-professor committee. New cohorts begin each fall semester. Admission requirements into CMU’s DHA program include a master’s degree or professional doctorate (such as a J.D., D.O., M.D., or PharmD) awarded by a regionally-accredited U.S. university.
Medical University of South Carolina
The first two years of MUSC’s three-year, 54-credit hour Doctor of Health Administration degree program combine online asynchronous course instruction with in-person classes (one long weekend each semester) on the university’s Charleston campus. Students also participate in a weeklong policy trip to Washington, D.C. in the second year of their studies. In their third year, students focus on individual, supervised research and the writing of a doctoral project in which the degree candidate examines a complex, real-world healthcare issue.
The degree program employs a cohort model with a new cohort starting each fall. Students choose between two program tracks. The Health Administrator track focuses on developing professionals for enhanced leadership positions in healthcare administration, strategic management, applied research, and health policy. Applicants to this track should possess a professional or master’s degree in health administration or closely-related major and substantial work experience in healthcare policy or management. The Health Professional track is geared toward those interested in interprofessional leadership in healthcare quality, health information systems, clinical care, or social work. Applicants to this track should possess a post-baccalaureate degree and substantial work experience in their chosen healthcare-related field.
Why Earn an Online Doctoral Degree in Healthcare Administration?
Greater salary potential
Earning a doctoral degree in healthcare administration sets you up to secure a top-level position in the field. And in most cases, moving from mid-level management to a top-level position means a substantial boost in salary.
You want to make a positive impact on the healthcare services profession
Doctoral degree holders are real leaders for change in the healthcare industry. Whether it’s heading a large, complex health services corporation, working as a policy advocate with a nonprofit, or preparing future leaders as a postsecondary educator, you can ensure that your work will leave a lasting mark.
You’re looking for a challenging and rewarding career
Holding a top-level position in healthcare administration comes with plenty of challenges and responsibilities requiring energy, enthusiasm, and brain power on a daily basis. So, if you’re seeking real challenge in your healthcare administration career, earning a doctorate may be for you.
Convenience of online learning
It’s tough for working professionals to find the time to take on the rigorous requirements of a doctoral degree program. Earning that degree online, however, eases the burden significantly by allowing you to schedule your studies at times most convenient to you. Plus, you won’t be wasting any time travelling to and from campus for classes.
Save money on the cost of your degree
Earning your degree online will not only save you time, but you’ll save money as well by eliminating travel costs (gas, parking fees, etc.) to attend class. Additionally, some schools charge lower tuition rates to their online students compared to their traditional on-campus counterparts.
PhD vs. DHA: Which Online Healthcare Administration Degree is Right for You?
One of the first decisions you’ll make in your search for online doctoral programs in healthcare administration is determining the type of degree you want to pursue. There are a number of options, but the two most popular by far are the PhD in Healthcare Administration and the Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA). Both are terminal doctoral degrees in the healthcare administration field, both focus on research, and both typically require about the same time commitment to complete. There are a few important differences, however, most notably in regard to career outcomes.
Online PhD in Healthcare Administration
Length of Study Completion time varies substantially by program and student (full-time or part-time study, having a previously-earned master’s in healthcare administration or not). In most cases, full-time students can complete their entire program (coursework and dissertation) in three to five years. Part-time students are typically allowed up to seven years (sometimes longer) for completion.
Final Project Degree candidates will complete a dissertation which they will then defend in front of a selected panel of faculty members.
Online Degree Availability Very limited.
Common Career Outcomes Health administration PhD holders typically find professional positions in academic research and as professors, but may also establish management careers with organizations in both the public and private sectors.
Online DHA Programs (Doctor of Health Administration)
Length of Study Three years of full-time study is common. Part-time study options allowing up to five years (sometimes more) for completion are sometimes available.
Final Project A dissertation is most common, although some programs require completion of a doctoral project instead. Doctoral projects are researched and written documents geared more toward real-world healthcare issues than the more theoretically-focused dissertation. As with a dissertation, candidates are required to mount a formal defense of their projects.
Online Degree Availability Limited, but not as limited as PhD programs.
Common Career Outcomes Administrative and research-oriented positions focused on solving real-world problems in the healthcare industry are most common, although DHA holders may find careers in academia as well.
Curriculum Overview for Online Doctoral Programs in Healthcare Administration
The primary purpose for earning a doctorate in healthcare administration is the same regardless of the specific degree program, and that is to prepare graduates to become effective and influential leaders at the very highest levels of the profession. In other words, it’s about more than just managing an organization’s operations, it’s about moving the entire industry ahead by enacting real, positive change. To that end, schools design their healthcare administration doctoral programs to provide students with specific learning outcomes that include:
Ability to affect positive change within their organizations and the larger profession through leadership that optimizes organizational performance and encourages collaboration and personal and professional growth by team members.
Ability to conduct effective research, including identifying problems and designing research studies, as well as analyzing, summarizing, and applying study results.
Solid foundational understanding of the ethical responsibilities and obligations in research, decision-making, and leadership in healthcare services settings.
Ability to communicate effectively and think critically.
Actual course titles vary from program to program. However, students can expect to complete coursework covering the following topics:
Leadership Policies and Strategies
Highly-developed leadership skills are at the very core of effective administration and management. In this course, students explore the range of theories, systems, and models of leadership, and their applications to the day-to-day practice of healthcare administration. Topics covered include principles of evidence-based leadership, workforce performance optimization, and how to use power and influence to impact healthcare policy and practice.
Healthcare Policy and Regulation
This course provides an overview of the relevant laws and regulations governing healthcare organizational practices, along with the impact of current policy practices and future policy trends on local, state, federal, and global levels. Students additionally explore key ethical principles and their application to healthcare practice settings.
Healthcare Organization Communications
Communication, both within the healthcare organization and between the organization and the outside world, is a primary responsibility of top administrators. This course examines a range of internal organizational communication disciplines including interprofessional collaboration, coaching and mentoring, and decision-making. Students also explore concepts and practices concerning public relations, marketing, social media, and more.
Advanced Information Governance
An area of primary importance for all healthcare administrators is the proper use and protection of their organization’s data and information. Students in this course analyze and evaluate the fundamental concepts and applications employed in managing corporate financial data and employee information, as well as the effective employment of information in the decision-making process.
Today, global health issues have a substantial impact on the health of local communities and the organizations that serve them. This course examines the depth and breadth of global health challenges through an analysis of relevant topics like globalization and urbanization, politics, economics, social and cultural practices, health literacy, the environment, and more.
Ways You Can Specialize Your Online Healthcare Administration Doctoral Degree
Some online programs allow students to tailor their studies to explore specific interests within the larger healthcare administration field, either by offering formal specialization or concentration track options or through flexibility in their elective course choices. Below are examples of specialization areas students may be able to pursue within their online programs:
This specialization provides a solid overall foundation of important knowledge and skills geared toward administrative-focused duties. Such duties include strategic planning, analysis, and application of evidence-based research, optimization of team performance, and effective communications within and outside of the organization.
Similar to the Health Administration specialization but with a particular emphasis on applied research and leadership competencies. The focus is on providing the knowledge and skills needed to create the changes that drive organizations and the larger healthcare services profession into the future.
The Healthcare Analytics specialization is for research-focused students interested in creating the information and data necessary to better understand all aspects of healthcare services, including organizational performance optimization, improved safety procedures, better patient care, and economic efficiency.
Advocacy and Policy
For students interested in the bigger picture. The Advocacy and Policy specialization teaches students to identify and evaluate current problems in healthcare services, then develop advocacy positions and communicate those positions to affect positive change throughout the industry.
The Healthcare Professions specialization is for students interested in careers as interprofessional leaders in a broad range of settings, including clinical practice, social work, healthcare information systems and technology, quality assurance, staff training, and more.
FAQs About Earning a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration Online
What can I do with a doctoral degree in healthcare administration?
Healthcare administration doctoral degree earners typically find careers that take them to the executive level of corporations and nonprofit organizations throughout the healthcare industry, as well as onto the faculties of prestigious colleges and universities. Advanced positions in research and administration are also available with both state and federal government agencies. Additionally, many graduates find satisfying and lucrative careers as independent consultants. Below are descriptions of three of the most common career destinations for health administration doctoral graduates. Information and data are collected from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*NET websites, and from PayScale.com.
Postsecondary Healthcare Educator
Postsecondary educators are responsible for preparing the next generation of healthcare industry leaders. Duties include preparing course materials and evaluating student progress through assignments, papers, and exams. Most importantly, postsecondary educators must continuously keep themselves informed of all recent developments and future trends – theories, policies, and practices – in the healthcare management field by reading the latest academic journals, attending professional conferences and seminars, and consulting with fellow colleagues. Job titles include Professor, Assistant Professor, Instructor, and Lecturer.
11% projected growth from 2018 to 2028
Median National Salary
$97,370 (as of May 2018)
Additional Experience/Training Needed
Although rarely a strict requirement, many colleges and universities prefer to hire educators with substantial real-world work experience as healthcare managers or as researchers in the healthcare services field.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
The very top of the career ladder for many healthcare administration professionals, CEOs are responsible for all organizational operations. Specific duties include: formulating and implementing organization policies, objectives, and activities; creating budgets and coordinating financing activities such as funding and investments; evaluating organization performance and effectiveness, and seeking ways to cut costs and improve efficiencies; and appointing department heads and other management professionals, and delegating duties to them.
2% projected decline from 2018 to 2028
Median National Salary
$189,600 (as of May 2018)
Additional Experience/Training Needed
Extensive previous experience in healthcare administration and management.
Healthcare consultants provide a number of specialized services for clients of all kinds throughout the healthcare industry. Healthcare consultants meet with clients to identify and define problems and issues within an organization, and then conduct studies and reviews to find solutions to those problems and issues. Healthcare consultants are typically independent contractors working with a variety of clients, but may also be fully-employed by a single large private healthcare corporation, non-profit organization, or governmental agency.
14%* (projected growth 2018 to 2028)
Median National Salary
$76,957 (as of November 2019)
Additional Experience/Training Needed
Specialized knowledge in one or more areas of the healthcare services field, such as research and data analysis, regulation and policy, financing and marketing, etc.
Are online doctorate healthcare administration degrees accredited?
Accreditation is the process through which academic programs – and the schools that offer them – are evaluated for quality, ensuring that these institutions and programs meet certain specified higher education standards. There are currently no U.S.-based agencies that specifically accredit healthcare administration doctoral programs, online or on-campus. Accreditation of colleges and universities as a whole (institutional accreditation) in the U.S. is administered by several national and regional agencies recognized by the Department of Education. Proper accreditation is an absolute must for any degree program you consider, so be sure to confirm your school’s institutional accreditation before you sign up. You can check a school’s accreditation by visiting the school’s website, contacting the school directly, or searching the Department of Education’s official accreditation database.
What are the admissions requirements to get into a good online healthcare administration doctoral program?
Not surprisingly, specific admissions requirements vary from program to program, so check them closely before submitting any program application. Nevertheless, you can expect most programs to include requirements similar to the following:
Master’s degree in healthcare administration or management, or closely-related field of study. Most programs additionally require meeting a stated minimum GPA (3.0 is not uncommon) for the degree and/or other completed relevant graduate-level coursework.
Substantial work experience, typically in a position in mid-level healthcare administration or management, health policy, or closely-related field. Five years minimum is not uncommon.
Other requirements may include a current resume or CV, written career goal statement or personal essay, letters of recommendation, and proof of English proficiency (for non-native English speaking applicants).
Can I earn my doctorate in healthcare administration completely online or will I have to travel to campus?
The vast majority of online healthcare administration doctoral programs feature fully-online coursework. Virtually all of them, however, also require some in-person student participation, typically in the form of one or more short-term residencies. These residencies normally take place on the school’s physical campus, but some programs feature off-campus options at locations throughout their state, region, or even the entire U.S. Specific in-person requirements vary from program to program, so be sure to carefully review all degree requirements – including those involving in-person participation – before you enroll.