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I could use some guidance. I’m a senior graduating in May with a degree in microbiology. I’ve really enjoyed learning about infectious diseases and how they spread. Unfortunately, I haven’t found working in the laboratory much fun.


I explained to my advisor that I want to work on prevention through better policy and public education. I discussed running a clinic and possibly a trauma care center one day. She encouraged me to research graduate school for public health topics. During my research, I also came across another degree called a “Master of Health Administration.”


What’s the difference between the two? Is one more advantageous for what I’m trying to do?


Your questions aren’t as common as one would expect. However, that’s likely to change with both contagious diseases and other preventable human crises consistently making the headlines. A career in human services is often considered quite admirable, but people could argue it’s never been more valuable, especially to American society. For instance, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicated that, in 2016, 116 people died every day from an opioid-related overdose. Things have only deteriorated since then.


German Lopez at Vox reported on April 5, 2018 that the surgeon general issued a rare public advisory concerning the ongoing opioid crisis. He suggested that people should have more access to the overdose antidote, Naloxone. That’s certainly one policy prescription. There are other viable approaches, too. Obtaining a graduate degree would likely be necessary to spearhead a policy yourself.


Drug abuse and recovery is just one example. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain an updated report covering the national leading causes of death. The list contains a host of diseases and disorders that are congenital, acquired, or developed, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, etc. Earning a post-baccalaureate degree would also probably be necessary to effectively advance policies around those issues.


Expect some overlap between the two degrees. However, also know that meaningful differences exist. Writers at Work It Daily published a salient article explaining which of the two would make sense for you. The MPH helps graduates advance careers discovering, describing, and responding to patterns of disease through a wide range of interventions. Your courses would likely revolve primarily around epidemiology, behavioral science, sociology, healthcare administration, etc. The MHA is designed to train aspiring executives to manage health-related programs and organizations. Coursework related to the latter often emphasizes health and science less, in lieu of focusing on finance, accounting, and marketing.  


Ultimately, if you’re looking for less emphasis on scientific research and fieldwork, the MPA might be the better fit. Contributors at Careers In Public Health have written similar things on the subject. The key takeaway is that the MHA would position you much better to be running any kind of clinic or specialized healthcare center. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of specialized graduate programs intended to accelerate a career in healthcare administration. One such example is the Boston College’s Master of Healthcare Administration program. Pay close attention to different concentrations offered by each program you explore. In many cases, the specializations cultivated within an MPA program are what drive your later career path.


“A man has always to be busy with his thoughts, if anything is to be accomplished.” – Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek