Graduate Programs in Healthcare: Overviews by Specialization

Oct 13, 2019

Many schools offer graduate programs in various aspects of healthcare. Programs are available in healthcare business, nursing and physician assistant studies. All programs emphasize advanced knowledge and research and require clinical experience.

Essential Information

Students interested in the business of healthcare enroll in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program in healthcare management. There students learn to apply practical business skills to issues in the healthcare industry, including global business and healthcare economics. They also complete group projects, an internship and complete their academic requirements under the supervision of a mentor.

Registered nurses enroll in a Master of Science degree program in nursing, in which they learn to apply leadership skills to healthcare organizations and to effectively lead a staff of employees in the daily operations of a healthcare facility. This training takes place in the classroom and during hands-on clinical experience.

Students with a bachelor's degree in a field of health science and experience working directly with patients may enroll in a physician assistant master's degree program, which prepares students for voluntary or mandatory certification in the field. These graduate students study basic health science, medical terminology and primary care before entering the clinical phase of the physician assistant program.

Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management

This executive degree program covers fundamental business and management courses in addition to the healthcare curriculum. Students study healthcare laws and ethics, and the professional responsibilities of a healthcare manager. Additional topics include finance, accounting and decision-making. A consulting practicum is part of this degree program. Other requirements include satisfactory scores on the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), a personal statement essay, professional and academic references and a résumé.

Coursework in this MBA program varies from school to school, especially if the school offers several areas of specialization. Because this is a management degree program, coursework is intensive in topics on leadership. Some courses in this degree program include:

  • Healthcare management
  • Supply chain management
  • Healthcare marketing
  • Human resource management
  • Probability

Master of Science in Nursing

A master's degree program in nursing covers advanced topics in nursing and nursing management and leadership. Nurses in this degree program choose an area of specialization, such as adult nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, nursing education, nursing administration, clinical nurse specialist or other specialty areas. Nurses study nursing theories, health assessment or advanced practical nursing, depending on their area of specialization. Nurses complete research projects and the program culminates in a clinical practicum in which nurses practice in medical facilities under the supervision of faculty and physicians.

Requirements include satisfactory scores on the Graduate Records Examination, a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, a personal statement essay and a current nursing license. Coursework depends not only on the institution, but also on the chosen area of specialization. Coursework in any specialization covers advanced nursing and professional practices. Courses include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Human development
  • Nursing management
  • Disease prevention
  • Epidemiology

Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

Physician assistants (PAs) assess, diagnose, and treat patients under the supervision of licensed physicians. PAs collect medical histories, order laboratory or other diagnostic tests, work with physicians to develop treatment plans and, in some states, prescribe medications. The clinical phase includes clerkships at hospitals and other medical facilities where the graduate student works under the supervision of faculty mentors and staff physicians. Students also complete research projects and comprehensive examinations as part of their graduation requirements.

Most programs require applicants to have at least 250 hours of experience working directly with patients and some programs stipulate applicants must be certified in a clinical field. Applicants should also have substantial undergraduate coursework in biology, microbiology, pharmacology, physiology and labs. Prospective students must also provide proof of current immunizations, submit to health and drug screening and undergo a criminal background check. The physician assistant program includes fundamental health science courses, such as anatomy and physiology, and professional courses that teach the ethical and professional responsibilities of a PA. Clinical courses include studies in pharmacology or cellular physiology. Other courses include:

  • Disease prevention
  • Health promotion
  • Behavioral science
  • Geriatric health care
  • Epidemiology

Popular Career Options

Graduates of this degree program go on to enjoy careers in a variety of settings in the healthcare industry. Healthcare managers may work for insurance companies, hospitals and government agencies. Popular career choices for graduates include:

  • Marketing manager
  • Project manager
  • Supply chain manager
  • Operations manager

Graduates who hold a master's degree in nursing may be employed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, physician's offices and nursing homes. Nurses may be hospital administrators or advanced practicing nurses. Popular career choices for graduates include:

  • Nurse midwife
  • Forensic nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Critical care nurse
  • Gerontological nurse

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that PAs held 114,710 jobs in the United States in 2018 ( Jobs for PAs are expected to grow by 31%, much faster than the average for all occupations, from 2018-2028. The median annual salary for a PA as of May 2018 was $108,610, the BLS reported.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

There are a number of national organizations that offer certification credentials to healthcare management professionals. The American College of Healthcare Executives, the American Health Information Management Association and the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management offer certification in over ten areas of healthcare management. Certifications include certified patient account manager, board certification in healthcare management and certified healthcare facility manager. While each of these credentialing programs differ, most require applicants to possess at least a bachelor's degree in a field of healthcare and work experience.

Graduates can purse post-master's certificate programs, such as nurse practitioner, nurse administrator, clinical nurse leader, gerontological nurse and other nursing specialties. Graduates can also purse a doctoral degree program in nursing that leads to a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice).

Nurses who complete master's degree programs and post-master's certificate programs are eligible to sit for credentialing exams that lead to certification in a specialty area. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers board certification for nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, pediatric nurses and other nursing specialties. Other certification options include the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Organization of Nurse Executives.

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants offers the Physician Assistant Certifying Examination, resulting in the Physician Assistant Certified credential. Certified PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing education credits every two years and retake the exam every six years to maintain certification.

Healthcare is a broad field and students with a general interest in it have a number of educational and career paths to choose from. Those interested in the business side of healthcare may work to earn a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management, while those interested in working directly with patients may chose to earn a Master of Science in Nursing or a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies.

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