Why Choose an Executive Healthcare MBA Program Over an Executive MHA

November 22, 2022

The healthcare industry faced many challenges during and post COVID-19, but experts are optimistic about the future. For example, management consulting firm McKinsey & Company expects the healthcare field to expand profitability by $31 billion between now and 2025. This rapid growth is being driven, in part, by extremely rapid change. Increased government spending, evolving consumer expectations, new delivery channels, technological disruptions and a shift toward vertically integrated business models are major driving factors for this expansion.

Health services and health-focused organizations increasingly need skilled and confident leaders who can spearhead initiatives, drive efficiency and think critically to weather these changes. Understanding clinical and administrative operations is no longer enough to guarantee success. “Business-building capability is a key component to succeed in this new environment,” writes McKinsey & Company. “In our experience, the leadership team and talent… are key differentiators.”  

The business of healthcare is very different from that of other industries, and business leaders in healthcare must nurture a unique set of skills. Programs such as the Executive MBA – Healthcare Leadership (EMBA-HL) from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s  Haslam College of Business have emerged to teach rising healthcare professionals to lead in the complexities of the modern healthcare system. 

The executive healthcare MBA program is just one of several programs focused on advanced health administration and healthcare leadership. Some assume that most executive-level healthcare management degree pathways are interchangeable. But while Executive Master of Healthcare Administration (EMHA) programs and similar programs exist in the same niche, they do not cover the same core competencies as the EMBA-HL or offer the same rich student experience.

What Is an Executive Healthcare MBA?

Executive MBA degree programs focused on healthcare leadership are, first and foremost, advanced Master of Business Administration programs targeting the most experienced health administrations and medical managers. The executive MBA curriculum differs from the traditional MBA curriculum in its focus on systems thinking, business model strategies, organizational design and alignment, change management and applied leadership.

Executive healthcare MBA programs provide the same knowledge through the lens of their specialization. UT’s EMBA-HL program explores accounting, finance, marketing, operations and leadership in a broad business context and as they relate to concerns such as healthcare quality, continuous improvement, entrepreneurship in medicine, access to health services, healthcare policy and public health. Core courses in the program cover material that aligns with the needs of modern healthcare environments.

Additionally, something that sets top healthcare MBA programs at the executive level apart from similar academic pathways is that they tend to incorporate enhanced learning experiences into the curriculum. These can include intensive residencies, personalized leadership development coaching and applied project work. At Haslam, EMBA-HL candidates participate in a year-long Organizational Action Project (OAP) targeting issues of significant importance in the healthcare industry. Students design these projects around challenges their organizations face and work with their leadership teams to meet them. Their graduate school experience translates into valuable work experience. 

How Do Executive Healthcare MBA and Executive MHA Programs Differ?

EMBA-HL and EMHA programs both offer students an in-depth business education designed for healthcare managers. However, executive healthcare MBA programs focus primarily on advanced business leadership principles applicable in many sectors, including healthcare and healthcare-adjacent environments. In contrast, the typical EMHA curriculum focuses on developing advanced business administration skills entirely through a healthcare lens. Both give students tools to improve healthcare delivery and quality, but they differ in several ways.

Healthcare-Focused EMBA Programs Attract a More Experienced Audience

Executive MHA programs generally help mid- and senior-level professionals prepare to advance in organizational management in healthcare-focused organizations. They attract healthcare administrators who enjoy overseeing and guiding the day-to-day operations of clinical and non-clinical medical organizations. Typical EMHA candidates have at least seven years of experience in healthcare administration, including time spent in supervisory roles.

Meanwhile, executive MBA degree programs attract healthcare professionals with leadership experience in the healthcare industry. The average healthcare EMBA cohort includes students with ten or more years in supervisor roles in clinical healthcare, medical research, pharmaceutical development and healthcare-adjacent fields. Many students in the Haslam College of Business EMBA-HL program already hold upper management and leadership roles across the healthcare sector. 

Executive Healthcare MBA Programs Take Less Time 

Because EMHA programs often admit applicants with fewer years of management experience, they tend to cover more foundational ground and take longer to complete. Full-time EMHA programs typically cover the curriculum in two years, though some programs take almost three.

Executive healthcare MBA programs tend to admit more seasoned healthcare managers with work experience in healthcare administration and management. Consequently, many healthcare EMBA students finish their programs in under two years—even while maintaining full-time employment. Some graduate even more quickly. EMBA in Healthcare Leadership candidates at UT complete the immersive program in under a year. Cohorts begin in January, graduate the following December and spend just 21 days out of the office. 

Healthcare-Focused EMBA Programs Prioritize Practical Collaboration 

Executive Master of Health Administration programs often cover material in a traditional classroom environment. Some require students to complete a capstone and one or more elective courses but don’t necessarily provide opportunities for students to work together to hone their developing skills in real-world settings.  

Executive MBA students, regardless of specialization, nearly always spend some time learning in concert with one another. Peer-to-peer relationships are essential to the curriculum, whether fostered virtually in distance learning sessions or in person during residencies or immersions.

UT EMBA-HL candidates spend their time in the program in near constant communication and collaboration with their cohort and come together on-campus at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and during one policy immersion trip that splits time between Knoxville and Washington D.C. Alumni often describe the resultant relationships as one of the most valuable elements of the program and one of the most enduring benefits.

EMBA Candidates Receive Personalized Executive Coaching 

In many health administration master’s degree programs, learning begins and ends at the classroom door. EMHA candidates receive in-depth didactic instruction but must independently apply those lessons to workplace challenges.

Students in top EMBA pathways often receive executive coaching or leadership development coaching. The unique relationship between coaches and students at Haslam helps executive healthcare MBA candidates experiment with new approaches, reflect on their discoveries and see real-world improvements in their leadership practice.

Executive Healthcare MBA Programs Address Broad Challenges

While EMHA students learn to solve the most common administrative challenges specific to clinical environments, executive MBA candidates develop their business acumen, transformational capabilities, policy readiness and data-driven decision-making skills in a healthcare context. They hone competencies applicable in many settings—medical and otherwise—and bring what they learn back to their workplaces, delivering immediate value. 

During the first and fourth residencies, Haslam EMBA-HL candidates work alongside students in the Executive MBA in Global Supply Chain program for a few sessions. This cross-pollination exposes established healthcare professionals to new ideas and perspectives, teaching them skills that transcend healthcare management and make them more agile leaders. 

How Haslam’s Executive MBA – Healthcare Leadership Supports Career Advancement 

Mckinsey & Company writes, “The current wave of economic, operational, and health challenges buffeting the healthcare industry would test the mettle of even the most resolute leaders.” Today’s healthcare executives must level up their leadership skills to meet these challenges. Whether an executive-level healthcare MBA program is the right place to do that—and the right choice at this point in your career—is something only you can decide.

As an EMBA-HL candidate, you will apply course concepts in your current professional role while expanding your network to include a diverse group of leaders operating in all areas of the healthcare industry. After less than one calendar year, you will have what it takes to guide your organization through healthcare reforms and emerge as a leader within your organization.

The Haslam admissions team reviews EMBA-HL applications on a rolling basis, so the earlier you complete your application, the sooner you can reserve your spot in an upcoming cohort. Apply now or contact an enrollment advisor to learn more.