Earning an Online Ph.D. in Healthcare Administration

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Earning a doctoral degree in healthcare administration online prepares graduates for careers as hospital managers, healthcare administrators, and medical executives. These in-demand careers offer lucrative salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for medical and health services managers sits at nearly $100,000. The field also reports strong demand; the BLS projects that it will grow 20% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than average. This article explores how to earn an online Ph.D. in healthcare administration, including admissions requirements, scholarship opportunities, and career paths for professionals with a doctorate in healthcare administration.

Why Get a Ph.D. in Healthcare Administration?

Pursuing Specialization

During a doctorate, graduate students specialize in a field within healthcare administration. These specializations may include researching patient outcomes, looking for solutions to problems in the healthcare industry, or analyzing healthcare policy at the institutional level. Specializations prepare graduates for careers in advanced healthcare administration fields. The leadership skills emphasized during a healthcare administration doctorate also benefit graduates who pursue management careers in other industries.

Career Advancement Opportunities

As the highest degree in its field, a doctorate prepares graduates for the most advanced positions within healthcare organizations, universities, and other institutions. These career paths offer greater responsibilities and often higher salaries. Certain career paths, including within academia as an administrator, only hire candidates with a Ph.D.

Online Learning Technology

Online students benefit from using the latest communication technologies. Students rely on these technologies to coordinate with faculty advisers and work with other graduate students in their cohort. During an online program, doctoral students gain proficiency with multiple online learning technologies, which benefit professionals working in healthcare after graduation. Hospital administrators, for example, may use distance medicine technologies or other communication technologies to coordinate patient care.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. in Healthcare Administration and a DHA?

Prospective students can choose between an online Ph.D. in healthcare administration or a doctorate in healthcare administration (DHA). The two programs differ in important ways. Ph.D. programs emphasize research and conclude with a dissertation, while DHA programs emphasize healthcare practice. A DHA usually requires less time than a Ph.D., which often involves intensive original research. While a Ph.D. can take five years for full-time students to complete, most DHA programs grant the degree in three years.

The two degrees lead to different career paths as well. Many professionals with a Ph.D. in healthcare administration work in academia or other research-focused positions, while DHA graduates often work in the healthcare industry as executives or policymakers. These career paths offer different opportunities, responsibilities, and salaries. Prospective graduate students should choose the program that best fits their career goals and interests.

Prerequisites for Online Ph.D. in Healthcare Administration Programs

Before enrolling in an online doctorate in healthcare administration, prospective students must meet all prerequisites and complete the application process. Each program sets its own requirements and deadlines, so prospective students should carefully research each program. For example, some programs only admit students with a master's degree, while others admit those with a bachelor's degree.

    • Work Experience: Doctoral programs in healthcare administration often prefer applicants with professional healthcare or management experience. Applicants with a background in healthcare or those with administrative experience can use their background to narrow their specialization and research interests. However, some programs admit applicants with little or no work experience.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Some graduate programs ask for GRE or GMAT scores during the admission process. Programs may set a minimum test score for full admission, while provisionally admitting students whose scores fall below the minimum. Test scores remain valid for five years. Many doctoral programs waive the GRE or GMAT requirement.
    • Coursework: Prospective students may need to demonstrate an academic background in healthcare administration, management, or a healthcare-related field. Most programs do not set specific prerequisite courses, though they review applicants' transcripts to assess their academic preparation. Programs often set a minimum GPA, typically around 3.0 for doctoral applicants.
    • Recommendations: Most programs request 1-3 letters of recommendation during the application process. Applicants request letters from faculty members or supervisors who can speak to their academic and professional qualifications for doctoral study. Applicants should give their writers three weeks' notice to complete the letters.
    • Essays: Doctoral programs in healthcare administration often request an essay, personal statement, or writing sample. In the essay, applicants can explain their preparation for a doctoral program, research interests, and goals after completing the degree. Programs sometimes use these writing samples to assess analytical and writing skills.
    • Interviews: During the application process, programs may interview prospective students to determine their fit with the program. Applicants can ask questions about the program and learn about potential research specializations. Online programs sometimes conduct interviews with an admission adviser to assess applicants' preparation for online learning.
    • International Students Many programs request additional materials from international students. Most programs require proof of English language proficiency, often in the form of TOEFL scores. Schools often set a minimum TOEFL score for admission. Programs may also require a writing sample and translations of foreign language transcripts.

How Much Can I Make with a Ph.D. in Healthcare Administration?

Earning a Ph.D. in healthcare administration online prepares graduates for careers in lucrative, high-demand fields. For example, the BLS reports that medical and health services managers earn over $111,000 a year, on average, with the top 10% of earners making over $176,000. A doctorate also qualifies graduates for careers as a professor or top executive in many organizations. The management, leadership, and organizational training during an online doctorate in healthcare administration positions graduates to pursue a variety of career paths.

Traditional Careers for Healthcare Administration Ph.D. Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Postsecondary Teachers

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers, also known as professors, teach at colleges and universities. They educate undergraduate and graduate students, creating course materials and evaluating student learning. Many professors also conduct research and publish their findings in academic journals. Most positions require a Ph.D.

Vice President (VP) and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)

Median Pay: $172,578

Job Growth: N/A

VPs and CNOs oversee nursing staff and medical services at healthcare organizations. They manage nurse supervisors, implement nursing procedures, and monitor patient records to ensure that the healthcare organization runs smoothly. VPs and CNOs also create policies and strategies to improve patient care and efficiency at their organization.

Respiratory Director

Median Pay: $81,714

Job Growth: N/A

Respiratory directors manage and oversee respiratory services at a healthcare organization. They supervise medical specialists, oversee patient care, and coordinate schedules for their department. Respiratory directors may also manage budgets, participate in respiratory research, and design respiratory policies to provide high-quality treatment.

Clinical Research Director

Median Pay: $106,790

Job Growth: N/A

Clinical research directors oversee clinical research for an organization. They manage staff, create safety and quality standards, and oversee daily research activities. Clinical research directors also enforce the organization's rules and policies, review research results, and implement new policies. Many positions require a Ph.D.

Director of Surgical Services

Median Pay: $115,393

Job Growth: N/A

Directors of surgical services oversee surgical procedures for an organization. They manage surgeons and other medical staff, oversee scheduling, and work with the operating room supervisor to improve patient care. Directors of surgical services may also meet with patients and their families to discuss surgical procedures.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Nontraditional Careers for Healthcare Administration Ph.D. Graduates

Professionals with a doctorate in healthcare administration also pursue nontraditional career paths. As management specialists, healthcare administrators qualify for leadership roles in diverse organizations. They may work as executives, directors, or managers within business, government, or nonprofit organizations. A Ph.D. also meets the qualifications for many university administrative positions.

Career Stats Description

Top Executives

Median Pay: $104,700

Job Growth: 8%

Top executives create strategies and policies to improve an organization. They oversee operational activities, enforce policies and procedures, and manage general activities. In a healthcare setting, top executives oversee healthcare organizations.

Skills Overlapped: Leadership and management skills, organizational skills

Practice Manager

Median Pay: $58,552

Job Growth: N/A

Practice managers oversee daily operations at private medical offices or public clinics. They manage staffing, train staff members, and ensure the office follows laws and regulations. In a management capacity, practice managers supervise nurses, medical assistants, receptionists, and other staff.

Skills Overlapped: Management abilities, organizational skills, and communication skills

Executive Director

Median Pay: $76,941

Job Growth: N/A

Executive directors function as senior managers at an organization. They create strategic plans for the future and oversee daily operations. Executive directors enforce an organization's philosophy and goals, oversee staff members, and manage budgets.

Skills Overlapped: Leadership, management, and organizational skills

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Median Pay: $92,360

Job Growth: 10%

Postsecondary education administrators work at colleges and universities, overseeing administrative operations. Administrators may work at university hospitals, managing medical faculty and overseeing operations. They can also work in student services, faculty research, or serve as deans or provosts. Many positions require a Ph.D.

Skills Overlapped: Leadership and organizational skills, communication skills

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Paying for a Ph.D. in Healthcare Administration Online

Doctoral students in healthcare administration programs pay for their degree with a mix of savings, loans, and scholarships. Students earning a doctorate can qualify for federal financial aid, including grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities. Professional organizations may also offer scholarship opportunities in healthcare administration. By researching tuition rates, study timelines, and accelerated options, prospective students can save money on their doctoral degree. Some programs may also offer discounts for online students.

Scholarships for Online Healthcare Administration Ph.D. Students

Many professional organizations offer scholarships to healthcare administration doctoral students, some of which require membership to the organization. Applicants typically submit a CV or resume, transcripts, an essay, and letters of recommendation. These scholarship opportunities may provide thousands of dollars in funding.

What to Expect from an Online Healthcare Administration Ph.D. Program

An online doctorate in healthcare administration prepares graduates to fill leadership roles in healthcare organizations, such as healthcare managers and administrators. During a doctoral program, students gain valuable skills and knowledge in healthcare policy, finance, and management. Doctoral students also conduct specialized research, gaining an expert-level understanding of healthcare challenges and solutions. Most programs include 40-60 credits of coursework followed by a capstone project or a dissertation.

Major Milestones

  1. Orientation

    3-5 years before graduation

    Many online programs begin with an orientation where doctoral students meet faculty members and their cohort. During the orientation, students may choose a faculty adviser.

  2. Coursework

    1-3 years before graduation

    Doctoral programs in healthcare administration incorporate 40-60 credits of coursework. Students with a master's degree may take fewer courses.

  3. Qualifying Examination

    1-2 years before graduation

    Doctoral students take an examination based on their coursework. The exam can incorporate written, oral, or performance-based components. Once students pass the exam, they can begin their dissertation or capstone research.

  4. Capstone

    One year before graduation

    Many DHA programs incorporate a capstone project, which may require clinical experience and research. Some programs include an internship or research paper as part of the capstone.

  5. Dissertation

    1-2 years before graduation

    Ph.D. programs and some DHA programs may incorporate a dissertation. Students conduct research, read literature, and defend their dissertation in front of a committee.

  6. Graduation

    Final semester

    Doctoral students often need to file an intent to graduate form. Online students can often participate in on-campus graduation ceremonies.

Coursework

Healthcare administration doctoral programs set their own curricula. The following courses represent common classes in online doctoral programs in healthcare administration.

Healthcare Policy

Classes on healthcare policy review federal policies and their impact on healthcare organizations. The coursework may also cover state or corporate healthcare policies, with an emphasis on advocacy.

Managing Healthcare Information

Doctoral students learn how to manage healthcare information, including data infrastructures, health data management systems, and information system strategies.

Healthcare Finance

Courses on healthcare finance train doctoral students in financial management for healthcare organizations. Students learn how to create strategic plans, measure human resources, and apply technology in managing finances.

Quality Improvement in Healthcare

Doctoral students learn how to improve patient outcomes and safety in healthcare organizations. The course may also cover healthcare risk management, efficiency, and service improvements.

Dissertation

Doctoral students typically spend several terms conducting research and writing an original research paper. Students work with a faculty adviser and defend their dissertation before a faculty committee.

Degree Timelines

Doctoral students in healthcare administration can choose part-time, full-time, or accelerated paths to their degree. Prospective students should consider their work and family obligations before choosing a schedule.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

5+ years

Doctoral students on a part-time schedule may take 5-7 years to complete their degree. Part-time students complete the required coursework by taking one or two classes each term, followed by research and a dissertation. Part-time options appeal to students balancing work with school.

Full-Time

3-5 years

On a full-time schedule, students typically earn their doctorate in 3-5 years. A Ph.D., which requires original research, often takes longer than a DHA, which focuses on practice. Full-time students in online programs may be able to work while completing their degree.

Accelerated

3 years

An accelerated schedule enables doctoral students to earn their degree in as little as three years. Incoming students with a master's in healthcare administration may be able to apply graduate credits toward the doctoral degree. Students in accelerated programs typically cannot work while earning the degree.

Licenses and Certifications

Healthcare administrators pursue certification to demonstrate competencies and increase competitiveness in the job market. Optional certifications help professionals showcase expertise in medical management, healthcare information and management systems, and other healthcare administrative specialties. Professional organizations may offer certifications, most of which require a mix of educational and work experience plus an examination. Certified professionals typically renew their credentials by completing continuing education credits.

    • Certified Medical Manager: This credential recognizes professionals with medical management experience. Candidates must hold a blend of educational and work experience. A doctorate in healthcare administration meets the educational requirement. Candidates must also pass an examination to earn the credential.
    • Certified Healthcare Access Manager: Professionals in patient access services qualify for this credential with management experience. Candidates must pass an examination and demonstrate two years of management experience.
    • Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems: Professionals with a focus on information and management systems qualify for this credential with an accredited graduate degree and three years of experience in information and management systems.
    • Board Certified Nurse Executive Advanced: Healthcare administrators with a background in nursing can qualify for the NEA-BC credential through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Candidates must hold an RN license, a degree in nursing, and a master's degree or higher in a related field. Applicants must pass an examination and demonstrate two years of healthcare administrative experience.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Graduate students earning an online doctorate in healthcare administration rely on professional organizations for networking opportunities, in-demand certifications, and career services. These resources help doctoral students transition from graduate programs into the workforce. Students benefit from career counseling and mentorship opportunities, job boards, and career development resources. Professionals in healthcare administration participate in professional organizations to stay current in their field and maintain certifications through continuing education programs.

  • American Association of Healthcare Administration Management: Founded in 1968, AAHAM provides educational tools and professional development resources for healthcare administrators and managers. The association also offers certifications, local chapters, and a job bank.
  • American College of Healthcare Executives: ACHE represents over 48,000 healthcare executives. The association provides a learning center with publications and research, a career resource center, and a job center.
  • American Health Information Management Association: AHIMA offers career development tools, like certifications for health information management professionals. The association also provides a student resource center, career preparation materials, and educational resources.
  • American Organization of Nurse Executives: Established in 1967, AONE represents nurses in executive positions, including nurses in healthcare administration. The organization provides professional development resources, events with networking opportunities, and publications.
  • The National Association of Healthcare Access Management: A professional organization for managers involved in patient access services, NAHAM provides certifications, resources, and webinars. Members can also access NAHAM publications.
  • Association of University Programs in Health Administration: AUPHA represents colleges, organizations, and individuals who work in healthcare management. The association offers certifications, publications, and a student center.
  • Health Resources and Services Administration: A federal agency, HRSA provides news on healthcare, updates on legislation, and announcements for healthcare administrators. HRSA also offers funding for healthcare programs.
  • Journal of Healthcare Leadership: An open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly publication, the Journal of Healthcare Leadership publishes research on healthcare administration. Administrators can also learn how to submit an article for publication on the site.
  • Journal of Hospital Administration: An academic, peer-reviewed journal focused on hospital administration, JHA publishes articles on improving patient outcomes, the insurance industry, and public health.
  • HealthCare.gov: HealthCare.gov provides a healthcare exchange. In addition to the exchange, the site offers resources on the Affordable Care Act, information on regulations, and research datasets.