Healthcare in America remains a contentious and highly politicized field. With complex and often messy regulations at the federal level and patients using private insurance companies, the healthcare industry seems difficult to navigate. That said, the healthcare industry needs people with an understanding of the field's industries to run health organizations, including large hospitals and small clinics.

Few industries in the U.S. boast the same level of growth as the healthcare industry. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of medical and health services managers will grow by 20% from 2016 to 2026. In other words, the U.S. could see an increase of 423,000 medical and health services manager positions by 2026 -- a good sign for anyone looking for leadership roles in healthcare. For those with the passion to pursue a degree in healthcare administration at the highest level, this guide highlights advice on how to apply to doctoral programs in healthcare administration.

Should I Get a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration?

People who consider earning their doctorate in healthcare administration know that they want to stay in healthcare administration long term. However, they may still wonder whether investing in further education makes sense.

Graduate degrees often make job candidates more desirable and allow holders to bargain for higher salaries. Healthcare administration professionals who pursue a doctoral degree typically desire to become experts in the field, which takes a long time. Ergo, doctoral students must love what they do because they must devote themselves to years of schooling.

Students may pursue their doctoral degrees either online through distance learning technologies or through on-campus programs. Online programs usually allow for more flexibility. Working professionals employed full time often prefer online degrees because they can enroll part-time, making it easier to create a schedule that meets their needs.

Many students desire a more conventional on-campus experience. Traditional programs allow full-time students to work as teaching assistants, enable them to interact with peers and professors, and provide them with use of on-campus facilities.

What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration?

After you earn your DHA degree, you must understand and apply high-level abstract concepts to practical matters. Healthcare administration professionals possess organization skills and an ability to make tough decisions. They should know how to handle the stress of working for large organizations. Finally, these professionals should feel passionate about improving people's health and American healthcare operations.

Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical and health services managers work in leadership roles at hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare organizations. They manage entire organizations, run departments, or oversee specific groups. These professionals make sure their divisions run smoothly and meet goals.

Median Annual Salary: $98,350

Projected Growth Rate: 20%

Top Executive

Top executives who run healthcare organizations determine their organizations' objectives and make tough decisions to meet those objectives. They need to understand the complexities of the American healthcare system and how their organizations fit within it. They also keep their eye on finances and hire, discipline, and fire staff.

Median Annual Salary: $104,700

Projected Growth Rate: 8%


Students who earn their doctoral degrees might also aim to stay in academia and become professors of healthcare administration. They teach healthcare students at universities, perform research, write journal articles, and attend and speak at conferences.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000

Projected Growth Rate: 15%

Postsecondary Education Administrator

A DHA equips students with many of the same management skills needed to work as an administrator at a college or university. In addition, DHA graduates may implement their knowledge of healthcare by working in the healthcare administration department.

Median Annual Salary: $92,360

Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Administrative Services Manager

Administrative services managers use their expertise in healthcare administration to run healthcare organizations. These professionals solve problems at the management level and implement the data, analytics, and research they learned in their DHA degrees to fix internal and external organizational problems.

Median Annual Salary: $94,020

Projected Growth Rate: 10%

How to Choose a Doctoral Program in Healthcare Administration

A large number of schools offer DHA programs across the country. In order to decide which DHA degree to pursue, you need to research which programs fit your interest and career goals.

First, identify your career goals and research interests. Each program brings its own strengths to the table, each curriculum plan offers different coursework, and each school focuses on different research. Make sure your interests match these qualities before you apply. Next, quantify your financial situation by asking yourself about the cost of tuition relative to the scholarships, grants, and loans the school offers. Also, check with schools to see whether they run assistantship or tuition-waiver programs.

Other factors matter too. Consider whether you prefer an on-campus or online program. You may need to move to a different city or even an entirely new state if you decide to go the on-campus route. Your cost of living and quality of life may change. Additionally, distance learning programs usually offer part-time programs that last longer. Look at how long it takes to complete each program and choose the one that meets your scheduling needs. Lastly, determine not only whether the school offers adequate resources for the research stage of the program but also whether students receive adequate guidance from faculty and staff.

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

Although they seem similar, Ph.D. in healthcare administration and doctor of health administration (DHA) programs differ considerably. Those who pursue a Ph.D. focus on developing unique research and publishing their findings in academic journals. Alternatively, DHA programs concentrate on identifying problems in the healthcare administration field and applying high-level, practical solutions to these dilemmas. Ph.D. graduates tend to find jobs as faculty members at universities, and DHA graduates often find jobs at healthcare organizations.

Both career paths carry advantages. The median salary for executives outpaces the medial salary for professors. However, faculty members can contribute new and exciting research to the healthcare space. If you feel unsure about which route to pursue, take a step back and examine your career goals.

Programmatic Accreditation for Doctoral Programs in Healthcare Administration

The accreditation process in higher education ensures that students receive a quality education. Representatives from accrediting agencies visit schools to evaluate whether a program meets certain educational standards. If professors and coursework meet those standards, the representatives give the school their stamp of approval. Accreditation also serves as a sort of security for students; if they graduate from an accredited program, they can find jobs easier. However, schools without accreditation failed to meet the requisite criteria and, in turn, leave employers suspicious of the quality of their educations.

The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education does not offer accreditation for doctoral degrees. Therefore, for Ph.D. and DHA degrees, students should look for programs with Higher Learning Commission accreditation or regional accreditation.

Doctorate in Healthcare Administration Program Admissions

The DHA degree admissions process can last a long time. Although admissions requirements differ for each school, you can expect to write at least one essay, a statement of your career goals, or a research proposal. Since you invest a considerable amount of time and money into your doctoral program, you should consider scheduling meetings with professors. Several programs do not give applicants a choice, as they like to interview potential students. Determine whether you meet all of the program's requirements so that you do not waste time applying to programs that will reject you.

If you invest enough time researching programs, then you can apply to schools with the confidence that you will receive an acceptance letter to at least one of them. Read below to learn more about admission requirements.


  • Degree: DHA programs assume that applicants already possess completed graduate coursework, most often through a master's degree. While admissions departments for DHA degrees often only accept applicants with graduate coursework in a healthcare-related field, a few programs do not require this.
  • Professional Experience: Several programs require applicants to boast professional experience before they can pursue a doctorate in healthcare administration. Schools commonly expect three to five years of work experience. Other schools require no work experience, as long as applicants hold master's degrees.
  • Minimum GPA: Doctoral programs typically expect students to hold a minimum 3.0 GPA from their master's coursework. Some schools set different requirements. In unique cases, students may petition the admissions board even if they do not meet the GPA minimum.
  • License: In order to apply for a doctoral degree in healthcare administration, you do not need to hold a license. However, you may find that certain certifications help your chances of receiving an acceptance letter.

Admission Materials

  • Application: The application itself typically asks students for basic biographical information, including their educational background and work experience. The more time-consuming aspects of the application involve creating an updated CV, writing application essays, and gathering all of the required materials.
  • Transcripts: Admissions boards of doctoral programs expect to see students' transcripts from their past degrees to determine how well students performed in previous coursework. You must request the transcripts from your past schools' registrars offices. Colleges and universities charge fees for requested transcripts.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Doctoral programs may request up to three letters of recommendation. Ask past professors with whom you maintain good relationships, making sure to give them at least a month's heads up.
  • Test Scores: Most doctoral programs do not require students to submit their GRE scores along with their applications.
  • Application Fee: Application fees range from about $25 to $50. Schools sometimes waive this requirement if applicants can prove financial need or hold documented military status.

What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Program in Healthcare Administration?

Each DHA degree lists its own requirements, coursework, and expectations. Some programs share similarities. Most DHA degrees do not offer concentrations and most allow students to expect students to reserve one year for doctoral research. However, each program operates differently and provides students with various options.

Concentrations Offered for a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration
Concentration Description Careers
General Health Administration The general health administration concentration allows students to learn about strategic planning, healthcare advocacy, and health policy. Students take courses such as financial management in healthcare, healthcare leadership, patient safety, and business practices in healthcare. This specialization teaches students how to make healthcare organizations efficient for both employees and for patients. Healthcare administrator, chief executive officer, clinic manager, healthcare consultant
Healthcare Leadership A specialization in healthcare leadership trains students in essential skills for the smooth operation of a hospital, clinic, or public health organization. Students learn about implementing their visions as leaders, the importance of ethics in administrative roles, skills for effective communication, and how to use data to implement tough decisions. CEO of healthcare organizations, director of healthcare quality, chief operations officer, healthcare administrator, health information manager
Healthcare Quality and Analytics This focus area teaches students how to use data and analytics to identify problem areas at healthcare organizations, build a strategy to fix those problems, and improve overall healthcare quality. Courses might include performance management, process improvement in healthcare, and patient safety and regulation in healthcare. Healthcare administrator, healthcare consultant
Public Health The field of public health promotes wellness in communities so that people can maintain their good health and avoid bad habits that get them sick. This concentration teaches students the knowledge they need to lead public health programs and organizations. They also learn how to reduce health disparities in underrepresented communities and how to advocate for these communities in the public sphere. Public health director, public health adviser, public health analyst

Courses in a Doctoral Program in Healthcare Administration

Every doctoral program in healthcare administration offers a unique curriculum. However, most course plans share common themes that help simplify the perplexing healthcare system in America. Below, you can find a selection of common courses from healthcare doctoral programs.

Health Policy, Law, and Regulation

Healthcare policy in America can seem endlessly complicated and nearly impossible to understand. This course teaches students about the complexities of healthcare law, in addition to current legislative efforts to reform the healthcare system. Students discuss policy development and conflicting theories of healthcare regulation.

Health Organization Governance

Students enrolled in this course learn about how leaders run healthcare organization. The course teaches them which people take on which roles in a healthcare organization. Students read about governing boards, fiduciary responsibility, and leadership accountability. They also examine how communication flows through a governing body.

Healthcare Marketing

Healthcare marketing courses explore how marketing and promotion relates to healthcare organizations. Students ask questions such as: How does the promotion of a healthcare organization affect an organization's market share? How do stakeholders view certain marketing techniques, and how do they respond to them? Finally, how does marketing influence the healthcare institution's bottom line?

Risk Management in Complex Health Organizations

Institutions providing health services function in complex ways. Students in this course examine concepts such as resource management, financial stability, and monetary assets. They then analyze how decisions at the administrative level may change, benefit, or damage all of these factors. They also learn how to leverage resources to lower financial risk.

Healthcare Economics

This class takes a look at how healthcare -- one of the largest industries in the U.S. -- affects the country's and the world's economic systems. Students typically spend a lot of time juxtaposing the government's role in funding healthcare systems with free-market systems.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration?

Doctoral programs demand a significant amount of time from students. The curriculum covers advanced coursework and research classes in addition to a dissertation, which takes at least a year to complete. All of these credit hours add up, and most health administration doctorates last a minimum of three years. Some doctorate programs last longer, taking students five years to finish.

The number of credit hours required by doctoral programs varies. While some schools require as few as 42 credit hours, many universities expect students to complete over 60 credit hours. If a student brings in enough credit hours from a master's in healthcare administration, that student might bypass some of the doctoral coursework and earn the degree sooner. Students who enroll part time, on the other hand, spend more time on their degrees.

How Much Is a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration?

The cost of a doctorate in healthcare administration hinges on multiple factors, including the number of credits needed to graduate, cost per credit hour, dissertation costs, and the availability of fellowships and grants. Most schools expect students to complete 58-63 credit hours before they receive their degrees. Schools also charge anywhere from $450 to $800 per credit hour. Excluding dissertation costs, doctorate programs in healthcare administration can cost anywhere from $26,000 to over $50,000. Students should also consider additional costs, such as dissertation, registration, and technology fees.

Although the sticker price of these doctorate programs may seem scary, most graduate programs offer financial aid to graduate students. Grad schools often run assistantship programs. These programs allow doctoral students to help professors in the classroom as teaching assistants. In addition, sometimes doctoral students find jobs as research assistants in return for a tuition waiver and a modest salary. Universities typically provide funding through scholarships and research grants, which may help offset costs for students who attend schools without tuition waivers.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration Prepares For

Certified Medical Practice Executive Certification

Healthcare administration professionals can receive board certification from the Medical Group Management Association. This certification requires applicants to possess at least two years of healthcare management experience and 50 hours of continuing-education experience. Candidates must also pass two exams, one multiple choice and one based on a scenario.

Certified Professional in Healthcare Risk Management

Offered by the American Hospital Association, the certified professional in healthcare risk management certification ensures that administrators hold adequate knowledge in patient safety, risk financing, healthcare regulation, and claims and litigation. The program requires candidates to take a multiple choice exam and pay $275 in fees, or $425 for non-members.

Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional

This certification, run by the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals, requires candidates to pass an exam with a minimum score of 75%, hold at least a year of professional experience, and pay $150 in fees. Certification candidates should boast knowledge of healthcare governance, regulation, and software.

Resources for Healthcare Administration Doctorate Students

Ray E. Brown Management Resource Center

Run by the American College of Healthcare Executives, this management resource center gives members access to healthcare administration databases, statistical resources, research, periodicals, newsletters, and reports.

AHCAP Job Bank

The Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals hosts a job bank on its websites. Recent graduates may use it to find leads on job openings, though only members of the association can access the job bank.

AUPHA Resource Center

The resource center administered by the Association of University Programs in Healthcare Administration lists open fellowships, internships, and scholarships for association members. Students can also join the Upsilon Phi Delta Honor Society.

MGMA DataDive

The Medical Group Management Association maintains multiple datasets on its website, which prove useful to students and professionals alike. Datasets include healthcare management and staff compensation data and provider compensation data.

Executive Diversity Career Navigator

A job portal for minorities and LGBT professionals in healthcare leadership, the Executive Diversity Career Navigator provides tools and continuing-education resources.

Professional Organizations in Healthcare Administration

Professional organizations help both healthcare administration students and professionals. At conferences, members can meet and network with other professionals or learn about the latest research by attending talks and workshops. Local chapters keep members updated on the industry within their communities, and continuing-education programs stop members from growing stagnant in their skill sets and knowledge. These organizations also run job boards or career services.

Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals

The Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals provides educational opportunities through an annual conference, webinars, and an online directory of resources. Members receive many of these features for free or at a discounted rate.

American College of Healthcare Executives

At the American College of Healthcare Executives, members get access to books, journals, and a magazine. The organization also provides a directory of job and fellowship listings. Professionals can buy continuing-education materials from the association as well.

Association of University Programs in Healthcare Administration

Not strictly a professional organization, the Association of University Programs in Healthcare Administration administers certification programs for colleges and universities. However, the association also hosts an annual meeting, provides job postings, and offers information for prospective students about healthcare administration programs.

Medical Group Management Association

The Medical Group Management Association lists a comprehensive directory of helpful resources for healthcare administrators on its website; only members can access many of these resources.

American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management

The American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management not only runs multiple certification programs, it also allows people working in the profession to connect through local chapters.