Best Online Doctorate in Health Administration Programs

Nov 24, 2021

What is an Online Doctorate in Health Administration Program?

There are a wide range of doctoral degree programs available in the field of healthcare, including doctoral degrees in healthcare administration and occupational therapy. Many of these degree programs are also available in online formats, such as online doctoral degrees in health science, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and healthcare management or administration. For those interested in earning a degree in healthcare administration online, options are plentiful. Typically, these degree programs are offered as Doctor of Health Administration (DHA) degrees and help prepare students for a wide range of advanced positions within the field of healthcare administration. Students in these programs study a range of topics, including patient care, healthcare policies, and healthcare practices, and learn how to become leaders in the field. Here, we will examine these online DHA programs in greater detail.

Why Should I Get an Online Doctorate in Health Administration?

Those who pursue a degree in health administration likely enjoy working in the field of healthcare but may be ready to step out of clinical positions and/or wish to pursue more advanced administrative positions. Many health administration positions do not require a doctoral degree, so some students may consider only earning a graduate certificate to further develop their skills and knowledge, such as a health information management, healthcare management, public health, or healthcare analytics certificate. However, earning a doctoral degree in health administration may qualify graduates for a wider range of advanced positions. This can increase job prospects and will also likely increase potential earnings. Usually, students will choose to complete an online degree for its flexibility. Online programs allow students to continue working a full-time job or fulfilling other time commitments and finishing their degree at their own pace.

Admissions Requirements for Online Health Administration Doctorate Programs

Although admissions standards vary from institution to institution, students applying to an online DHA degree program will likely need to hold a master's degree. It is also common for these degree programs to require a minimum GPA, but this may range from a 2.5 to a 3.0, depending on the program. Most applicants to these programs will also need to meet some kind of education or work experience prerequisite. For example, some programs require applicants to have at least 27 to 30 credits of graduate coursework in the field of healthcare, while other programs require applicants to have 3 to 5 years of work experience in a health-related field. The supplemental materials for applications to these programs can also vary, but students will typically need to include their transcripts. Other materials may include references, a cover letter, a resume or CV, and a writing sample.

What Should I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Health Administration?

Online DHA programs may range from about 58 to 62 credits of coursework. These programs are designed to give students an advanced-level understanding of the healthcare system, processes, and management techniques. Students in these programs further develop their leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. Although most of these programs can be completed fully online, some programs may have on-campus requirements, such as intensive, full-day seminars. It is also common for these degree programs to conclude with a dissertation as the culminating experience.

How Long is an Online Doctoral Health Administration Program?

The time to degree completion for an online DHA program varies by program and by student. There are several online DHA programs that are designed to be completed in 3 years. However, some programs also provide a 5-year track for students who would like to pursue their degree more slowly. How long it takes a student to complete their dissertation will also determine how quickly they earn their degree. Course load each semester may also help students finish more quickly or slowly, and some programs may accept transfer credit, which usually allows students to finish their degree faster.

Common Courses for Online Health Administration Doctoral Programs

Students in online DHA programs usually take some courses in health administration and research methods, and then they conclude with dissertation credits. Core courses in health administration cover a wide range of topics within the field that all aspiring administrators will need to know. These courses provide students with the knowledge needed to navigate healthcare processes, develop effective strategies to meet their organization's goals, and manage the financial side of their business. Students also further develop their leadership and communication skills as they learn to work with others across various areas of healthcare. Research methods courses are scattered throughout the program and help prepare students for their dissertation, but students also take them to learn about conducting research and interpreting data in healthcare. Some programs may also offer various elective courses to help students customize their degree. Below are some examples of possible courses for online DHA programs.

Healthcare Policy

Courses in healthcare policy generally explore legislation pertaining to the field at the local, state, and federal levels. Students discuss how these policies affect various roles in the healthcare system, such as patients and healthcare providers, and discuss the process of introducing new policies. Other topics may include healthcare reform, ethics, and advocacy.

Population Health

Population health courses explore various health issues within populations and interventions that can be used. Students combine topics in epidemiology with population health risks and how a health administrator works to promote population health. These courses may also discuss historical perspectives of population health, how to utilize technology to improve outcomes, and how globalization affects population health.

Health Economics

Health economics courses commonly include topics in financial management as they train students to run their organization in a financially responsible way. Students study economic principles applied to the field of healthcare and how they can affect policies, research, health improvement, and more. Other specific topics may include finance strategy, debt capacity, capitalization, human resources, and organizational supplies.

Quality Improvement

Courses in quality improvement discuss patient safety, risk management, service quality, and how to continuously improve in these areas. Students may use case studies and group work as they explore quality-driven practices. These exercises help them learn how to develop management principles based on evidence. Students may also discuss how various government agencies influence quality improvement.

Online Health Administration Doctorate Degree Specializations

Most online DHA degree programs do not offer additional areas of specialization. However, there are some programs that include major elective courses and/or optional focus areas. This allows students to individualize their studies to fit their future career goals. For example, depending on the program, students may be able to choose from electives or focus courses in related areas such as accounting, management, marketing, human resources management, or education. All of these subject areas can easily be applied and utilized in health administration and may provide students with additional skills needed to work in a particular area of their healthcare organization. For instance, those more interested in the business-side of administration may take more courses in accounting or marketing, while those interested in leadership may perfect their skills in additional management courses. Students also have the option to explore areas of interest within their research they conduct for their dissertation.

Doctoral Dissertation for Health Administration

It is common for online DHA programs to require a dissertation at the end of the program. Throughout their coursework, students will be obtaining research-based skills needed to complete this project. Typically, after they have completed their coursework, or the didactic portion of the program, students will need to pass comprehensive exams to advance to candidacy. Once admitted to candidacy, students need to form their dissertation committee with their advisor and other faculty members who will help them throughout the dissertation process. They will provide feedback and must approve the final dissertation. Students also usually enroll in dissertation courses, some of which may include a seminar or capstone course that guides students through the dissertation process, including the design, implementation, and defense process. Other programs may have students take multiple dissertation courses that help them write their dissertation in smaller portions, which usually have to be approved by the committee. In general, during the dissertation portion of the program, students are continuously researching and writing about their unique research statement or hypothesis. After they have finished writing all of the different parts of their dissertation, students must defend it before their dissertation committee. This entire process from exams to defense usually takes at least 1 year or more.

How to Choose the Right Online Health Administration Doctorate Program

Choosing the right online DHA program is important, as students are more likely to finish their degree if they are happy with their school and program. Based on their career goals and interests, students should first ensure that a degree in health administration is what they want. They should also make sure that a doctoral degree is the right degree level for these goals and their available time commitment. A student's schedule can also help determine if a more flexible, online program is needed, as well as a student's learning preference. After making sure an online DHA is the right program, students should begin comparing the different features and characteristics of these programs to find a good fit. Students can compare course topics and see which schools offer ones that best align with their interests and goals. Students may also want to explore the credentials of the school's faculty members and available research areas. Other considerations are more logistical in nature. For instance, some programs have in-person requirements, which means students may need to have a school within driving distance. The time to degree completion, cost of a program, and available financial aid or funding can also play a role in the school selection process.

Accreditation for Schools with a Health Administration Doctorate Program

Students should also be sure to choose an accredited online DHA program. Accreditation is an acknowledgement of academic quality that is bestowed on a college or university by an accrediting body. Colleges or universities that offer online DHA programs may be regionally accredited by accrediting bodies like the Higher Learning Committee. There are also some subject-specific accrediting bodies. While most DHA programs do not hold this type of program-level accreditation, there are other healthcare-related accrediting bodies that accredit other healthcare-related programs, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) that accredits different nursing programs. When program-level accreditation is not available, students should be sure that they attend an accredited institution. Accreditation allows the institution to accept state and federal funds and offer federal financial aid to its students. Employers are also more likely to prefer graduates who have an accredited degree, as it indicates a level of academic quality.

Job Outlook for Health Administration

Career information for a degree in healthcare administration is diverse. Students can choose from a range of flexible careers in healthcare, as well as careers in various areas of the field. Earning an advanced degree will usually allow students to bypass a career as a healthcare administrative assistant and move right into advanced leadership positions. While specific job titles and roles will vary based on the organization and subfield, graduates with their DHA may be able to pursue careers such as:

  • Chief nursing officer
  • Healthcare consultant
  • Director of patient safety
  • Healthcare human resources administrator
  • Director in healthcare advocacy agencies
  • Professor

Here we discuss a few career options in greater detail.

Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical and health services managers include a variety of leadership-related job titles in the field of healthcare, such as clinical managers, health information managers, and nursing home administrators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of medical and health services managers was $104,280 as of 2020, and the job outlook was 32% from 2020 to 2030. The specific job duties for these managers will vary based on their organization and job title, but in general, medical and health services managers perform a wide range of administrative duties to keep their organization running smoothly. For instance, they may manage staff schedules, monitor budgets, and help develop goals and policies.

Top Executive

Top executives include a wide range of upper leadership and executive positions within any type of organization, including operations managers, managing directors, presidents, chief executive officers (CEOs), and more. Per the BLS, the median annual salary for top executives, as of 2020, was $106,180, and the job outlook from 2020 to 2030 was 8%. The job duties of top executives also vary by role and organization, but these leaders are responsible for setting organizational goals and helping develop ways to reach these goals. This may involve hiring managers, evaluating financial statements, identifying ways to improve, and developing processes/plans to make those improvements.

Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers may work in healthcare-related organizations, such as nursing and residential care facilities or rehabilitation services. As of 2020, according to the BLS, the median annual salary of social and community service managers was $69,600, and the job outlook was 15% from 2020 to 2030. Social and community service managers typically work for organizations that help support the public's well-being and may oversee various programs and organizations related to this. They may be required to figure out a community's needs and ways to meet those needs, manage the administrative duties involved in implementing programs, and evaluate the success of various programs.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online Health Administration Doctorate Programs

Due to the significant cost of earning an online DHA program, students should be sure to research all of their available financial aid options to help offset costs. Each year, doctoral students should still fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for federal loans or grants. Then, students should explore the various financial aid and funding options their school may offer. For instance, some schools may offer their own scholarships or tuition discounts for various student populations, such as military service members. Students can also search for scholarships from organizations outside of their school(s) of interest that may or may not be related to their field of study. In the case of health administration, there are many healthcare-related groups that offer graduate-level scholarships. One example includes the Larry A. Mullins, DHA, Scholarship. This $1,000 award is given to an undergraduate or graduate student in healthcare each May. Preference is given to those already working in healthcare, military members, and/or those willing to work in Oregon or Arizona.

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