MSN vs MBA vs MHA (yes again)


Hello everyone,

After about 8 hours of searching on this website I still cannot come to a conclusion on future grad school options. I understand there are alot of dual programs out there, which i would consider as well.

My Credentials and Experience:

RN, BSN, CEN, additional certs.

3+ years ICU/Trauma/ED experience (all level 1 trauma centers)

What I Want:

Increased salary

administrative role (VP, CNO, higher up on the latter in administration)

What I Dont Want:

Nurse Manager/Assistant Manager

Director of Nursing for a specified department.

Please please please provide any comments, advice, previous experience, school options, etc. Thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to read this.

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.

It is very, very unlikely that you would be chosen for an executive level position (VP, CNO, etc. ) without any experience in management at the lower levels at all -- regardless of what education you get. To be a strong candidate for an upper-level administrative position, you will need administration/management experience. You have to climb the ladder: almost no one starts on the top rung.


3 Posts

Umm....did you really think I was under the impression this would happen overnight? Hahaha like seriously? I'm not stupid, I am completely aware that it is a long term process. So please, if you have some real advice that would be appreciated, if not please keep your comments to yourself. Thanks again.

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.

I gave you real advice. You just didn't like it. If you want an upper level administrative position, find yourself a lower level or mid-level management position. Get experience. That's what matters most.

While you are getting that experience, you can do your graduate studies. If you want to stay within the nursing hierarchy, get at least and MSN (if not DNP) in Nursing Administration. Getting a dual degree with an MSN with either and MBA or MHA, is even better. If you don't want to stay within the nursing hierarchy, then having a graduate degree in nursing is not necessary. It's not complicated: it's actually pretty easy to understand. If you want to stay in nursing, you are better off getting a graduate degree in nursing. If you want to leave nursing, then get the degree in something else. If you want to keep your options open, attend a dual degree program.

Bumex, DNP, NP

1 Article; 384 Posts

Specializes in Assistant Professor, Nephrology, Internal Medicine. Has 13 years experience.

llg gave you real and good advice- stop being defensive and aggressive. If you keep acting like this, it will be unlikely anyone else will even respond to you.

In addition to llg, several of the upper level management at my old institution did exactly what she said- started as unit managers, some obtained their MBAs either before or after moving up in ranks.

Specializes in orthopedic/trauma, Informatics, diabetes. Has 11 years experience.

I have a colleague who is finishing MBA and MSN to something higher level. She is at the highest level of the clinical ladder. Another friend had a previous MBA and just finished MSN-DNP in management/financial stuff (I have no interest, so I am not sure exactly what her specialty is). Right now she works in a small private clinic getting more experience while she waits for an administrative opportunity at the VA- she has 10 years in the military and she was the person that set up camps before troops came). And she is an online instructor part-time. She wears lots of hats, but has lots of education.

The one in charge of my unit (AFO) has no nursing degree. Not sure how the higher ups get their jobs/what their qualifications are. I would think a minimum of an MSN and an MBA would put in the direction you want to go.

I am getting a non-clinical MSN (informatics) and then proceeding to DNP. More opportunities that way.

nutella, MSN, RN

1 Article; 1,509 Posts

Forget about the MHA - I do not want to elaborate but in my opinion will not get you anywhere really - unless you want to become a nursing home administrator perhaps.

The big question is if you want to focus mainly on "business" or more on "steering nursing." Both are of course related when it comes to highest level positions.

A MBA with a concentration in healthcare management could be what you are looking for if you are mainly interested in learning the management /finance/business development part - it is a business degree and not a nursing degree. You can look for example here

D'Amore-McKim School of Business

A MSN is a graduate degree in nursing - there are different concentrations as well. For example, I have a MSN with a concentration in patient safety and quality. There are MSN programs where you would take some graduate nursing classes and in addition classes specific to management. I picked on of many so you can get an idea:

Master of Science in Nursing: Leadership in Health Systems Management Concentration | College of Nursing and Health Professions | Drexel University

So - how does that work out in real life?

With my MSN I also took graduate classes on leadership and financing. I am well prepared to look at the bigger picture of nursing and could for example create programs that make sense, initiate quality improvement initiatives, implement and design quality and safety oriented interventions - I am also specialty certified in hospice and palliative nursing and could easily work in some leadership role in palliative care or hospice. I understanding nursing on a deep level and have a good idea of nursing as a profession, the field of nursing as it develops, clinical microsystems, systems thinking - the nursing process and the nursing model are important to me, as well as how nurses learn.

But when it comes to understanding budgets and how to finance programs my knowledge is limited to basics that I learned during graduate studies. For example - I understand to a certain degree how reimbursement works and how hospitals or hospices and VNA get paid, the differences between commercial insurances and Medicare/Medicaid. I understand the different payment systems by medicare and innovation models with bundled payments / medicare advantage programs and so on -I can draft a basic budget for a department and for sure project management budgets, which are somewhat different in finance controlling and such - but I would not be a good candidate for a CEO position. I am more of a nurse as opposed to a business person.

I worked as a nurse manager for a short time and while I liked to provide leadership and the general direction of the department, I really did not like the "business-financial" part. I could not reconcile my personal view on healthcare and ethics with the financially driven decision-making that definitely impacts nurses and patients in a negative way.

I know nurses who are in a MBA program with healthcare management concentration and who work for example at insurance companies in appears /utilization review or who work for larger healthcare systems and are concerned with project management.

I think it is a great degree if your plan is to go corporate - there are many businesses out there that are related to healthcare in some way.

If you are a nurse at heart and look into nursing leadership for systems or want to steer programs I think a MSN is better because you understand the essence of nursing more in depth and how it all interrelates.

The thing is that - when it comes to the bigger finance decisions, most places have a person who is not a nurse with a graduate degree in financing but an accountant with a graduate degree/ MBA or similar. Nurses tend to have a harder time with the financial part as they tend to look at the "patient" and the staff as well and not just at the numbers. But nowadays the numbers matter as well because everything is changing to value-based purchasing and less fee-for -service. Newer reimbursement models often require a solid financial risk analysis - and I think that is something that a person has to have a solid finances/accounting background.

Some MDs like to get a MBA if they plan on their own practice or want to steer a system higher up so they understand the business part better.

You write that your goal is more money as well.

In that regard, you will make more money in an advanced practice role. There are many programs to become a NP and there is an acute care NP role - perhaps that would be something you are interested in - or family practice NP. The downside from what I am seeing is that the midlevel positions are frustrating and really crazy jobs - I hardly ever meet a happy midlevel provider. They all say the money is good but the workload is terrible and a lot of them write notes until evening. Many have to work on call or rotate, in offices they see so many patients that it is crazy. CNS jobs seems somewhat better but there are not that many anymore....

I decided on a MSN because I wanted the in depth understanding of nursing/ systems/ quality-safety and I accepted a PhD program admission.

There are also other graduate degrees you may want to look at - for example MS policy and regulations, or healthcare innovations, and so on. Education does not pay much - so that would not meet your goal of $$$.

There is also the MPH (public health) for people who are drawn towards that direction.

The one degree I would not recommend is that HCA degree.

Good luck!

MissM472, BSN

44 Posts

Specializes in RN MPH CHES. Has 8 years experience.

This was very helpful! Thank you.


1 Post

Bruh she was utterly un-useful in her first response, and minimally informative in the 2nd, which is to say she was mostly just replying to be condescending.


4 Posts


I Just looked at your response today since I am looking into the same thing and did not know what ifs but your explanation was a key in my decision making.