Best Online MSN/MHA Dual Degree Programs

by NurseJournal Staff

Nurses can advance in their careers and increase their salary potential by earning a master's degree in nursing, and pursuing an MSN/MHA dual degree online

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Nurses can advance in their careers and increase their salary potential by earning a master’s degree in nursing, and pursuing an MSN/MHA dual degree online provides all the benefits of an MSN with the added advantage of healthcare administration training. This dual degree prepares graduates to pursue careers as healthcare managers and administrators. These fields offer lucrative salaries and high job demand, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which projects a 20% increase in the number of healthcare administrator positions between 2016 and 2026. By earning an MSN and an MHA, nurses position themselves for leadership roles in healthcare.

Students who enroll in MSN/MHA dual-degree programs online follow a flexible pathway and earn two graduate degrees. Online students complete the same internship and clinical hour requirements as on-campus students, with the added convenience of arranging their coursework around other obligations. The following article details the structure of an MSN/MHA dual-degree track, the job and salary outlook for graduates, and several scholarship opportunities.

Why Get an MSN/MHA Dual Degree?

MSN/MHA dual-degree programs provide fast pathways for nurses to advance into leadership positions. After accruing both clinical training and administrative knowledge, graduates can pursue careers in nursing or in healthcare management. The two degrees complement each other, with many MSN programs already incorporating some healthcare administration coursework. A dual degree also offers increased job flexibility and security — graduates can continue on a clinical path or pursue administrative roles, depending on their career goals and interests.

MSN/MHA Programs Online: An Overview

The format of an MSN/MHA program differs from that of traditional graduate programing. The following section introduces the structure of a dual-degree program, including common curriculum requirements for each degree and typical program lengths.

What is a Dual-Degree Program?

In a dual-degree program, students can earn two graduate degrees at the same in an accelerated manner. For example, most students pursuing MSN or MHA degrees take courses on leadership in healthcare; however, students enrolled in a dual-degree program can apply credits from overlapping course material toward requirements for both degrees. This format benefits students by providing a faster path to career advancement, as compared to earning two degrees separately. Dual-degree programs often appeal to nursing professionals who want the increased job flexibility provided by an MSN and a graduate degree in healthcare administration.

Admission Requirements for an Online MSN/MHA Program

Applicants to online MSN/MHA programs must typically meet the requirements for both programs. Requirements may include a minimum undergraduate GPA, for example, many schools use minimums between 2.75 and 3.0, standardized test scores, and a current RN license. Prospective students may also need to meet prerequisite class requirements, particularly if they do not hold a BSN. Some programs may require a minimum number of years of professional experience, which applicants can prove by submitting a letter from their supervisor. The admissions process may also require students to send in transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online MSN/MHA Dual-Degree Program?

MSN/MHA dual-degree online programs let students earn two graduate degrees more efficiently by allowing them to apply certain credits toward both degrees. To graduate from separate MSN and MHA programs, students may need to complete 70 or more credits of coursework; however, most dual-degree programs consist of fewer than 60 credits. As a result, students can earn both graduate degrees in as little as two years.

Several program characteristics influence the length of an MSN/MHA program, including the internship requirements, number of credits required for graduation, and program structure. For example, programs that use a cohort model — where students complete coursework at the same pace with a group of their peers — follow a strict schedule. Depending on an student’s learning style, a cohort model may take more or less time than an individually paced program.

Concentrations Offered for an Online MSN/MHA Degree

Nursing Education
A nursing education concentration trains enrollees to teach nursing students. Participants complete coursework that covers organizational leadership, evaluating nursing students, and clinical leadership. The leadership courses offered in this concentration fit well with a master’s in healthcare administration.  Careers this concentration prepares for: Nurse educator, nurse administrator, healthcare administrator
Nurses enrolled in an MSN/MHA program build valuable leadership skills while pursuing dual degrees. However, a leadership concentration provides additional training related to management skills, leadership models, and theories of leadership. The concentration prepares graduates for careers in management and administration.  Careers this concentration prepares for: Healthcare administrator, nursing consultant, program director
Nurse Practitioner
Some MSN/MHA programs allow students to complete additional coursework to train as a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners offer primary care to patients, diagnosing, evaluating, and treating medical conditions. Becoming a nurse practitioner and a healthcare administrator allows graduates to assume leadership roles in health systems.  Careers this concentration prepares for: Nurse practitioner, nursing consultant, healthcare administrator

Example Courses for Online MSN/MHA Students

Students pursuing an MSN/MHA dual degree online complete courses in both nursing and healthcare administration, including clinical training. MSN courses depend on a student’s concentration or focus area, and many programs also let participants customize MHA coursework to meet their career interests. The specific curricula vary depending on the program, but the following classes represent common offerings.

Online MSN Courses:

  • Advanced Health Assessment: In this class, MSN students learn about health assessment techniques, conducting comprehensive assessments on patients of different ages. Health assessment courses use theory and research to provide information, while simulations and clinical experiences teach students the skills needed to assess patients.
  • Evidence-Based Practice: Nursing students in any concentration benefit from taking an evidence-based practice course, where they learn how to transfer theoretical knowledge to clinical practice. These courses may incorporate clinical experience and research skills and often cover different ways to provide patient care and the medical care needs of vulnerable populations.
  • Health Informatics: This class teaches students how to take advantage of information systems and informatics while providing healthcare. Health informatics courses may cover theoretical models for medical data, healthcare computing, and managing medical data. Coursework may also examine ethical and social issues, as they pertain to healthcare informatics.

Online MHA Courses:

  • Healthcare Quality Management: In this class, MHA students study performance improvement and quality management in healthcare systems. Coursework may cover quality assessment, risk management, outcomes assessment, and benchmarking skills, which help healthcare administrators evaluate and improve medical services and patient safety. Students may also learn how to apply different principles and tools to design improvement projects.
  • Healthcare Financing: Master’s students in this course evaluate financing as it relates to the U.S. healthcare system, including the relationship between financing, cost, and efficiency. Students may learn about different service payment mechanisms, administrative uses of capital acquisitions, and organizational structures. Learners also evaluate the differences between for-profit and not-for-profit healthcare systems.
  • Health Policy: Health policy classes provide a conceptual and analytical understanding of policy making in healthcare and the politics of health policy. Master’s students approach policy from micro and macro perspectives, assessing the changing environment of health policy and its relation to the healthcare industry.

Internship Component

Students earning an MSN/MHA dual degree online often complete an internship as part of their training. This internship experience may involve clinical hours as part of MSN coursework and/or a healthcare administrative internship to meet MHA requirements. Online students can arrange to complete their clinical hours or internships locally, working with a preceptor or supervisor who agrees to oversee a student’s training.

Students who live close to their university may benefit from the program’s relationship with nearby internship or clinical sites. Additionally, participants may be able to complete these requirements at their current place of employment.

Certifications and Licenses This Program Prepares For

  • Licensed Healthcare Administrator: States confer licenses to healthcare administrators who meet certain requirements. Candidates typically need an accredited degree with healthcare administration courses, and an individual’s state may also require a specific amount of work experience. Health administrators also need to pass an exam to earn their license.
  • Board Certified Registered Nurse: RNs can pursue board certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. This process includes an examination that verifies a nurse’s clinical knowledge; candidates choose a specialized board certification exam based on their field. Once nurses earn the RN-BC designation, they must complete continuing-education credits to maintain their credential.
  • Board Certified in Healthcare Management: Healthcare executives who have been members of the American College of Healthcare Executives for at least three years can earn board certification in healthcare management. Candidates must hold a master’s degree, five or more years of executive healthcare management experience, and have completed at least 36 hours of healthcare-related continuing education in the past three years. The application also evaluates an individual’s community/civic and healthcare activities.

Accreditation for Online MSN/MHA Programs

Degree-granting institutions and programs can voluntarily undergo accreditation review processes to demonstrate their quality. Schools can pursue regional or national accreditation, which measure the effectiveness and learning outcomes of an entire institution. The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation both host databases listing accredited schools. In addition to institutional accreditation, nursing programs can earn accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. These independent accrediting agencies regularly evaluate nursing programs to determine whether students receive appropriate training.

Prospective MSN/MHA students should only consider accredited schools that also host accredited nursing programs. Holding an accredited degree is necessary to meet the qualifications for many nursing licenses and certifications. Additionally, many employers only hire graduates who earned their degrees at accredited programs.

Job and Salary Outlook


Job Opportunities for MSN/MHA Graduates

Professionals with graduate degrees in nursing and health administration can blend their expertise to pursue a variety of career paths. With training in medical care and management skills, MSN/MHA graduates work as healthcare administrators, nursing consultants, and program directors. Nurses can also choose career paths that focus on clinical work and training, working as nurse practitioners or nurse educators. Many of these careers lead to median annual salaries near six figures.


Healthcare Administrator

  Median Annual Salary: $98,350 Managers and administrators in healthcare manage facilities, oversee staff members, and keep their facilities in compliance with laws and regulations.

Nursing Consultant

  Median Annual Salary: $86,834 Nurse consultants identify and correct problems in medical facilities. They evaluate facilities and design solutions to address issues.

Nurse Practitioner

  Median Annual Salary: $110,930 Nurse practitioners act as advanced practice registered nurses and may specialize in many different areas. In some states, they can act independently without a physician’s oversight.

Nurse Educator

  Median Annual Salary: $71,260 Nurse educators teach nursing students at the postsecondary level. They provide classroom and clinical training, design educational modules, and oversee student training.
Source: BLS, PayScale, Nov. 2018

How Much Do MSN/MHA Graduates Make?

Graduates from MSN/MHA programs can pursue lucrative careers in healthcare and administration, although salaries vary widely depending on a professional’s title and experience. For example, experienced hospital administrators can earn well over six-figure salaries, whereas beginning healthcare administrators earn closer to $50,000. The following table shows the median salaries for five MSN/MHA professions by career level.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Hospital Administrator $89,179 $71,000 $94,000 $123,000
Healthcare Administrator $64,454 $50,000 $63,000 $87,000
Nurse Practitioner $92,392 $90,000 $97,000 $105,000
Nursing Manager $83,347 $74,000 $80,000 $90,000
Healthcare Program Director $80,341 $62,000 $74,000 $88,000
Source: Payscale

Professional Organizations

Current nursing students and graduates can benefit from joining a professional organization. These organizations host conferences and events, allowing members to take advantage of networking opportunities. Some of these organizations also oversee certification programs and run continuing-education programs to help nurses maintain their licenses and certifications. Many offer student discounts, award scholarships, and provide educational materials for nurses in training. Professional organizations may also host job boards and provide other career services.

American Nurses Association: Founded in 1896, ANA represents the largest professional organization for nurses in the country. The association offers publications and research, continuing-education resources, and certifications.

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: Critical-care nurses receive membership discounts through AACN, which also offers certifications and continuing-education programs. The association hosts annual conferences, confers awards, and organizes events.

Emergency Nurses Association: Emergency nurses can access clinical practice information and other educational resources through ENA. The association also offers scholarships to support nursing students.

Financing Your Online MSN/MHA Program

Nursing students fund their degrees in several ways. Many rely on a mix of savings, income, and financial aid. Master’s students can see what federal financial aid opportunities they qualify for by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid each year. Federal programs may award loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. In addition to federal aid, nursing students may qualify for state financial aid or funding through their university. Nursing students can also apply for many private scholarships, including the ones listed below.

Scholarships for MSN/MHA Students

Graduate Scholarship in Cancer Nursing Practice

Who Can Apply: The American Cancer Society offers a scholarship for graduate students in nursing — including students enrolled in an MSN/MHA dual-degree online program — who plan to work in oncology nursing. Recipients can renew the award for a second year.

Amount: $10,000

Anita Door Graduate Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Emergency Nurses Association offers funding to emergency nurses pursuing an MSN with a focus in administration. The association awards two scholarships each year.

Amount: $5,000

Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Graduate students earning a degree in nursing can apply for this scholarship if they have volunteered, or worked for, an American Red Cross Unit, including service to an Armed Forces station. Recipients can use this award to pay for tuition, books, and/or academic fees.

Amount: $3,000

AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in an MSN program can apply for this scholarship, and nursing students planning to work as nurse educators receive extra consideration. The program offers one scholarship each quarter, and applicants must attend an AACN-accredited program.

Amount: $2,500

Nurses Educational Funds, Inc. Scholarships

Who Can Apply: MSN students at accredited nursing programs qualify for several scholarship opportunities through NEF. Applicants can be part-time or full-time students but must complete at least 12 credits with a minimum 3.6 GPA before applying. Students must also submit a personal essay and a goal statement.

Amount: Varies

Healthcare Leaders Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Graduate students entering or currently enrolled in a nursing program can apply for this award. Applicants must submit an essay describing their career goals and how this scholarship would help them accomplish those goals. Students should also hold a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $1,000

NBNA Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Graduate students in nursing who hold membership with the National Black Nurses Association can apply for several scholarships. Applicants must submit official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, an essay, and a headshot.

Amount: $1,000-$6,000

NAHN Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Offered by the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, these scholarships support NAHN members earning graduate degrees in nursing. The committee considers an applicant’s financial need, academic standing, and course of study when awarding scholarships.

Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Explore the Best Online MSN/MHA Programs and Schools

University of Phoenix true View School Profile Tempe, AZ

The University of Phoenix offers an online MSN-MHA dual degree that combines nursing and business to prepare students for leadership roles within global healthcare organizations. Thanks to its expedited six-week courses and asynchronous format, students can complete the program in 18 months.

The university provides various resources to distance learners, including one-on-one tutoring, online tutorials, a digital library, a writing lab, and career services. It accepts transfer credits from nearly all accredited colleges and universities and awards credit for some military training.

Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited postsecondary institution or a comparable international college or university. For those without a nursing degree, the school offers a “bridge” program that students can complete to qualify for the online MSN-MHA program. The program also requires a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a valid registered nurse license, along with at least three years of relevant professional experience.

This MSN-MHA dual degree online program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

California State University - Long Beach true View School Profile Long Beach, CA

CSU Long Beach’s MSN-MHA dual degree online program allows students to gain advanced education and training in nursing and healthcare administration. The program incorporates a mix of both disciplines each semester, enabling students to learn how the two interact within hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare organizations.

Students take courses on nursing administration, administrative theory, human resource management, finance management, and strategic planning. They then take a culminating event course through which they complete either a final project or write a thesis based on all they have learned.

To apply, students must hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field and an active California registered nurse license. Those without a bachelor of science in nursing must pass a community health lab course to qualify for admission. Applicants also submit a current resume, GRE or GMAT scores, and undergraduate transcripts with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Online students can access mentoring programs, tutoring, university honors, and veterans’ services.

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