By most measures—including significant ones like wages and projected job growth—the healthcare industry is thriving. And healthcare’s heartbeat is particularly strong in Boston, where world-class medical institutions and a booming biotech sector are among the area’s largest employers.

Bostonians looking for a leadership role in this healthcare hotbed now have an eminent master’s program to help them achieve their goals. In November, Suffolk University’s Master in Healthcare Administration program earned the highest mark of approval: accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).

“CAHME is considered the gold standard in accreditation for healthcare management programs,” says Richard Gregg, director of programs in healthcare administration at Suffolk University. Suffolk’s is the only CAHME-accredited MHA program in New England. To put that into further perspective, the only accredited MHA programs in New York are at Cornell and Columbia.

The five-year-long accreditation process involved extensive program review and development by every full-time MHA faculty member and required the program to meet rigorous standards set by CAHME’s community of academics and practitioners.

Healthcare industry preference

“CAHME actively promotes continuous quality improvement in our programs, not just in the site visit year, but on an ongoing basis,” says Anthony Stanowski, CEO and president of CAHME.

That’s one reason it carries such a weighty reputation in the industry.

“Employers nationally recognize CAHME graduates as well prepared to lead,” says Stanowski.  “Many employers only accept students from CAHME-accredited schools—more times than not, you’ll see residencies and fellowship positions that are open only to graduates from a CAHME-accredited program.”

Strong career outlook

Healthcare administration is a rapidly growing field. Job openings for medical and health services managers are projected to rise 17 percent nationwide between 2014 and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the median salary in Massachusetts for such positions hit six figures in 2015, at $100,100 a year. About a quarter of those workers hold a master’s degree—but don’t assume it’s an MBA.

“We’re like an MBA in that we’re about administration, but our focus is on healthcare—and healthcare is an industry unto itself,” Gregg says.

Among other things, it’s highly regulated, accounts for more than 17 percent of U.S. GDP and growing, and even has its own payment system. It’s also a life-or-death industry, Gregg adds.  And unlike even banking or computers, every person in the United States is a potential user of healthcare.

Jeanette Clough, CEO of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and a Suffolk MHA alumna, agrees that healthcare is fundamentally different in some ways from other businesses. “We’re not making widgets, we’re taking care of people,” she says.

What’s more, Boston has a special relationship with healthcare. “When the largest employer in the entire state is a hospital system, you know how important it is,” says Clough, referring to Partners HealthCare.

Gregg and students tour Spaulding Rehab Hospital

Mentors and networks

Gregg sees a significant advantage in Suffolk’s MHA program’s being tethered to the Boston-area healthcare industry. Part-time students already working in healthcare invariably find additional job opportunities by connecting with classmates and alumni.

“For our full-time students, we don’t leave career development to chance: We place them in internships at healthcare organizations we know and trust,” Gregg says.

And every student who wants one is paired with a mentor in the field in their first year of school, offering an opportunity to work with and be advised by a healthcare professional as his or her career advances.

Stanowski was impressed by how Suffolk’s program brings current events and local health leaders into the curriculum through its executive lecture series, internships, and mentorships. “It’s clear to see how these opportunities create a meaningful educational experience grounded in real-world applications,” he says.

Suffolk’s real-world practicality is well known, and Clough says the school’s flexible scheduling options allowed her to continue working while earning her master’s degree. “What I learned at the MHA program I was able to bring back to my position and enrich my work experience, while my work experience enhanced my education in the classroom,” she said. “It really worked both ways.”

Gregg says there’s no typical student in the MHA program—they vary from recent undergrads to healthcare managers to clinicians and end up in positions ranging from project specialist to management consultant to administrative director to executive. Suffolk students and graduates hold management positions of all sorts in every major healthcare organization in the Greater Boston area.

Healthcare as a calling

Gregg does see one common thread: “Every one of our students is for some reason called into healthcare. And everyone’s here because they want to improve healthcare. It’s one of the things that make our community so cohesive and powerful.”

A sense of vocation helps, because, as a CAHME-accredited program, the Suffolk MHA is challenging.

“If you want an easy program, there are a lot of options to choose from. But an easy program won’t prepare a student as well as a Suffolk MHA,” Stanowski says. “If you want to be a leader and make a difference, and not just get initials after your name, Suffolk is a great choice.”

Gregg and Sen. Ed Markey with students