Healthcare executives oversee operations, personnel, and services while promoting the goal of providing the best care possible to patients.
Executive directors have a wide range of backgrounds and responsibilities. Some positions require clinical experience, others require healthcare administration experience, and some may not rely as heavily on prior healthcare experience.
The chief executive officer serves several functions, but the most critical may be ensuring compliance with local and regional laws, regulations, and internal policies. They are also heavily involved with recruiting high-quality senior leadership and fundraising. The board of directors holds the CEO responsible for the healthcare organization’s ability to meet key objectives. Typically, chief executive officers rise to the rank of CEO from other executive positions within healthcare organizations.
Chief compliance officers are responsible for designing, implementing, and monitoring processes that ensure the broader organization complies with all applicable laws, regulations, and policies. Their responsibilities include making certain all internal employees are properly trained on the laws, regulations, and policies that impact their specific role. They typically report directly to the board of directors and are encouraged to act independently of counsel and the rest of the executive team.
A healthcare organization’s corporate counsel should be certified in the state(s) in which the organization does business. In-house counsel focuses all of their time and energy on the healthcare organization and its employees. The primary objectives of SVP Corporate Counsel are to protect the well being of the organization should an issue arise and develop strategies to minimize risk proactively.
The chief operations officer is responsible for ensuring patients get the most efficient and effective care possible. This requires a mind for analytics and reducing costs while maximizing patient satisfaction. They represent several organizations and ensure their direct and lower reports are working to fulfill the corporate mission. They often rise to the ranks of COO from other executive positions.
A chief financial officer is responsible for maximizing profits and minimizing financial risks to a healthcare organization. They develop budgets across the entire organization and are responsible for monitoring spend across the organization. Their department sets corporate financial policies, such as purchasing approval processes and expense guidelines.
The chief human resources officer is responsible for several functions that relate to employee satisfaction and attaining corporate goals:
CHROs work with compliance officers to roll out internal policies and training. Their purview may also include employee safety protocols and internal employee support or counseling.
The head of medical services is a qualified medical doctor who focuses on quality improvement, medical staff affairs, care standardization, population health, informatics, and care coordination. They traditionally come from a public health medicine background and focus on communities’ wellness rather than individual care. Various medical departments at the hospital report to the chief medical officer.
The head of medical services is a qualified medical doctor who focuses on quality improvement, medical staff affairs, care standardization, population health, informatics, and care coordination. They traditionally come from a public health medicine background and focus on the wellness of communities rather than individual care. The various medical departments throughout the hospital report to the chief medical officer.
The chief nursing officer represents nurses throughout the healthcare organization. Their primary function is to ensure nurses are receiving the resources necessary to do their jobs well. They represent nurses in executive meetings and budgeting discussions. They also help develop and socialize internal policies and oversee scheduling.
The chief information officer oversees the departments that support the healthcare organization’s infrastructure, applications, and hardware. They often support and research major purchases and are responsible for aggregating data from various systems and surfacing insights to different department heads. Sometimes they also are responsible for security, although network and application security is typically an all-consuming role that attracts cybersecurity specialists.
Because of the volume of sensitive information healthcare organizations house, the chief security officer is now a common role in healthcare organizations. These cybersecurity experts create internal policies and conduct security reviews to minimize the risk of a data or network breach. They are responsible for ensuring network continuity during a catastrophic event, such as mandating regular network snapshots so an organization may roll back to a recent snapshot should they experience a ransomware attack.
General services executives are responsible for overseeing facilities operations such as housekeeping, maintenance and repair, construction, and structural upgrades. They may also lead project managers who coordinate cross-functional initiatives.
The work environment of executive directors depends on the size of the healthcare organization. Large healthcare conglomerates have executives located at a headquarters that may or may not also serve as a patient-facing healthcare facility. National conglomerates may also have regional headquarters to help manage policies, laws, and regulations specific to that region.
If a conglomerate owns and operates multiple hospitals or outpatient treatment centers, each location may have a chief operations officer who commands their own direct reports. If the treatment centers are large enough, they may house certain functions, such as information technology, offsite.
Smaller organizations may have all personnel on-site with a floor or section of the building dedicated to human resources, information technology, marketing, and operations.
Not many people rise to a senior executive level, so the search is intense when there’s a vacancy. The primary concerns are qualifications and culture match, so geographic location is rarely a barrier for organizations considering candidates.
Some positions have higher turnover rates than others, with chief marketing officers facing the highest turnover rate with an average tenure of 3.2 years. This is due in part to the difficulty of proving campaign effectiveness and also in part to the ever-changing digital landscape.
Chief marketing officers are followed by chief medical officers, chief human resources officers, chief security officers, and chief information officers. Chief executive officers and chief financial officers tend to have the longest tenure, exceeding 4.5 years.
Requirements vary by position, but in general, healthcare executive directors have an MBA (or MD, PhD, MSN), extensive experience in the healthcare industry, and various certifications.
Information technology positions don’t always require a great deal of experience in the healthcare vertical. CSOs and CIOs will need to understand the unique security vulnerabilities of healthcare-specific technology, but network infrastructure and cybersecurity will translate across industries.
Positions like Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Medical Officer will require experience as a nurse or doctor.
The majority of other executive positions will likely require an MHA, MBA, or MSA. At the very minimum, these positions require a BA or BS, various certifications, and extensive experience in their chosen field. A candidate’s master’s degree may not be in a healthcare-specific discipline, but candidates can expect healthcare experience and certifications to be required if they obtained a more general MBA.
According to the 2019 Best Grad Schools ranking in US News, the Midwest and North Central United States are home to five of the top ten healthcare management programs: