The modern hospital is much more than a building where sick people go to get well. The modern hospital environment is as technologically sophisticated as any Silicon Valley startup. Highly specialized staff work long hours, both providing care and conducting invaluable research. Even facilities management — from ensuring beds are available to incoming patients to maintaining hygiene in the hospital’s public spaces — is a complex affair.

How Can I Become a Hospital CEO?

The Hospital Leadership Team

Whether private or public, virtually all modern hospitals are administered by an executive team that commonly includes a Chief Medical Officer (CMO), a Chief Operating Officer (COO), a Chief Communications Officer (CCO), and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The leader of this executive team is the hospital’s CEO, or Chief Executive Officer. As such, the CEO provides leadership for the hospital as an institution and organization.

The Hospital CEO: Core Competencies and Essential Duties

For hospital CEOs, leadership entails many duties, some discrete, others more comprehensive. The following list includes a few typical items:

  • Make decisions and take actions that help fulfill the hospital’s mission, vision and values statement.
  • Establish a strategic plan as well as policies to ensure that the hospital delivers the highest quality patient care.
  • Foster a culture of accountability, transparency, operational efficiency and commitment to excellence.
  • Oversee efforts to recruit, vet, hire and retain licensed clinical professionals who are also talented and show strong leadership potential of their own.
  • Hold all hospital employees, including themselves, accountable for complying with governmental regulations and industry-defined principles of ethical behavior.
  • Develop and sustain productive relationships with stakeholders in communities the hospital serves.
  • Achieve the organization’s financial goals and safeguard its financial health.

In summary, in the words of Raji Kumar, CEO of Dallas Medical Center, a good hospital CEO must “have a vision, communicate it and have the right people in the right place to execute it.” Commensurate with the extent of their responsibilities, hospital CEOs are among the best-compensated individuals in the healthcare sector. According to 2015 data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, chief executives earn an average annual salary of approximately $213,000. Factor in bonuses and other incentives, and over the course of their career, some hospital CEOs can claim earnings in the millions.

Training to Become a Hospital CEO: The Importance of Professional Experience

Prior management experience is a must. But do all hospital CEOs come up through the ranks of the medical profession?

Each hospital is different, and each is obligated to choose a leader based on its own particular needs. In some instances, medical expertise may be less desirable than a strong record of executive leadership in an unrelated industry.

A hospital struggling to manage electronic health records may prefer to hire a CEO with health information systems experience. Another facing competition from urgent care centers or seeking increased market share, may opt for a growth-focused CEO with marketing expertise. And one seeking a smooth transition may promote an internal candidate, such as the institution’s current COO.

Training to Become a Hospital CEO: The Importance of Formal Education

Apart from gaining the required experience, aspiring hospital CEOs must also invest in furthering their education. Many hospital administrators hold a| master’s degree either in Health Administration (MHA) or in Public Health (MPH).

The MHA path can be particularly attractive to managers who want to increase their knowledge of the special considerations tied to doing business in the healthcare industry.

While both the MHA and MPH are specialized degrees, they are typically not affiliated with schools of medicine, and a formal background in medical science is rarely a prerequisite for students wishing to enroll in these programs.

The Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) maintains an online directory of colleges and universities that offer master’s degrees in the fields of health administration, public health and public administration.

As an alternative to the two-year MHA, institutes of higher learning have begun offering a healthcare administration concentration to those pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Like the MHA, the MBA provides degree candidates with a solid foundation in finance, accounting, informatics (e.g., data analytics and data mining), marketing, public policy, ethics, and organizational behavior. The MBA path can be particularly attractive to clinical personnel and healthcare providers who seek to broaden their knowledge of corporate leadership. For others, the MBA is an attractive option because the degree is recognized as a valuable credential by employers across multiple industries.

Learn more about how Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s online MBA program with a concentration in Healthcare Administration prepares graduates for a rewarding career in hospital management.


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Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education