Chief Medical Officer Job Profile

Chief medical officers oversee all clinical aspects of care in a healthcare system. Learn what chief medical officers do, how to become one, and what skills they need.
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  • Chief medical officers combine their clinical experience with the business of healthcare.
  • Chief medical officers are medical doctors who lend their clinical expertise to executive leadership.
  • Chief medical officers spend a lot of time in meetings solving issues and planning for the future.
  • All clinical staff report to the chief medical officer through their managers.

If you want to hold one of the highest clinical positions in a healthcare organization, consider becoming a chief medical officer. Job growth for health and services managers, including chief medical officers, is projected to grow much faster than average between 2022-2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Becoming a chief medical officer requires significant education, experience, and skills. If you’re passionate about improving patient outcomes and helping providers offer the best patient care, find out more about how to pursue this passion as a chief medical officer.

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What Does a Chief Medical Officer Do?

Chief medical officers are primarily responsible for managing and educating their organization's healthcare professionals to provide safe, effective medical services to the public.

Chief medical officers typically train new physicians on the facility's policies and keep current staff up-to-date on changing health regulations.

“When I think about my day, it's doing two things. It's being proactive to ensure the quality of care and the education that we do…Unfortunately, another part of my day is reacting to issues,” said Dr. Robert Biernbaum, chief medical officer of WellNow.”

Their daily duties may include

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    Offering clinical guidance to providers
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    Ensuring compliance with accreditation standards set by The Joint Commission
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    Starting quality improvement efforts and communicating them to the healthcare team
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    Evaluating the quality of services
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    Planning and implementing continuing education programs
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    Developing a budget
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    Working with the executive leadership team to plan the long-term business strategy
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    Working with the chief medical information officer to protect patient information
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    Communicating with physicians and healthcare system leadership
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    Coordinating community relationships

A chief medical officer frequently attends board meetings to speak with chairpersons, health administrators, and department heads about the facility's performance.

“Being a chief medical officer is minimally about you and mostly about ensuring that you're taking great care of the people who work for you to ensure that they take great care of your patients.”

Dr. Robert Biernbaum, D.O.

Hard Skills

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Clinical expertise

Chief medical officers need years of clinical experience to understand treatment best practices, ensure patients receive quality care, and lead quality improvement initiatives. Chief medical officers help create continuing education programs and develop best practice guidelines for many diagnoses. Providers may ask them for second opinions on complex cases.

Business and Legal Sense

Chief medical officers must understand the legal regulations that govern medical and nursing practice in their state so they can prevent legal issues before they start.

"As a chief medical officer at have to understand the regulations in every single state [and] how we're supposed to practice -- every state is different," Dr. Biernbaum said.

CMOs also spend much of their time in executive leadership meetings strategizing how to market their health system or making budgeting decisions.

Healthcare Information and Documentation

Healthcare systems need accurate healthcare documentation and utilization review if they want government insurance plans, like Medicare, to reimburse them. Chief medical officers recognize accurate healthcare documentation and its importance. They often work with the chief medical information officer and clinical staff to ensure accurate healthcare information.

Data Analysis

It's not enough for chief medical officers to know how to document healthcare information -- they must also know how to analyze it.

Hospitals and healthcare systems are graded and reimbursed by government insurance plans according to patient satisfaction ratings and outcomes, so chief medical officers must know how to use this data to plan and implement quality improvement measures.

You can learn data analysis skills through previous healthcare leadership roles.

Budget Planning

Chief executive officers trust their chief medical officers to make the financial and personnel decisions in the health system.

Chief medical officers help providers balance the need to shorten hospital stays with reducing hospital readmission rates so facilities do not lose money to Medicare penalties. They must also ensure the facilities have experienced staff and the right equipment to provide the best care.

You may gain experience planning budgets as they gain administrative experience in healthcare.

Soft Skills

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According to Dr. Biernbaum, humble leadership is the most important skill good chief medical officers need to get their team to invest in the mission of providing quality care and improving clinical knowledge.

You can start building your leadership skills by running or helping to run a hospital department.


The chief medical officer is ultimately responsible for all clinical decisions. For those overseeing large health systems, that can mean taking ultimate responsibility for hundreds of staff and their decisions.

"Our medical staff has over 800 people. And so from a clinical standpoint, for all intents and purposes, they may report to somebody else, but clinically eventually it reports up through me," said Dr. Biernbaum.

All this responsibility makes delegation to other leaders important. Delegation lets you focus on the organization's most significant questions and problems. Then, you allow each team to focus on their questions and concerns and report their progress. You can learn to delegate as you gain leadership experience.

Communication and Interpersonal Skills

"One of the things about being a chief medical officer people don't realize is you're in a lot of meetings," said Dr. Biernbaum.

Chief medical officers must excel at communicating business strategy, understanding legal regulations, and conveying their clinical expertise in meetings with clinical and executive leaders.

Chief medical officers also need a good rapport with clinical staff so they will trust their leadership.

Attention to Detail

The big picture questions that chief medical officers face daily, such as how to keep the organization legally compliant, ensure they get paid for services, and provide the highest quality care, involve a lot of small details.

For example, each state has different licensing and practice requirements for healthcare professionals. Chief medical officers must stay on top of the state's requirements and regulations for everyone they oversee to ensure they're compliant and can continue to practice.

Chief medical officers at larger healthcare organizations have managers in each department. Yet, at the end of the day, chief medical officers are responsible for all the small details and the big-picture questions.

Analytical skills

Chief medical officers review cases of errors or potential errors to present as learning opportunities as part of their team's education.

They need analytical skills to work with the rest of the clinical leadership to choose which cases to present and how to present them so that clinicians learn to prevent similar errors in the future.

"I started early this morning with an education session, but prior we have to prepare. I have a team of medical leadership that we talk about what case we want to review, and how we want to present it," Dr. Biernbaum said.

How to Become a Chief Medical Officer

If you’re still a high school or college student, you’ll need to complete two phases of your healthcare career to become a chief medical officer or another position in healthcare leadership.

First, you’ll need to become a physician. Then, you can work toward getting the skills and experience you need to become a chief medical officer.

Steps to Become a Medical Doctor (M.D. or D.O.)

You’ll need years of clinical experience as a medical doctor or surgeon to become a chief medical officer and advise your medical staff about best practices and quality improvements.

Becoming an attending physician requires years of education and training, starting in high school and your undergraduate degree.

  1. Take AP science courses in high school.
  2. Earn an undergraduate degree that includes STEM and English courses.
  3. Pass the MCAT.
  4. Get a medical degree that includes pre-clinical learning, clinical rotations, and internship.
  5. Complete a residency program.
  6. Become board-certified in your specialty.

Steps to Become a Chief Medical Officer

Once you become a board-certified attending physician, you’ll need to gain clinical and healthcare administration experience and build the necessary skills to lead a healthcare team successfully.

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    Practice as an attending physician

    Chief medical officers oversee all the clinical aspects of care, including educational programs, best practices, and quality improvement. They need excellent clinical judgment backed by a long clinical career as an attending physician to improve the quality of care, update best practices, and communicate changes to the rest of the clinical team.

  2. 2

    Gain administrative and managerial experience in healthcare settings

    Physicians become chief medical officers after several administrative and executive-level healthcare roles. These roles could include department head, chief information officer, or medical director.

    You can also gain administrative experience by serving on committees and taking on expanded responsibilities. These opportunities build your non-clinical skills such as leadership, budgeting, and data analysis.

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    Earn relevant certifications

    Chief medical officers with industry certifications may earn higher salaries. With relevant certifications, like the CPHQ certification, you can showcase your quality improvement skills. Other credentials include the CHFP, CPHIMS, and FACHE to illustrate financial, management, and health information skills.

    These certifications usually require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, continuing education courses, and at least three years of relevant experience.

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    Consider getting a master's degree in healthcare or business administration (MBA/MHA)

    Chief medical officers spend much of their time planning the business strategy of the hospital or healthcare system with the executive leadership team.

    A master’s in healthcare administration (MHA), business administration (MBA), or an MHA/MBA dual degree can help you build business sense and budget planning skills.

How Much Does a Chief Medical Officer Make?

Chief medical officers make an average of $307,860 per year, according to Payscale data in October 2023. The lowest-paid chief medical officers make $199,000 per year. The highest-paid chief medical officers earn $404,000 per year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 28% job growth for medical and health services managers, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Skills, experience, work setting, and location impact how much chief medical officers make. Chief medical officers can pursue higher salaries if they have quality improvement skills or twenty years or more of experience.

Jobs at hospitals and in government pay over $14,000 more per year than the median annual salary for other medical and health services managers, according to the BLS. San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles pay chief medical officers higher-than-average salaries.

Frequently Asked Questions About Chief Medical Officers

Who reports to the chief medical officer?

All clinical team members in the healthcare system report through their managers to the chief medical officer. These team members include nurses, allied health professionals, nurse practitioners, physicians, physician's assistants, and clinical educators.

Do you have to be a doctor to be a chief medical officer?

Yes, you must have a medical license to become a chief medical officer. The chief medical officer establishes and updates the best practices for quality of care, educates clinical team members about improving their practice, and implements quality improvement measures. These duties require a medical license and years of clinical experience.

What is the hierarchy in a hospital?

The hierarchy in a hospital starts with the chief executive officer at the top, who leads the executive leadership team. Roles such as the chief medical information officer, chief medical officer, chief nursing officer, chief operations officer, and chief financial officer serve in the executive leadership team.

The clinical staff in the hospital report to the chief medical officer, and the nursing staff report to the chief nursing officer. The chief operations officer is the second in command who executes the CEO's decisions and oversees operations. The chief financial officer oversees the hospital's accounting department. The chief medical information officer oversees the IT specialists working to keep the facilities' data secure.

Is the chief medical officer a big deal?

The chief medical officer is one of the two highest clinical positions in a healthcare system. The other executive-level clinical position is chief nursing officer.

The chief medical officer is ultimately responsible for all clinical decisions that the healthcare professionals in their healthcare system make. All clinical positions in a healthcare organization report to the chief medical officer through their managers and teams.

Meet Our Contributor

Portrait of Robert M. Biernbaum, D.O.

Robert M. Biernbaum, D.O.

Robert M. Biernbaum, D.O. is the chief medical officer for WellNow Urgent Care, one of the fastest-growing providers of urgent medical care, telehealth, and occupational medicine services in the United States, with more than 200 centers across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Previously, Dr. Biernbaum served as the senior vice president and chief medical officer for Trillium Health. He has also held chief medical information officer positions for MultiCare Health System and Rochester Regional Health System, where he also served as an Emergency Medicine Chief of Service. Dr. Biernbaum graduated from the University of New England.

Page last reviewed on November 16, 2023 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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