Job Profile: Health Care Executive

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  Health care executive is a general term designated to senior-level management officials who reserve the utmost decision-making power for coordinating clinical delivery systems. Often called C-Suite professionals, these executives plan continuous quality improvement initiatives to keep their healthcare facilities growing. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) occupy the highest-ranked position to oversee every strategic aspect of their organization. Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) maintain responsibility over the fiscal affairs of medical institutions. Chief Operating Officers (COOs) manage the day-to-day clinical operations from the bedside to the boardroom. Other common health care executive titles are Chief Nursing Officer (CNO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). When slogging through the alphabet soup, it's apparent that health care executives are essential for transforming facilities into welcoming communities patients can rely on.


In the United States' health care industry, the top-paid professionals aren't doctors. According to Becker Hospital Review, the average base salary for CEOs is $752,800. Chief Financial Officers claim a mean base salary of $416,200. On average, Chief Experience Officers earn $221,000 and CIOs snag $173,941 for their base salaries. Across the C-Suite, pay has risen by 0.9 percent and bonuses have soared by 29.6 percent since 2013.

Beginning Salary

Newly hired health care executives with less than 10 years of experience typically land in the bottom quarter percentile with yearly income around $140,864. However, it's possible for senior health care executives to eventually bring home $751,764 or more. There's clearly no upward limit because CEO Anthony Tersigni is compensated with $7.1 million at Ascension. Sutter Health's CEO Patrick Fry also squeezes a salary of $3.8 million.

Key Responsibilities

Responsibilities can vary significantly by executive title, but they all uphold the broad goal of coordinating resources for the health care organization to deliver high-quality treatment. Health care executives are often figureheads who speak on behalf of the facility to legislators, regulation boards, physicians, and the public. Executives spend significant time in leadership meetings to communicate how the organization is performing. They'll utilize their ingenuity to craft strategic policy changes that improve the patient environment. Health care executives could hire appropriately licensed clinicians, maintain vendor relationships for supplies, oversee the facility's accreditation, raise funds for building expansion, and much more. Executives typically only report to the Board of Trustees.

Necessary Skills

Health care executives are visionary leaders with the strategic planning skills to develop actionable, measurable goals and achieve them. Executives must have 360-degree critical thinking skills to act accordingly on significant organizational decisions. Mental agility is important to adapt policies from old behaviors into the rapidly changing 21st century. Health care executives must be skilled communicators with the public speaking, listening, and writing skills to direct facility relations. Analytical skills are a must-have to determine how patient-centric experiences help or hinder business. Health care executives should be risk management gurus capable of thwarting any issues that jeopardize organizational goals. Being energetic, diligent, empathetic, and culturally competent is also important.

Degree and Education Requirements

The Joint Commission doesn't require health care executives to be licensed, but they must be highly educated. The majority have finished graduate school for an accredited master's degree, such as a Master of Health Administration (MHA) or MBA in Healthcare Management. Master of Public Health (MPH) tracks in Health Services Management would also be acceptable. Any bachelor's degree that qualifies you for admission into CAHME-accredited universities is a good start. Few health care executives are physicians; however, attending medical school for a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) could expand opportunity. Some executives also boast a Doctor of Health Administration (DHA) on their resume.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Many MHA students have high hopes of becoming a health care executive, but landing in the C-Suite can be both advantageous and disappointing. On the sunny side, health care executives are arguably the industry's highest paid employees with salaries reaching the $1 million mark. That's not to mention the bonuses, benefits, and investing options awarded. Executives are always under pursuit within this in-demand field, so there's no need to worry about recession. Health care executives can proudly say they touch thousands of patient lives by ensuring safe treatment from certified clinicians. However, health care executives aren't able to interact with the patients who often altruistically draw them into medicine. They work long days beyond eight hours and remain on-call for emergency situations. Executives face increasing pressure to maintain profit while insurance reimbursements plummet. Health care executives must also invest in higher education and plenty of leadership experience.

Getting Started

It's estimated that over 2,000 students graduate with a health administration degree annually. Therefore, education alone isn't sufficient to compete for advanced executive jobs. Most health care executives don't reach the C-Suite until their 40s or later because 10+ years of leadership experience is customary. During your schooling, begin sharpening your managerial abilities with internships, fellowships, and administrative residencies. Hands-on consulting projects with local health organizations could get your foot in the door. Don't be discouraged if you have to start in entry-level management positions like medical secretary or assistant administrator. Pay your dues while developing your industry expertise with periodicals like Frontiers of Health Services Management. Becoming Board Certified through the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) is another great option. Accepted fellows must pass a 230-question exam and pay the $200 registration fee for FACHE credentialing.

Future Outlook

Now's an excellent time to consider becoming a health care executive because the industry certainly hasn't flatlined. According to Time magazine, health care is becoming the nation's largest sector by adding 480,000 jobs in 2015 alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lauds health care for occupying half of the fastest-growing professions. In particular, health services management is soaring by 17 percent to add around 56,300 executive jobs to today's 333,000 nationwide. Health care executives can find positions with hospitals, medical insurers, managed care organizations, nursing homes, pharmaceuticals, medical universities, public health agencies, long-term clinics, and more. Jobs are most densely populated in California, New York, and Texas, so be geographically flexible. Overall, health care executives are highly compensated top-level chiefs who utilize their business background to keep operations optimal and efficient. Physicians and nurses may run the frontlines, but executives work behind-the-scenes to ensure the facility has the operational footing to deliver treatment. Whether you become a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) or Chief Compliance Officer (CMO), your health care executive title comes with hefty responsibility to put patients' needs first. Related: Top 20 Best Online MPH Programs 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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