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Healthcare executive roles (and how to progress your career)



Healthcare executives drive policies that ensure patients receive quality care. Many of them don’t have the recognition they deserve, even though their work can be transformative for healthcare organizations. The good ones implement strategies for not only giving patients quality care but also promoting preventive care. While they might not work directly in the clinical setting, healthcare executives are a part of the foundation that impacts the type of care patients receive.

As the healthcare industry evolves, the demand for healthcare providers will continue to grow. Not only will physicians and nurses be required to accommodate growing healthcare needs, but healthcare managers will also be needed to serve in supervisory roles. For students or mid-career professionals considering a future role as a healthcare manager/executive, the projected job outlook is for it to increase 32% between 2020 and 2030. Furthermore, across the board, healthcare executives make a comfortable living with managers earning a median salary of $101,340 in 2021.

What do healthcare executives do?

These professionals perform various activities within the clinical environment. For instance, they make sure the healthcare agency can take care of the needs of patients and their families. This caring for patients and their families includes emergency and ongoing care.

They also partner with physicians, nurses, other staff, and non-clinical professionals to find ways to provide quality care. Additionally, they educate the community about relevant healthcare issues, including informing the community about public threats.

What are the c-suite healthcare executive roles?

While patients are their focus, healthcare executives play an important role in the business side of running a healthcare organization. These executives form the c-suite of professionals that shape healthcare policy. Below are some of the major executive roles you might see in the hospital setting.

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

In the role of CEO, this healthcare executive oversees the organization’s budget, making sure the hospital’s financial performance is positive. CEOs also make sure that the hospital organization complies with laws and regulations, and they make sure the organization’s procedures align with internal policies. However, these are just a few of the responsibilities of the CEO.

  • Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)

The CAO of a healthcare organization helps draft its budget. This officer oversees the finances and is a compliance officer. The officer’s responsibilities include hiring staff, connecting with executives and boards of directors from other healthcare organizations regarding their operations, and they are often involved with business negotiations.

  • Chief Operating Officer (COO)

In some healthcare settings, the COO’s duties are similar to those of the CAO. The COO manages profit and loss statements, implements strategic plans, and when the CEO is not available, the COO takes on this role.

  • Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)

Every organization must comply with the rules and regulations that govern an industry. Larger organizations rely on a compliance officer to make sure that the company’s daily processes are in line with industry regulations, and the same is the case with the CCO of a healthcare organization. These activities involve the CCO planning, implementing, and monitoring an organization’s compliance plan.

  • Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO)

In this role, the healthcare executive is involved with the organization’s growth by fortifying existing services while looking for new expansion opportunities. They are heavily involved with integrating new systems and solutions designed to further the hospital’s goals.

  • Chief Industry Officer (CIO)

An essential part of many healthcare organizations, this officer helps the hospital stay abreast of current trends in the industry.

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

This role requires the healthcare executive to make sure the organization’s IT platform is secure. They also draft security policies, distribute best practices, comply with security guidelines, and raise awareness of security risks. If a data breach occurs, the CISO is the person who is responsible for addressing the issue.

  • Chief Medical Information Officer (CMIO)

As well as being involved with IT, the CMIO ensures the integration and proper use of technology within the healthcare setting. They also make sure that the technology belonging to the hospital setting is effective. Some organizations refer to the executive in this role as the Chief Information Officer (CIO).

  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)

This executive is the liaison between healthcare administrators and nurses. Some organizations might also install a Chief Nursing Informatics Officer (CNIO) who is involved in implementing nursing strategies for IT health.

  • Chief Medical Officer (CMO)

One of the few positions that requires the executive to have a clinical background, a CMO is usually a board-certified doctor installed to promote the quality of care in a hospital. They are also involved with building and establishing bridges within the medical staff and are on the review boards for applicants and members. Finally, they also strive to improve clinical outcomes.

  • Chief Clinical Officer (CCO)

A relatively new position, the CCO is involved with patient engagement and improving the quality of care. This particular role oversees electronic health records and using data mining as guidance for making the healthcare organization more effective.

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

This role involves taking care of the financial health of the organization. CFOs monitor revenue and expenses, budget for capital expenditures, and are involved with mergers and acquisition activities. They also review trends and see how new payer models will affect their organization.

  • Chief Learning Officer (CLO)

The CLO is involved with the professional development of staff members. This person organizes direct training and development and educational programs to make sure providers are up-to-date on industry trends and policies.

  • Chief Quality Officer (CQO)

This executive creates and maintains quality management regulatory guidelines and process improvements.

  • Clinical Department Manager

This manager oversees specific departments within the healthcare organization. Their job involves ensuring the organization meets its goals, working on the budget, and hiring staff.

How to begin your career in healthcare administration/management

Typically, someone who aspires to work in healthcare administration comes to the job having earned the requisite credentials, namely attending a college or university program. First, healthcare executives have earned a degree in health administration, public health, or business or public administration from an accredited university. Many healthcare organizations also require the candidate to have a master’s to be eligible for the position.

Today’s educational landscape is such that more colleges/universities are recognizing the need to prepare professionals for careers as healthcare executives in a range of disciplines. For example, nurses who aspire to executive roles in the profession can enroll in a doctorate program that leads to a DNP in strategic leadership. Even better for busy professionals is that many of these programs can be taken online, which makes attending class, studying, and taking care of a host of education-related activities more flexible.

Students who pursue a degree in any of the above disciplines should plan to take courses in healthcare policy/law, organizational behavior, healthcare financing, human resources, and healthcare management.

Due to the responsibilities associated with executive roles, those aspiring to leadership must have other qualifications. Usually, by the time a professional is an executive, they have also participated in internships and fellowships and/or have background experience in previous healthcare positions. In addition to various work experiences, the executive would normally not only have participated in professional development, but also committed to professional development and continuing education.

Tips for making a career in healthcare administration

The first step to having a career as a healthcare executive is to investigate the many educational programs available. This is important because programs vary with some offering a very general overview of healthcare management and others offering courses in specialized fields. One way to approach this investigation is to talk to career counselors, installed in the community or at the local college or university. They have access to information about the various roads you might take to studying a degree and information related to specific degree programs.

Whether taking a formal course or studying on their own, prospective healthcare executives should also develop strong quantitative skills as a part of interpreting data. In today’s healthcare environment, data is used to make decisions that improve inefficiencies in healthcare and improve patient care. Stay up-to-date on current health trends because many of the roles in this profession require that executives are aware of the latest information and can incorporate these new trends within the organization.

Another strategy for preparing yourself for a role as a healthcare executive is to learn about the providers. Go to healthcare fairs, learn about the different HMOs, seek out community healthcare programs, and read through the copious number of healthcare publications to get a sense of what type of executive you might want to be. Volunteering is another approach, one that gives you an inside look at the hospital setting.

Healthcare executives are part of an industry that continues to expand. Healthcare provides professionals with not only career longevity but also several opportunities for moving into upper management. If aspiring to upper management, healthcare managers need higher education, the requisite job history, and commitment to career-long learning.


I'm Nikos Alepidis, blogger at motivirus. I'm passioned for all things related to motivation & personal development. My goal is to help and inspire people to become better.

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