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How to become a chief medical officer

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In the health care industry, a chief medical officer (CMO) is the linchpin of an organization, straddling the line between clinical and administrative functions. A CMO oversees the operation of a hospital or health system, ensuring the well-being of both patients and employees, and acts as the liaison between the administration and medical staff. As a chief medical officer, you’ll bring a business perspective to the operation of a health care organization and strategize alongside other executives about how to help it run more efficiently.


Though traditionally confined to the health care industry, CMOs are increasingly becoming fixtures in the corporate world as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to integrate private business practice and public health, opening up new opportunities for those with a background in both disciplines.


The path to become a chief medical officer involves years of medical and administrative study and experience, along with the right blend of management and leadership skills. If you’re interested in the business of how a health system is run or want to bring a health care mindset to the business world, a career as a chief medical officer can be rewarding for you.

The role of a chief medical officer

According to the American Association of Physician Leadership (AAPL), the role of chief medical officer was historically a relatively minor, a part-time position, and usually filled by a senior physician whose main objective was to engage with medical staff and get them to perform at a high level and follow administrative policies.


As the delivery of health care has grown more complex, the role of the CMO has also grown. Acting as a liaison between medical staff and administration is still an integral part of the job. However, today’s CMOs also have greater strategic and operational responsibilities and generally bring a more business-minded approach to the role. These executives are tasked with not only improving the quality of care but also curtailing costs and maximizing resources, identifying and coaching future leaders, and helping develop and implement organizational strategy and policy.


Looking beyond health care, businesses in other sectors are also hiring CMOs at a greater rate, as those organizations increasingly recognize the value of protecting the health and welfare of employees, customers, and communities.


Ultimately, chief medical officers have an outsized role in ensuring the success of organizations through the many hats they wear.

Staff liaison

Whereas physicians can primarily be described as patient advocates, CMOs divide their advocacy equally between patients and staff. One of the most important roles of a chief medical officer is to navigate the dynamic between the hospital or health system administration and the medical staff. It’s up to CMOs to bring both parties into alignment with organizational goals and strategies, with the overarching purpose of providing high-quality health care at a lower cost.


In acting as an intermediary, CMOs inject a clinical point of view into the organization’s overall vision and strategy, while at the same time communicating administrative direction to medical staff. CMOs lead any necessary changes in the organization’s culture, ensuring that physicians and other hospital staff understand and are on board with any new policies or practices.

Leadership development

Effective CMOs should provide strong support to medical leadership, such as the chief physician and chief nursing officer, as well as be able to identify and nurture future leaders through coaching and mentoring. They must also demonstrate to administrators that investing in leadership development is critical for the organization’s ability to provide consistent and high-quality health care.

Health care delivery

Tied into their role as staff liaisons, CMOs are responsible for overseeing health care delivery and ensuring that it’s of the highest quality and safety. They do this by engaging with staff and identifying and implementing performance improvement metrics. Using data from various sources, including electronic health records (EHRs), CMOs identify areas of improvement and work with physicians and other medical staff to reduce variations in care and enhance the patient experience.

Strategic planning

In addition to the day-to-day operation of a health system, CMOs are heavily involved in organizational strategy and planning. They bring a clinical perspective to planning discussions and inform other executives of areas of concern and industry trends. CMOs are also heavily involved in budgetary discussions.

Corporate opportunities

CMOs are generally found in public and private health care. However, the position of chief medical officer is becoming more common in other business sectors, from food and beverage production to sports and entertainment. This shift was brought on, in part, by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which challenged business leaders in unexpected and unprecedented ways.


Businesses have begun recruiting CMOs to lend their medical expertise and help them sift through the mountain of (sometimes conflicting) data about COVID-19 and its attendant health and safety guidelines. In addition to making sure that companies comply with varying health regulations — including those unrelated to COVID-19 — chief medical officers promote employees’ physical and mental health and customer safety.

What does a chief medical officer do?

For a CMO, the demands of running a hospital or health system are multifaceted. It requires a deep well of both medical and business expertise to balance the health and welfare of patients and staff, along with the financial considerations that go along with managing a business.


Because of the many responsibilities that come with being the chief medical officer, the role is generally full time, whether at a hospital, health system, or corporation. A typical day may involve walking the floor of the hospital to engage with staff, observing patient interactions, and meeting with the hospital board to discuss finances and policy.


The key responsibilities for a chief medical officer include the following:

  • Oversee daily clinical operations and improve health care delivery.
  • Act as staff liaison, communicating policy directives to medical staff and sharing clinical perspectives with administrators.
  • Search for ways to enhance efficiency in clinical operations.
  • Recruit and train new medical staff, with an emphasis on leadership development.

This is only a small sample of what a chief medical officer does. CMOs also have many other responsibilities, which may be less focused on the clinical aspects of the job but are no less important to the smooth operation of a health care organization.

Budgets and finances

In addition to looking after the health and welfare of patients and staff, CMOs must concern themselves with budgetary matters. As CMO, you’ll have to find creative, cost-effective solutions to organizational issues and use your clinical background to offer insight on technology and equipment purchases, along with other acquisitions and investments.

Technological acumen

A CMO should have a strong grasp of metrics and medical analytics, which are often critical in developing and implementing an organization’s vision and strategy. Working knowledge of digital health devices and health information technology is also valuable.

Legal intelligence

Hospitals and health systems are subject to a large number of federal and state regulations, which a CMO must be familiar with to ensure compliance and protect the organization. You’ll need to be knowledgeable about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA), among many other statutes, and assist the organization in avoiding any potential legal issues.

Other responsibilities

A search of chief medical officer job openings on Indeed reveals a long list of other responsibilities, including the following:

  • Support medical staff in developing new products and services.
  • Analyze data and employ statistical methods and metrics to set clinical and financial goals.
  • Represent the organization at conferences and events, and cultivate relationships with potential investors and thought leaders.
  • Evaluate current and future needs by examining local and national health care trends.

Chief medical officer salary and job outlook

Given the demands of the job and the responsibilities that come with it, CMOs generally command a generous salary. The chief medical officer salary is similar to that of other C-suite positions, such as CEO and chief financial officer (CFO).


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for chief executives across all industries was $184,460 in 2019, with chief executives in the field of health care earning $166,410.


According to PayScale — based on an analysis of nearly 400 salary profiles — the pay range for chief medical officers is about $198,000 to $398,000. Factors such as the location and type of the medical facility where the CMO is employed influence salary. Additionally, employers consider a CMO’s background and experience level when determining compensation.

Job outlook

Job growth in the field of medical and health services is exceptionally promising. As the baby boom generation ages and people remain active later in life, there’ll likely be an increased need for health care services. Greater demand for physicians, nurses, and other health care workers will also lead to an increased demand for managers and leaders in the health care industry, including chief medical officers.


The BLS projects that employment in medical and health service management will increase by 32% (139,600 new jobs) from 2020 to 2030 — four times faster than the projected average for all occupations — while employment of top executives will increase by 8%.

How to become a chief medical officer

If you’re exploring how to become a chief medical officer, first know that CMOs typically need many years of education and on-the-job experience, as well as a diverse skill set, to be successful.


The educational requirements for a CMO position are quite extensive, encompassing several years of medical and administrative studies in pursuit of both undergraduate and graduate degrees.


After earning an undergraduate degree, aspiring chief medical officers will need to earn a degree in medicine. A medical school degree typically involves two years of classroom study and two years of experience in a clinical setting, followed by a residency program. Working in these settings can provide an opportunity to learn valuable clinical skills and exposure to managerial and leadership behaviors that can aid in future pursuits.


Additionally, some CMOs obtain graduate degrees such as a Master of Health Administration (MHA) or Master of Business Administration (MBA). These degrees demonstrate expertise in medicine and administration, and a mastery of both is critical to succeed as a chief medical officer. Some employers require that applicants for CMO positions hold a master’s degree.


Aspiring CMOs must also be board certified in one or more specializations and licensed to practice medicine. Though not typically required, a number of additional medical and business certifications are available to bolster your credentials and distinguish you from other applicants.


For example, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offers a 15-month executive training program designed specifically for newly appointed or aspiring chief medical officers. The program dives into the role and responsibilities of a CMO, employing a blended approach of peer learning, mentorship, and independent project work, as well as a mix of in-person and virtual meetings.

Work experience

As a senior leader in a hospital or health system — making high-level decisions and managing medical staff — a chief medical officer must have significant clinical experience in addition to education. This will allow for gaining the knowledge and skills required to run an organization and demonstrate the ability to make informed decisions in an administrative role.


CMOs must have experience in a managerial role as well. This will provide you with an opportunity to gain vital experience managing staff and tackling various nonclinical issues that can help you hone the administrative skills required of a chief medical officer. Most employers require applicants to have several years of managerial experience.


Successful CMOs should possess a diverse set of hard and soft skills, gained and refined through years of education and experience. These skills include the following:

  • Communication. Because a significant part of the job of a chief medical officer involves acting as an intermediary between hospital staff and administration, communication skills are critical. CMOs must convey the position of the administration to physicians and other medical staff — and vice versa — to ensure that the organization runs smoothly.
  • Persuasiveness. As chief medical officer, you’ll be responsible for getting medical staff on board with administrative directives and leading any necessary changes in the organization’s culture. CMOs must also advocate to executives on behalf of the staff to bring a medical perspective to administrative decisions.
  • Management. CMOs must have strong leadership qualities to manage their staff, resolving questions and conflicts as they arise. Since CMOs have many responsibilities, to make the best use of their time, they need to delegate projects and tasks to the appropriate people.
  • Problem-solving. CMOs need strong problem-solving skills to find creative and effective solutions to issues, allocating the appropriate resources and staying within budget.

The path to become a chief medical officer

If you’re interested in medical leadership or the business side of the health care industry, a career as a chief medical officer may represent an opportunity for you. CMOs play a critical role in hospitals and health systems, ensuring that medical staff and administrative leadership are aligned to improve both patient care and the bottom line. In addition, they’re increasingly joining corporate C-suites to manage health and safety programs and keep their employers on the right side of regulatory issues.


Becoming a chief medical officer takes years of education and experience, along with the right combination of technical skills and leadership. Regis College is here to help you find the degree or certificate program that can bring you one step closer to achieving your professional goals.


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