In this episode, we explore the CPE certification offered by the Certifying Commission in Medical Management. I attempt to answer these questions:

  • What is the CPE?
  • How was it established?
  • What are the requirements for completing the CPE?
  • How costly is the CPE to obtain?
  • Is a management degree required?

physician executive cpe

Photo by on Unsplash

Before proceeding, I want to spend a minute talking about the American Association for Physician Leadership. I’m not an affiliate and receive no compensation for this endorsement. But I’ve been a proud member of the AAPL for about 25 years, because it’s an outstanding organization.

It helps to support and promote physicians as managers, executives and leaders. Its members work in government; health, life and disability insurance companies; hospitals and health systems; medical groups; pharmaceutical companies; and anywhere physicians are employed.

The AAPL provides live conferences, online education, books, coaching, mentoring, career services and nonclinical job postings. It also provides physician executive certification, the CPE, that demonstrates expertise and skills as a physician leader.

I’ve mentioned the AAPL in numerous podcast episodes and interviewed the Director of Career Services, Dian Ginsberg, in Episode 24.

It truly is the world’s leading organization of emerging and established physician leaders. The cost of annual membership is a little less than $300.00 per year, which is a ridiculously low price. I strongly recommend you consider joining. Check It out using this link – – to find out more.

Now, let’s get to today’s presentation.

Speaking of the AAPL, I'm often asked by physicians considering a management career about the CPE program. Is it worth the effort to complete? Is it better to get a business degree or the CPE?

Most of the information that follows is from the web sites of the American Association for Physician Leadership (or AAPL) and the Certifying Commission on Medical Management (or CCMM). I’ll provide my personal comments about the CPE at the end of this discussion. I’ll summarize the three reasons to pursue the qualification.

But these comments are my own. I do not represent, nor speak for, the CCMM or the AAPL.

What Is The CPE?

First, let me answer this question: What exactly is the CPE?

It’s both a program and a certification that physician leaders can obtain through a formal educational and experiential process.

According to comments I’ve heard from AAPL leaders, there was a desire 25 or 30 years ago at the AAPL (which was then called the American College of Physician Executives), to create some type of certification that would demonstrate the expertise in management and leadership.

Certifying Commission in Medical Management seal cpe

There were efforts to create a board certification, possibly under the auspices of the American Board of Medical Specialties. When it became clear that such a certification in these nonclinical skills would not fit into the ABMS model, the AAPL leadership ultimately created the CCMM as a semi-independent entity to develop and administer certification as a physician executive, and the CPE program was born.

The AAPL is now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the CPE this year. To date, about 3,000 physicians have completed all of the requirements, and successfully attained the CPE designation.

Let's look at the requirements in more detail.

Professional Status

The first major requirement has to do with professional status. This means that you must have completed medical school training, be licensed to practice medicine, have at least three years of practice experience, and are board certified. That’s the basic starting point.


The second major component are the educational requirements. This can be met by completing a management degree, such as an MBA, MMM, MHA, or MS in management. The alternative to a master's degree, is to complete the educational the required courses of the core curriculum through the AAPL.

Let me list some of the coursework that would be required if you don’t have a master's degree. The CCMM requires education in the following FOUR broad categories:

  • Fundamental
  • Developmental
  • Experiential, and
  • Transformational

The Fundamental Category includes courses addressing communication, finance, Influence, quality and negotiation.

The Developmental Category includes Managing Physician Performance and 2 electives running about 4 hours each.

The Experiential Category includes additional education in quality, accounting and high reliability, along with another 2 electives.

The final Educational Category, Transformational, consists of courses addressing financial decision-making, health law, conflict resolution and change management.

Leadership Experience

The next major requirement is one year of leadership experience. Each applicant must detail their leadership experience in a one-page narrative that is submitted to the CCMM for review. According to the website, the following are the areas that they ask the applicant to specifically address to demonstrate leadership experience.

  • cpe quality dataTalent management such as performance evaluations, determining salaries, hiring and firing of immediate staff, direct oversight over other physicians
  • Data management (what data do you gather and how do you use it?)
  • Fiscal responsibilities (managing your budget)
  • Organizational impact (project implementation, managing up the chain, deal with stakeholders, etc.)


The final component to the CPE completion is what has been called the CPE Capstone. This is a three-and-a-half-day program designed to provide additional education and to hone and assess your skills. It culminates in the presentation of a CPE leadership summary presentation. This presentation allows you to briefly and succinctly communicate how you have demonstrated your ability as a physician leader according to the CCMM website.

During the capstone, you'll be working with a cohort of other physicians and that large cohort will be broken down into teams. You will work with your teammates and often develop long-term relationships that persist beyond the completion of the capstone event.

So, what does that mean?

According to the AAPL, this certification has become the benchmark for CEOs and recruiters seeking the most accomplished and influential healthcare leaders.

As I look at job postings on LinkedIn and other job sites, I'm starting to see the CPE mentioned on an increasingly regular basis. Recruiters and hospital medical group leaders understand that if a physician has the CPE designation, then he or she has experience as a leader, has completed foundational education in management and business concepts, and has demonstrated a commitment to continuous learning in healthcare management.


Let’s talk about the cost.

The cost for the AAPL educational components basically run about $100 per hour of study. For the 150 hours of coursework, it's going to run about $15,000. Most physicians complete the coursework over a period of three to five years or more.

That's quite a bit less than the cost of an MBA, which would generally cost from $30,000 to $80,000, as was discussed in Episode #25. The capstone runs $3,650, which includes the $150 application fee.

You can learn more out the specifics by going to or to

3 Reasons to Pursue the CPE Qualification

Here are the three major reasons to complete the CPE:

Reason #1

If you wish to pursue a management or administrative career, this structured program will ensure that you'll have the basic attitudes, education, experience and communication skills to succeed in almost any such role.

Reason #2

The CPE credential demonstrates to employers that you have attained a high level of management education and experience with core competencies in key leadership areas, and superior communication skills.

I've noticed lately that many job postings for a hospital or medical group executive list the CPE designation as something that they're interested in seeing. And I believe that it provides a competitive advantage when seeking a high-level leadership position in any healthcare organization.

Reason #3

You will develop lifelong relationships with your CPE instructors and cohort members, that may well become useful later in your career.

I completed the CPE in 2012, and I think that I benefited primarily through the coursework that I completed, although I already had the master's in public health. It's hard to separate the networking and other support of the AAPL membership from the work done to complete the CPE. But, in general, it was a very positive experience and it ensured that I had the requisite background in finance, communication, negotiation, and so forth that I drew upon as CMO for my health system.

I found the capstone to be a very worthwhile experience. It may have changed since I completed it six years ago. A team of eight of us worked together, after some introductory lectures to the larger group.

We had homework to complete each night of the course, and several group activities. Then, we role-played interviews and difficult conversations with a disruptive colleague. Finally, we were videotaped and received feedback, both from our partners, and from the facilitator for our small group.

So, it is something that I would definitely recommend for anyone thinking about pursuing a career in leadership, whether it's with a medical group, an insurance company, a hospital, or any other large organization.

CPE vs. MBA?

The question about whether to get an MBA or complete a CPE is not really the right question. The real question is whether to obtain the business degree, or rely on the AAPL course work.

I believe that is a personal choice. It depends on financial considerations, your access to an appropriate degree program, the urgency of your desire to complete the CPE, and perhaps your learning style.

In my opinion, the required AAPL course work is basically equivalent to an MBA. So, either choice will work.

Thoughts on Leadership Experience

When I'm coaching physicians who are thinking about moving into an executive career, I use the CPE as a model for the physicians looking to make the transition, because if you think about it, the CPE does indicate the basic requirements for an effective physician leader.

To me the leadership experience component is probably the most variable and potentially confusing part of the journey.
Such leadership can be formal or informal, in a volunteer or paid position. It can be part-time, or full-time. And it might be independent or supervised.

Let me provide some examples.

Serving as a member of a nonprofit board can be useful leadership experience. But serving as the chair of that board will provide much more meaningful leadership experience.

Working on a hospital quality committee can be instructive. But chairing the committee provides deeper leadership experience.
Running a small practice or working in an entrepreneurial role provides some degree of leadership experience. But it is unsupervised and lacks direct feedback.

Working as a medical director within a larger organization, with an annual budget and formal reporting relationships, is more likely to provide real world leadership experience than the unmanaged experiences of the solo practitioner.

In summary, I think applying for and completing the CPE is a very worthwhile plan. Whether you obtain a formal management degree or obtain the business and management education through AAPL courses, the CPE program formalizes the process needed to obtain all the necessary education and experience to effectively function in a leadership position in most organizations. And there’s evidence that prospective employers recognize the value of the CPE when comparing applicants.

I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. If so, open your podcast app or go to iTunes and leave a review.

Join me next week for another episode of Physician Nonclinical Careers.


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If you'd like to listen to the premier episode and show notes, you can find it here: Getting Acquainted with Physician NonClinical Careers Podcast – 001