In this episode, I'll be explaining why I think you should pursue a hospital management career.
It’s just me today. A new interview will return next week. So, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about something that's near and dear to my heart. As stated in the opening of my podcast each week, the goal of this podcast is to inspire, inform, and support you as you pivot to a nonclinical career.
Since I have not personally experienced most of the nonclinical careers out there, I bring guests on so we can learn together how to pursue them. But I do have personal experience in one of the possible career options, that of hospital management and administration.
Let me tell you my story. After residency, I joined 2 physicians in a family medicine practice. I did pretty much everything I could to build the practice. I did obstetrics, took care of newborns, cared for office patients, did hospital rounds, and took care of nursing home patients.
Side Jobs for Cash
To fill my hours and generate additional income, I started working at the family planning clinic. After a year or so, I took a part-time medical director position. So, in addition to seeing patients in the clinic, I would sign off on medication purchases, review and approve policies and procedures, and collaborate with nurse practitioners to meet state requirements.
I later began working part-time in the hospital-based occupational medicine clinic. I learned how to take care of workers' compensation injuries, assess occupational exposures to lead and other toxins, and screen workers for high-risk jobs.
Eventually, I became the medical director for the “occ-med” clinic. That’s when I decided to continue my education, completing the requirements for a master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in occupational medicine.
And so, it went. I had this need to fill my time, and a desire to try new things.
Finding a Mentor
As a surveyor for my state medical society, I visited hospitals so they could be accredited to grant CME credit. In the process, I came to know another surveyor, who was also the chair of the state CME committee. His name was Don. I’ve spoken about him in a previous podcast episode titled Why Both a Coach and Mentor Are Vital to Your Career. He became one of my mentors.
After learning more about Don’s work as the chief medical officer for a large stand-alone hospital, the light finally went on for me. I’d pursue a career in hospital management.
My point is telling this story is that I don’t want you to meander from side gig to side gig, hoping to find the right career by chance, as I did. No, I want you to be much more intentional than I was. My hope is that you actively search for a career that’ll excite and challenge you.
That’s why this week, I’m going to tell you why you should strongly consider a career in hospital management. I’m talking about work in senior management, such as chief quality officer, chief medical officer, chief medical information officer, or eventually chief operating officer or chief executive officer.
But before I get into the 10 reasons why you should pursue a hospital management position, let me address a couple of glaring issues that might affect your ability to do so.
- First, this option may be quite unlikely if you don’t work for a hospital system or are on the medical staff of a hospital. If you’ve spent years working in an outpatient-only position after residency, an opportunity to test the hospital management waters might not arise. This career might be ideal, however, for hospitalists, anesthesiologists, emergency medicine physicians, or medical and surgical proceduralists who spend lots of time in the hospital setting.
- Next, some will say that a bigger factor when choosing a career might be your personality type. I think that assessing your personality can be very helpful. And some types might be best suited for specific jobs, such as utilization reviewer, expert legal witness or a job in pharmaceutical sales. But, hospital executive teams work best when there is a variety of personality types on the team.
- Finally, how much do you desire challenges, personal growth and continuous learning? I don’t think you should work as a hospital executive unless you are committed to continuous personal growth. In most dynamic hospital settings, you must be constantly trying new management models, adopting new technologies and continuously growing. It’s a bit different from trying to remain current in your specialty. If you’re happy seeing patients every day and just maintaining your skills, then you may not want to be a hospital executive.
If none of those three issues are stopping you, then let's get to the topic at hand.
Why You Should Pursue Hospital Management
I’ll list all ten reasons first, then discuss each one individually. They are:
- Leverage and Impact
- Quality of Life
- Personal Growth
- Job Security
- No Special Training to Start
- Multiple Entry Level Options
- Transferable Skills
- Opportunity to Help the Profession
- Opportunity to Improve Healthcare
- Financial Rewards
1. Leverage and Impact
I enjoyed providing medical care to patients. To a point. But it often seemed incremental. With many patients, the care seemed trivial. Treating the common cold and minor self-limited injuries, and reassuring the worried well just didn’t meet my definition of making a difference.
I became more energized by measurably helping groups of patients. As a physician executive, I was improving mortality and complication rates, and inpatient length of stay. You can too.
You can identify process breakdowns and eliminate them. With a multidisciplinary team, you might develop new service lines and new programs.
You obviously won't do this alone. In fact, that kind of impact happens because of leverage. The leverage involves leading teams, engaging staff and physicians, developing protocols, and implementing best practices together. I found that to be exciting and rewarding.
2. Quality of Life
Physician executives are busy, sure. But, we generally have better control of our schedule than most practicing physicians, especially employed physicians. Vacations can be taken without the need to find coverage for patients.
Staffing is handled by the HR department. The stress of malpractice is gone. Continuous learning is necessary, just as in clinical medicine, but it is easier to find time to attend educational conferences. And your direct reports manage the day-to-day. Taking call every 3rd to 4th day is a thing of the past.
3. Personal Growth
It’s true that as a physician, you’re trained to be a lifelong learner. And most of the physicians I know want to continue to grow intellectually, emotionally, and vocationally.
Once in an administrative position, there is a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. Just as you learned medicine through an intense period of study that spanned up to a decade after college, you will need to devote several years of learning new business, management, and leadership skills.
New challenges will occur daily and you will be asked to take on ever-increasing responsibilities. You’ll continue to learn by being mentored and coached, by attending conferences, and by interacting with the rest of the senior management team on a regular basis.
After serving as CMO or CMIO, you may be asked to step into a COO or CEO role. Or you may make a lateral move to a much larger hospital or health system.
Such opportunities for growth don’t often arise in other non-clinical jobs.
4. Job Security
When I began, my research indicated to me that there was a new trend in hiring physician executives. I was the first VPMA and CMO at my hospital. The number of hospital physician CEOs continues to grow.
It seemed a fairly safe choice to make when I started, and it continues to be an area of growth and continuing demand.
5. No Special Training Required to Start
You already have many leadership skills. With a little mentoring, reading, and self-reflection, you can easily take the first steps to a management career.
Yes, you'll need to learn to collaborate and listen more; to let your direct reports occasionally fail so they can learn. You’ll need to continue your learning and growth as you mature in this new role, but you already have most of the skills and attributes needed to get started.
In fact, you have many more skills than the typical MBA or MHA trying to join the C-suite, because you already have an intimate knowledge of medicine and healthcare.
6. Multiple Entry Level Options
Most of us can’t just jump from full-time practice into a corporate position, whether in the pharmaceutical, insurance, governmental, or hospital setting. We must start at a more entry-level job.
Thankfully, in hospital management, there are many jobs that don’t require a special certification or an advanced degree that can lead to the C-suite. These include jobs such as medical director of a service line or unit, medical advisor for case management or utilization review, or medical director for quality improvement, patient safety, informatics, or continuing medical education.
Each of these jobs can serve as a stepping stone to a career as a chief medical officer, chief quality officer, or chief medical information officer.
7. Transferable Skills
With the business acumen and leadership skills developed as a hospital executive, pivoting to a position in a large medical group or an insurance company is quite doable. This is not an option for the chart reviewer, expert witness, or medical writer.
As a hospital executive, you’ll learn to better negotiate, communicate, run projects, plan strategically, set management goals, and read financial reports. And those skills can be applied in a medical group, in other corporate settings, and even as an entrepreneur.
8. Opportunity to Help the Profession
Physician disillusionment, frustration, and burnout can be improved by working in an organization that is led by physicians. The engagement of physicians is better, in general, when there is meaningful involvement by physician leadership in these organizations. As a physician leader, you will have the chance to address these issues directly.
When I was CMO, I was able to fight on behalf of one of my physicians to increase his salary when he was clearly being underpaid, for example.
9. Opportunity to Improve Healthcare
Would you hire an orchestra conductor who had never played a musical instrument? Would you hire a baseball or football coach who had never played the game? Yet most of our hospitals and health systems are run by businessmen and women who have never cared for a patient.
As I shared in my blog post Become a Leader and Save the Medical Profession, there is good evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, that hospitals run by physicians have better physician engagement, more cohesive teams, and better patient outcomes, in general.
Many of the top-rated hospitals in the U.S. are run by physicians, even though less than 6% across the nation have physician CEOs.
10. Financial Rewards
As an experienced vice president or chief medical officer, it should not be difficult to achieve salary and benefit levels that easily exceed the average income of most physicians, except for the busiest medical subspecialist or surgeon.
Most CMOs receive salaries in excess of $300,000 per year, plus bonuses, deferred compensation, and generous benefits. A quick scan through Form 990 of many nonprofit hospitals listed on Guidestar.org will often demonstrate total compensation well in excess of that number.
It’s difficult to capture in words what it’s like to sit in a board room with 10 to 12 seasoned senior executives, creating strategic plans that will positively affect the lives of thousands of employees, and tens of thousands of patients.
If you’re looking for a career that can improve your quality of life, provide financial stability, job security, and growth, and the ability to positively impact populations of patients, a career as a physician executive is worth considering.
I’m recommending you look for mentors and network with physician executives to see if it’s a fit for you.
Let’s close with this quote:
Thanks for listening to today’s episode of Physician Nonclinical Careers.
Please sign up for my email newsletter so you’ll be notified of each new episode.
Next week, I’ll bring you an interview with medical writer Dr. Mandy Armitage.
So, join me next time on Physician Nonclinical Careers.
Resources are linked above.
If you'd like to listen to the premiere episode and show notes, you can find it here: Getting Acquainted with Physician NonClinical Careers Podcast – 001