What Is a Hospital CEO? (And How Do You Become One?)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 10, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The chief executive officer (CEO) is typically the leading position at any business or organization. While CEOs operate in the business world, they also work in not-for-profit sectors, including health care. If you want to be the CEO of a hospital or health care network, it's helpful to learn about the path you can take to gain the knowledge and experience you need.

In this article, we define what are hospital CEOs, share what their duties are, discuss other positions they can take, provide some steps you can take to become the CEO of a hospital, and list some necessary skills for the position.

What is a hospital CEO?

A hospital CEO is the chief executive officer of a hospital or a network of hospitals. These executives are responsible for overseeing and managing the operations of one or more hospitals. While CEOs of private companies often focus on increasing profits and stock prices, CEOs of hospitals focus more on the management of those hospitals. While ensuring the hospital uses its government funds and charitable donations properly is important, these CEOs don't have the same financial pressures as those who operate in the private market.

The duties of hospital CEOs include hiring and managing staff, planning, budgeting, and creating and implementing policies. These professionals lead a team of other executives, which can include chief medical officers (CMOs), chief nursing officers (CNOs), chief operating officers (COOs), and chief financial officers (CFOs.) Each hospital or network can have its own board setup wherein executives' duties can differ slightly, but all executives oversee specific areas of the facility and cooperate to execute the CEO's policies and procedures.

Related: What Is a CEO? (With Tips on How to Become One and FAQs)

What does a hospital CEO do?

These professionals have many duties because they're responsible for the overall success of the hospital. These health care institutions are often large facilities that serve many patients, so they require a significant number of employees that the CEO oversees. Because of this, CEOs of hospitals have a wide range of responsibilities, including:

  • hiring and keeping qualified employees

  • making sure that patients receive the best care possible

  • providing leadership

  • developing a positive and productive working culture

  • ensuring the hospital uses funds efficiently and appropriately

  • setting and following standards for operational excellence

  • drafting and implementing clinical procedures and policies

  • ensuring compliance with provincial and federal regulations and hospital policies

  • fostering positive relationships with outside organizations and the medical community

Health care CEO positions

Hospitals aren't the only medical facilities these professionals can manage. They can also oversee different health care facilities, ranging from hospitals networks to hospices. Some of these facilities include:

  • general medical and surgical hospitals

  • emergency hospitals

  • specialty hospitals

  • academic hospitals

  • family planning clinics

  • emergency hospitals

  • nursing homes and long-term care homes

  • outpatient care clinics

  • rehabilitation centres

Related: Types of Hospital Jobs to Consider (With Salaries)

How to become a hospital CEO

It typically takes several years to reach the level of CEO in any sector, and health care is no different. While becoming a CEO requires effort and work, there is a relatively direct career path toward becoming the CEO of a hospital. Here are some steps you can take to secure a position as the CEO of a hospital:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step toward eventually becoming a CEO is to enrol in a bachelor's program at a university in a subject related to either business or health care. Business, finance, accounting, marketing, and economics are all good majors to evaluate. The courses in all these programs can provide you with strong foundational skills that can help you in your future career. Many CEOs of hospitals started as health care professionals. To work as a nurse, you can enrol in a Bachelor of Nursing program.

If you want to be a doctor, consider any of the popular pre-medical school majors such as biology, anatomy, and physiology. To give you a good background for a future CEO position, it's wise to a program in a business-related discipline besides your science or medicine major. It's also important to consider where you want to work for most of your career. Some provinces have restrictions on hiring doctors and other health care professionals from outside that province. Ensure the province you want to work in recognizes degrees from the institution where you want to study.

2. Secure a job working in the health care sector

CEO is the highest position at a hospital, so it's necessary to gain experience in other health care-related positions before you can get a job as a CEO. Entering the health care industry as a nurse, doctor, or administrator is a good first step. Working in a hospital gives you a better understanding of how the health care industry works. You can also work in a smaller practice, if you prefer, or if there are more opportunities in such facilities near you. A facility, such as a family or a specialty practice, can give you valuable experience as well.

3. Earn a master's degree

Depending on whether you take the health care or business path first, it's beneficial to take a master's program. Or, while working in the health care sector, you can pursue a master's degree in health care or business. Two common master's degrees among CEOs in health care are Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Master of Public Health (MPH). You don't need a medical-related degree to gain admission to one of these programs, but many require some experience working in health care.

Studying in these programs allows you to gain vital knowledge of hospital operations and management that relates to the position of a CEO. Other master's degrees you can pursue include business administration, health care management, nursing, or a medical degree. While the information you learn in these programs may not relate to the job functions of a hospital CEO, they provide relevant knowledge you can use to pursue this position.

4. Acquire professional experience

The boards of hospitals rarely hire professionals for a CEO position who don't already have experience managing health care facilities or teams. That's why it's imperative that you gain experience working in a management position within the health care sector. Lower-level management positions or department management roles can provide you with valuable experience.

Many CEOs have worked as chief operating officers before achieving promotions to CEO positions. The COO works directly under the CEO, so working as a COO enables you to gain knowledge about what the CEO does and to learn useful skills. COOs attend meetings with the CEO and assist them with their work by executing administrative tasks and providing specific information about the operations of the hospital.

Related: 11 Smart Questions to Ask a CEO for Career Development

5. Look for certification options

Although there are no mandatory requirements for certifications, completing one may help you become a CEO of a hospital. It's beneficial to complete a certification course, such as a health executive program, which may increase your opportunities. Certifications such as these emphasize your commitment to health care administration and might make you a desirable candidate in the opinions of hospital boards.

Related: CEO Resume Examples and How to Write One of Your Own

Skills required to work as the CEO of a hospital

Serving as the CEO of a hospital can be challenging because it requires a combination of health care knowledge and management abilities. The best CEOs in this field usually have strong business administrative skills and extensive knowledge of the health care industry. Here is a list of skills that the best CEOs of hospitals possess:

  • Attention to detail: CEOs are responsible for controlling the finances of the hospital, keeping up-to-date equipment, and overseeing medical activities. To achieve this and to make any necessary improvements to business processes, they require a strong attention to detail.

  • Health care knowledge: Designing, altering, and implementing hospital policies and overseeing medical departments requires strong health care knowledge. Sufficient awareness of the industry is indispensable for CEOs.

  • Interpersonal skills: CEOs consistently consult with others in the hospital and interact with the public and external partners. It's important for them to be able to communicate effectively and be empathetic and listen actively to others.

  • Leadership and management: A CEO leads and manages a team of fellow executives and other employees. This requires both comfortability with taking leadership roles and the ability to manage simultaneous tasks and projects.

  • Organization: Because CEOs of hospitals oversee so many tasks and processes across multiple departments, it's important to stay organized. By doing, you can ensure that the hospital operates smoothly.

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