Director of Patient Safety Career Path

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Every year in low- and middle-income countries, 134 million adverse events and 2.6 million deaths occur in hospitals due to unsafe care, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In high-income countries, an estimated 10% of patients are harmed while receiving medical care, with almost half of those adverse events being preventable.

Patient safety is one of the most pressing issues facing the health care industry today. To mitigate the risk of adverse events and provide the highest-quality patient care possible, professionals in the patient safety field — such as directors of patient safety — work to ensure that people have access to safe care in a time of need.

Embarking on a career path as a director of patient safety can be highly rewarding, providing the opportunity for competitive pay while changing lives. To begin a career in this critical role, laying a foundation with the right graduate education, such as earning an Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA), is an important first step.

What Is Patient Safety?

Patient safety is a discipline that addresses the issue of rising patient harm in health care facilities, aiming to reduce errors, complications and adverse events that occur while patients are receiving medical attention.

Modern health care systems are complex. Every hospital or medical care facility features almost infinite moving parts, rendering the environment vulnerable to human errors, such as administering incorrect medications; spreading hospital-acquired infections (HAIs); and performing tests, procedures or discharges on the wrong patient.

Why Is Patient Safety Important?

The burden of unsafe medical practice is severe from several perspectives, including cost, patient well-being and spread of disease. According to WHO, medication errors alone cost $42 billion annually. One million people die every year from neglectful surgical procedures, with another 6 million suffering significant complications. Unsafe injection practices spread dangerous diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, accounting for an estimated life loss of 9.2 million years worldwide.

These are just some examples of major problems regarding patient safety. With WHO estimates stating that unsafe medical care is likely one of the top 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world, taking measured action toward increased patient safety has become indispensable for health care systems and their operators.

What Does a Director of Patient Safety Do?

A director of patient safety coordinates, implements and oversees the development of comprehensive safety initiatives, with the ultimate goal of reducing medical errors and adverse events.

Some of a director of patient safety’s daily responsibilities might include:

● Leading planning sessions with facility management
● Reviewing and updating quality improvement plans
● Instructing hospital staff on how to implement patient safety concepts and guidelines

These critical directors work collaboratively with every level of hospital staff, including executives, administrators, doctors and nurses. To succeed, a director of patient safety must possess strong communication abilities, be a resourceful and strategic thinker, and maintain great attention to detail in outlining and implementing procedures.

How to Become a Director of Patient Safety

At minimum, a director of patient safety must hold a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution. However, many employers prefer applicants with the advanced knowledge of the health care industry and its processes gained through a graduate degree such as an Executive MHA.

To set themselves apart, aspiring patient safety officers should strongly consider master’s programs that offer instruction in these critical fields:

● Quality assurance
● Patient safety
● System analysis
● Risk management
● Clinical quality improvement
● Infection control

Professional certifications such as the Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS) from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement can also increase a director of patient safety candidate’s appeal, lead to greater likelihood of success upon hire and provide opportunity for higher pay.

The certification is structured to enhance a prospective health care professional’s ability to adapt to recent and forthcoming changes in the health care industry through practical guidance, focusing on five domains: leadership, culture, measuring and improving performance, patient safety risks and solutions, and systems thinking and design/human factors.

Director of Patient Safety Salary and Outlook

A career as a director of patient safety requires in-depth knowledge, advanced focus and the ability to execute strategies in a high-pressure environment. As a result, those who hold these positions are often well paid and in high demand.

According to PayScale, the median base salary for a director of patient safety was approximately $81,000 per year as of May 2021. These professionals have the potential to make up to $128,000 per year depending upon experience, education and additional certifications, such as CPPS.

With the ever-rising complexity of medical facilities across the globe, the demand for medical and health services managers, including directors of patient safety, is growing fast. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of jobs available in this category to grow by 32% between the years 2019 and 2029, much faster than the average job growth rate of 4%.

Pursue a Career as a Director of Patient Safety

A career as a director of patient safety provides the opportunity for individuals to change the world through facilitating safer medical practices, with the prospect of receiving competitive pay and a promising job outlook.

For health professionals interested in advancing toward a career as a director of patient safety, pursuing USC’s Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) can equip students with transformative leadership skills; a deeply supportive network of faculty, alumni and students; and a curriculum centered around bringing immediate value to an organization upon graduation. Explore the program today to discover a life-changing opportunity to make health care safer.

Recommended Readings
Health Care Economics in the United States: Key Insights for Upcoming Leaders
7 Ways to Improve Patient Outcomes
5 In-Demand Careers in Health Administration in 2021

Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Certified Professional in Patient Safety
PayScale, Average Director of Patient Safety Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers
World Health Organization, Patient Safety