Your Path to Becoming a Health Care Executive

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Employment in the health care sector is rapidly expanding. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs across all health care occupations will grow by 16% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than what’s projected for other fields, adding approximately 2.6 million jobs.

As employment of medical staff (doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners), support staff (physical therapy aides, occupational therapy assistants), and administrative and clerical staff continues to grow, so will the need for qualified health care executives who can ensure that hospitals, long-term care facilities, and medical group practices run smoothly. The BLS reports that employment of medical and health services managers, including health care executives, is expected to grow by 32% between 2020 and 2030.

Students interested in this field have many career paths to choose from. Here are a few of the pathways that aspiring health care executives can take to pursue high-level management and leadership roles.

Usc Emha 2021 Q3 Skyscraper Topic Outline Your Path to Becoming a Health Care Executive

What Is a Health Care Executive?

A health care executive is someone in a senior-level management position — such as CEO, chief nursing officer (CNO), finance director or chief information technology officer (CITO) — who has decision-making authority. While health care CEOs oversee entire organizations, finance directors, CNOs and CITOs are the heads of individual departments.

Although health care executives’ day-to-day responsibilities vary widely based on their position, they all bear responsibility for managing and coordinating resources for care; formulating policies and directives;   and communicating with other executive staff regarding the effects of various policies, procedures and initiatives on organizational performance.

Usc Emha 2021 Q3 Skyscraper Topic Outline Your Path to Becoming a Health Care Executive

Health Care Executive Job Description

Health care executives perform various managerial duties relevant to their departments. Finance directors oversee financial operations and budgets and evaluate big-ticket purchasing decisions, while CNOs oversee and craft policy initiatives to improve the delivery of patient care. Specific health care executive job descriptions will vary, but some common daily duties are:

  • Managing staff
  • Managing departmental budgets
  • Overseeing salaries
  • Forecasting departmental staffing needs
  • Designing and implementing systems to improve health care delivery
  • Designing and implementing strategies to improve the patient experience
  • Maintaining departmental records
  • Preparing reports for the institution’s board of directors
  • Interacting with top executives from other departments


Usc Emha 2021 Q3 Skyscraper Topic Outline Your Path to Becoming a Health Care Executive

Types of Health Care Executive Jobs

Individuals interested in pursuing health care executive jobs can pursue various positions and roles within this field. Although the daily responsibilities of these professionals can vary widely based on their title, all executive figureheads aim to improve the performance of the institution they work for.

Senior Project Manager

Senior project managers oversee, manage and coordinate health care projects such as construction and expansion — selecting vendors, developing strategies to improve patient response and waiting times, and overseeing a facility’s integration of new computer networks or reporting systems. The primary role of senior project managers is to manage and oversee the various teams working to bring a project to completion.

Hospital Administrator

Hospital administrators oversee day-to-day operations. In addition to ensuring that a hospital maintains compliance with state, local and federal guidelines, hospital administrators may provide feedback on potential marketing campaigns, oversee staff scheduling and facility maintenance, and analyze patient feedback regarding staff performance and quality of care.

Chief Nursing Officer

CNOs don’t work directly with patients, but liaise between nurses and administration. They also oversee nurses and nurse managers, ensure that the nursing staff is current with licensing and continuing education requirements, draft and implement treatment protocols, and ensure that an organization’s policies and procedures are being followed.

Finance Director

Health care finance directors manage an organization’s fiscal health. In addition to overseeing financial reporting and budgets, they often consult with other executive team members about current or pending financial allocations. Finance directors also research cost-cutting strategies.

Service Line Director

Health care service line directors oversee specific departments within a facility, such as oncology, cardiovascular or pediatrics. In addition to creating strategies and objectives for care, they develop and oversee departmental budgets and research care delivery methodologies to improve the patient experience. Service line directors often report to a facility’s executive staff.

Chief Information Technology Officer

CITOs oversee and direct an organization’s technological needs and technological purchasing decisions. They research systems such as telemedicine portals, and they oversee the safety and storage of employees’ and patients’ digital data.

How to Become a Health Care Executive

Health care executives are educated and experienced leaders in their field. Some common steps toward senior-level positions include pursuing the right education, getting licensed (depending on specialty) and gaining work experience.

Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The first step toward becoming a health care executive is to complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field. While aspiring CNOs will need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), future finance directors will be better served by a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting or business administration. Most bachelor’s programs require students to complete 120 credit hours, and full-time students can often complete a degree within four years.

Gain Relevant Work Experience

Some higher education institutions require master’s degree candidates to have work experience. For example, some Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs require applicants to have three to five years of experience as a licensed registered nurse (RN) before they can apply. However, aspiring CITOs may be able to apply to a master’s program immediately after completing an undergraduate degree.

Regardless, future health care executives must have considerable work experience in their field to be considered for management positions. Additionally, professional work experience allows individuals to develop a professional network, which can help them obtain high-level managerial and supervisory jobs in the future.

Earn Relevant Certifications

Aspiring CNOs are the only health care executives required to maintain active licensure, but those interested in other executive positions may benefit from earning various certifications. Professionals interested in finance director positions may find that the Certified Healthcare Financial Professional (CERP) certification can improve their job prospects, whereas individuals interested in working as a health care administrator may benefit from completing the Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (cHAP) or Certified Healthcare Quality Professional (CHQP) certification.

Complete an Advanced Education in a Related Field

The BLS reports that health care executives commonly hold master’s degrees, which employers often prefer. Educational requirements, however, vary by position, facility and responsibilities. Common master’s degrees for health care executives may include the Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA), the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and master’s degrees in database systems and application development.

Master’s programs often require students to complete between 32 and 36 credit hours, although some programs may require as many as 60. The time it takes to complete a master’s degree varies based on numerous factors, such as the number of required credit hours and whether a student is full or part time. Although full-time students often find that they can complete a graduate degree in two years, part-time students may require as many as five to seven years of prior study.

What Is the Typical Health Care Executive Salary?

Health care executive salaries are often comparable to or in some instances higher than the salaries of nurses and medical staff.

Senior Project Manager

PayScale reports that the median base salary for senior project managers, including health care project managers, was about $105,000 as of February 2022; those in the top 10th percentile earned more than $142,000. Additionally, commissions, profit sharing contributions and bonuses may be part of a senior project manager’s compensation package.

Hospital Administrator

As of April 2022, PayScale data shows that the median salary for hospital administrators was $88,000; those in the top 10th percentile earned more than $150,000. In addition to base salaries, PayScale reports that some hospital administrators may receive additional compensation in the form of bonuses and profit sharing.

Chief Nursing Officer

PayScale data reports that the median base salary for CNOs was $135,000 as of March 2022; those in the top 10th percentile earned more than $203,000. Some CNOs may also receive bonuses and profit sharing contributions as part of their compensation packages.

Finance Director

According to PayScale, the median base salary for finance directors, including health care finance directors, was $115,000 as of March 2022. However, earners in the top 10th percentile earned more than $165,000. Similar to other health care executive positions, finance directors may receive additional compensation in the form of commissions, bonuses and profit sharing contributions.

Service Line Director

PayScale reports that the median base salary for service line directors, including those working in the health care industry, was $129,000 as of February 2022; top earners made more than $180,000. They may also receive quarterly or annual bonuses based on performance.

Chief Information Technology Officer

PayScale indicates that the median base salary for CITOs, including those working in health care, was $129,000 as of February 2022; those in the top 10th percentile earned more than $273,000. Additionally, CITOs may receive bonuses as part of their overall compensation package.

Factors That Influence Executive Health Care Administration Salary Ranges

Salary ranges for executive health care administrators can vary based on factors such as organization size and type and a professional’s experience level. For example, the BLS reports that the  median annual wage for medical and health services managers, including health care executives, working at government institutions was $117,000 as of May 2021, while individuals employed at nursing and residential care facilities reported a median annual wage of $83,550.

Salary ranges can also vary based on geographical region. The BLS reports that while May 2021 data indicates that the annual median wage for health care executives in Florida was $107,850, the annual median wage in the state of New York was $155,430.

What Employers Look for in a Health Care Executive Resume

Health care executives are strategic leaders with well-defined, actionable goals for their departments. They must be mentally agile; able to see problems from all angles; and develop comprehensive, 360-degree solutions. Employers require health care executive applicants to have extensive knowledge and experience in their respective fields.

  • Attention to detail: Health care executives must be detail oriented and able to analyze budgets, provide departmental forecasting and manage multiple responsibilities.
  • Leadership: CITOs, CNOs and other health care executives shape, direct and lead their respective departments. Strong leaders who can motivate staff and bring out their team’s abilities are most likely to succeed.
  • Organization: Individuals with strong organizational skills understand how to prioritize tasks, maximize productivity and delegate tasks to team members. Well-organized professionals are able to use their time and resources both effectively and efficiently.
  • Time management: Time management and organization often go hand-in-hand. Health care executives oversee numerous tasks and projects at any given time. Strong time management skills help professionals set and prioritize day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Analysis: Health care executives must pay close attention to how changes in regulations, policies, guidelines and laws may impact their departments. Strong analytical skills are required to collect data, conceptualize solutions and use various information to make effective decisions.
  • Problem-solving: Executives in health care must be able to act decisively. Problem-solving skills help professionals identify the most appropriate course of action.
  • Communication: Health care administrators should be able to communicate effectively with their staff, managers, C-level executives and boards of directors. Fine-tuned written and verbal communication skills are crucial for individuals interested in pursuing executive roles.

Become a Health Care Executive and Shape the Future of Care

The BLS indicates that between now and 2030, factors such as baby boomers’ retirement and the growing number of Americans managing chronic health issues will drive employment in the health care sector Improvements in medical technologies, such as the expansion of telehealth, will also affect job growth. Demand for employees in group medical practice management and administration is projected to grow as group practices become larger and more complex.

The need for highly qualified health care executives who can apply their educational and professional backgrounds to run operations smoothly and efficiently is expected to remain strong in the face of these changes. The health care industry will continue to need top-level employees with the right combination of education, skills and experience to lead the field into the future.


Infographic Sources:

TheJobNetwork, “Why Healthcare Jobs Are On The Rise”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

Verywell Mind, “Reasons to Work in the Healthcare Field”