Hospital CEO Salary and Job Description

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The responsibility of keeping today’s dynamic, multifaceted health care systems operating and serving the public largely falls to hospital chief executive officers (CEOs). Their work encompasses all aspects of modern health care, from the most technical to the most routine. The decisions they make can have a profound impact on the effectiveness, viability and success of a health care facility and system.

The hospital CEO job description is as broad and far-reaching as today’s health care environment. Typical responsibilities include strategic planning, risk management, capital allocation and more. These duties require a range of medical, management and business skills to keep sophisticated health care systems operating smoothly and efficiently.

Hospital CEOs often begin their careers as physicians or other health care professionals. These professionals can play a significant role as hospital executives by combining high medical standards with leadership abilities and business management skills.

Programs such as an Executive Master of Health Administration degree can prepare health management professionals to pursue a career in the executive suite and potentially attain a hospital CEO’s salary and responsibilities.

Hospital CEO Salary

What Is a Hospital CEO?

A hospital CEO serves as the primary executive leader of a health care facility. They have the final say in critical aspects of hospital operations including strategic planning, organizational budgeting, staff training and development and policy implementation.

Hospital CEOs work closely with other C-suite executives, which typically include chief financial officers (CFOs), chief operating officers (COOs), chief medical officers (CMOs) and chief nursing officers (CNOs). These positions focus on specific elements of facility operation, and their expertise allows hospital CEOs to make informed decisions.

The primary goal of a hospital CEO is to create an environment that operates efficiently, offers high-quality patient care, meets the needs of its staff and benefits its community.

Hospital CEO Job Description

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) outlines a CEO’s core responsibilities, which include the following.

  • Setting the goals, policies and procedures of the organization
  • Overseeing financial and budgetary operations
  • Negotiating and approving contracts and other agreements
  • Hiring department heads and managers
  • Identifying processes that can be more efficient and cost-effective

In addition, the hospital CEO job description includes ensuring that care policies are compliant with all laws and regulations. CEOs are also responsible for fostering, leading and growing a work environment that promotes worker and patient safety.

Typical Hospital CEO Salary

Although hospital CEOs are typically well-compensated, the hospital CEO salary can range dramatically depending on a number of factors.

The BLS reports that as of May 2021, the median salary for CEOs in the health care and social assistance industries was $154,650. By contrast, according to the Executive Compensation Survey from business publication Modern Healthcare, hospital CEO median salaries range from about $330,000 to $1.7 million, depending on the hospital’s net revenue. Other factors that can affect hospital CEO salary include hospital size and location.

Fundamental Skills of a Hospital CEO

The BLS estimates 7% of all CEOs work in health care and social assistance. The position requires understanding and monitoring all hospital activities as well as sharing their knowledge and expertise with managers and board members. Hospital CEOs must stay current on new technologies and trends in the health care industry to inform their decision-making and strategic planning.

A typical hospital CEO job description encompasses a range of business management skills and health care experience. Common responsibilities include the following.

  • Monitoring, hiring and retraining efforts to ensure staff members have the necessary education, certification, training and experience
  • Verifying compliance with state, federal and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations, and communicating compliance efforts to the board of directors
  • Confirming senior managers are setting and abiding by standards of excellence in implementing policies and procedures

The skills that hospital CEOs rely on include technical insight, financial expertise and well-developed communication abilities. While many hospital CEOs have a medical background, an increasing number come from other fields.

This trend is the result of fundamental changes in the industry, as consumers expect more choice in health care services and a more personalized approach to their care.

  • A consumer-centric approach to health care requires hospital CEOs to be more inventive, collaborative and value-focused.
  • The new model of health care embraces technological innovation, including advanced data analytics and community collaboration centered on improving health outcomes for entire populations.
  • To accommodate the shift from fee-for-service to value-based care, CEOs must communicate clearly inside and outside their organizations and embrace change as a way to enhance consumer engagement.

How to Become a Hospital CEO

There is no single path to becoming a hospital CEO. The following essential benchmarks provide a roadmap, but the specific path can vary from individual to individual.


Technically, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational benchmark to becoming a hospital CEO. However, it is common practice for hospital CEOs to earn an advanced degree. For those already approaching the executive role from a health care background, this can mean earning an advanced nursing degree or a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and taking a direct role in care delivery.

Those who do not come from a health care background may pursue advanced degrees that can help deepen their knowledge of the business side of health care. This could include earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a focus on a specific business element such as finance or operations management. It can also include a degree that concentrates on the business side of health care, such as a Master of Health Administration (MHA) degree.

The education journey can also be furthered with an Executive MHA (EMHA) degree. Designed for experienced health care industry professionals, this degree can expose an individual to new concepts and theories involving health management practice. This can ultimately help professionals grow and expand their knowledge and skill set to lead a hospital effectively from a C-suite position and earn a competitive hospital CEO salary.


An aspiring CEO’s specific experience will depend on their background. For instance, an advanced practice nurse might hone their skills and gain experience by focusing their care on a certain specialty, such as women’s health or pediatrics. An MD might pursue a specialization such as cardiology, neurology or pathology. These experiences can give clinicians a perspective for the business decisions they may make as hospital CEOs driven by patient care.

For those who enter health care from a business background, experience can come from work in health administration or health information management.

Ultimately, an experienced individual needs to land a relevant management position in health care before pursuing a hospital CEO role. For example, an advanced practice nurse or a physician could take a role as a nurse manager or a physician manager, while someone with a business background could earn administrative experience as a medical records manager or a hospital manager.

These management roles allow individuals to apply the knowledge and skills they've learned in the classroom to a real-world setting. It also enables individuals to develop and refine their leadership skills and style — elements that can be beneficial in an executive-level profession like a hospital CEO.


While you don’t typically need to acquire specific certifications to become a hospital CEO, certifications can demonstrate expertise in health administration at the executive level. There are several executive certification options to consider, including the CRCE (Executive) certification from the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management and the Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) certification from the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Build Healthy Communities as a Hospital CEO

The fundamental changes that continue to drive the health care industry highlight the vital role hospital CEOs play in improving the health and well-being of both individuals and communities. Preparing for leadership roles in today’s health care landscape requires a solid understanding of all aspects of the health care system, including technology, economics, ethics, finance, policy and management.

The Executive Master of Health Administration online degree from USC Price offers this foundation to mid- and senior-level professionals who have the ambition to lead successful health care organizations.

Learn how USC’s Executive MHA degree program helps clinical and management professionals develop the knowledge and skills to fill leadership roles in the competitive health care environment.

Recommended Readings

7 Reasons to Pursue an EMHA Degree
6 In-Demand Health Administration Careers
5 Ways an EMHA Can Advance Your Health Care Career 


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