The Physician Executive – To CMO and Beyond

By Ellis “Mac” Knight MD, MBA

October 21, 2020

Many physicians aspire to CMO roles in hospitals, health systems and other healthcare organizations.  This is logical and this position has evolved considerably over the last few decades.  Formerly, this was more of a token position than a real position of authority and responsibility, Today, the CMO in most organizations is responsible for clinical quality, patient safety, medical staff affairs (privileging and credentialing), and other areas of significant importance. Unfortunately, many physician executives do not feel like they are qualified for senior leadership positions other than the CMO role.  This needs to change.

What I’d like to see is more physician executives compete for true operational roles:  service line directors (orthopedics, cardiac services, ambulatory care etc.) and even the chief operational officer (COO) position.  These roles are custom made for physicians who are perfectly positioned to understand, design, innovate, and improve clinical operations. 

I’ve heard many great ideas from knowledgeable physicians over the years about how to improve quality and efficiency in the OR, the clinics, the ICU and the inpatient setting.  Unfortunately, their good ideas often don’t get implemented.

Don’t get me wrong, non-clinical operational leaders have their own areas of expertise:  staffing, supply chain, accounting, budgeting, revenue cycle optimization etc.  When coupled with clinical expertise, such as through a co-management model, this combination can truly improve VALUE, i.e. high quality and cost efficiency which is quickly becoming the overarching imperative across the entire industry.   

All healthcare leaders need to remember that what we are about in the healthcare industry is not optimizing profit.  Instead, we are about patient care.  Allowing physicians a seat at the table when making key operational decisions would ensure that we can deliver high VALUE care to the patients we serve.     

Those in physician executive roles or those aspiring to move into such positions need to realize that they have the talent, skills, capabilities and drive to lead at the highest levels in any healthcare organization. Physicians should aspire to real operational positions of authority (which come, of course, with concomitant accountability) Finally, physician executives should push their organizations to focus on clinical care operational improvements.  All the marketing, fancy facilities, or profit seeking contracting and bill collecting will be for not if they are prioritized above high VALUE care delivery. 

Physician Advocate / Value Based Care Champion / Healthcare Thought Leader

Mac Knight has over 40 years of experience in the healthcare arena, as a practicing physician, physician executive, healthcare consultant, expert witness and industry thought leader. He has practiced and held leadership positions in community and academic settings and is familiar with the operation of hospitals in both rural and urban settings. He is frequently asked to speak at national meetings and has authored or co-authored multiple books and articles on a variety of healthcare related topics.

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