Compliance Director – Education, Certification & Daily Responsibilities

Every game needs a set of rules. Industry regulations ensure a safe and equitable playing field for all involved participants. But these types of rules are far more complex than those found in an NFL game, and that’s why organizations operating in regulated areas hire experts specifically tasked with regulatory adherence.

Imagine for a moment that the federal government has just passed a sweeping set of new regulations that help protect patient data collected by healthcare facilities. Those new regulations start as nothing but a few hundred (or thousand) pages of dense legalese in physical terms. But their implications come with massive consequences: if an institution fails to comply with these regulations, they can accrue heavy fines, be the subject of costly lawsuits, and even see their license to operate revoked. The situation is compounded further because regulated entities are often large and unwieldy and comprise many moving parts.

That’s where a compliance director comes in. It’s their responsibility to interpret the new regulations and put them in clear terms for their organization’s senior management. Furthermore, compliance directors need to design and implement internal policies that ensure that they can meet these new external requirements. Finally, compliance directors are responsible for training staff on these internal policies and monitoring their effectiveness. A single mistake can be cataclysmic.

This is an enormous job, and it requires linking together several different departments that aren’t used to working in harmony. A compliance director at a hospital, for example, has to get the care providers, the financial team, the insurance partners, the IT department, the senior management, and even the low-level staff all on the same page. Doing all that requires both an expert understanding of the regulatory landscape and a near-superhuman level of communication skills.

But it’s also rewarded handsomely: according to (2021), an employment data aggregator, compliance directors working in healthcare earn an average of over $144,000 per year.

This isn’t a profession that just anyone can do. But, at its core, it changes the way large entities do business—and changes them such that they protect the previously unprotected. If you’re curious about how that looks in practice, read on to get a glimpse into a day in the life of a compliance director.

Work Environment of Compliance Directors

Compliance directors can specialize in several regulated sectors (banking, public utilities, and import/export), but they often choose to work for the nation’s biggest employer: healthcare. Within healthcare, compliance directors can work in a wide range of organizations: from an insurance provider, to a hospital network, to a pharmaceutical company. In each instance, a compliance director is likely to call an office home base. But their mandate requires them to be familiar with and present in every department of their organization.

Clinical Team of Compliance Directors

Especially in a field like healthcare, certain parts of a large organization can be siloed off from one another. But it’s the job of a compliance director to move between those silos and get everyone marching to the same rhythm.

In their work, compliance directors need to coordinate the actions of IT workers, care providers, financial professionals, and outside bodies like insurance companies and regulatory entities. Learning how to listen to each of those separate departments and knowing how to develop and communicate policies that each department can implement successfully are the main tasks of a compliance director.

Typical Daily Responsibilities of Compliance Directors

The work of a compliance director can be categorized into two tiers: external compliance duties and internal compliance duties.

External compliance duties consist of interpreting regulations that are imposed from outside of the workplace. It means studying new governmental regulations and devising policies that can be implemented to help an institution align with them. This portion of a compliance director’s job comes and goes in phases that align with the political tides.

Internal compliance duties involve ensuring that the workplace is adhering to its systems of control and successfully following internal policies devised to comply with external rules and regulations. This is the bread and butter of a compliance director’s work, ensuring that the organization operates ethically and efficiently.

Some typical daily responsibilities of compliance directors include:

  • Writing clear summarization reports of new external regulations
  • Designing and implementing internal policies to meet external regulations
  • Running internal audits which check for adherence with external policies
  • Educating both senior management and lower-level staff on compliance issues
  • Liaising with lobbyist groups and regulatory bodies

A compliance director’s daily work is further defined by both the facility they work in and any sub-discipline of compliance they’ve chosen to specialize in. Compliance directors who specialize in patient privacy may work closely with IT departments and data security. In contrast, compliance directors who specialize in payments are more focused on billing and coordination with insurance providers.

Required Skills & Knowledge of Compliance Directors

Even though a compliance director’s day-to-day activities vary based on their employer and area of specialization, a few characteristics stand out as mandatory for work in this profession.

  • Communicative. Compliance directors have to speak many different corporate languages. In the course of their work, they have to both be able to understand dense legal texts and then translate these to members of an organization’s staff in a way that can be metabolized into the facility’s culture.
  • Persistent. Compliance is a constantly shifting landscape. To stay abreast of new developments and how they can impact one’s organization, compliance directors need a fierce commitment to professional development and proactive research. There are no ambiguities in compliance, and directors have to persist in each case to clear and definitive answers.
  • Ethical. The heart of compliance is in doing the right thing, no matter how inconvenient it may seem. Compliance directors don’t play favorites: they self-report any breaches of policy and foster a culture where others self-report, too, regardless of whether the breach was intentional or unintentional.

Soft skills are one thing, but compliance directors also need a healthy dose of fundamental knowledge to go with them. While some current compliance directors have only a bachelor’s degree, it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to seek out candidates with graduate-level education. An MBA or MHA can boost a compliance director’s foundational understanding of the gears of regulation and provide opportunities for sub-specialization in areas of emerging importance.

For compliance directors, education doesn’t stop at the master’s level, either. Continuing education and professional development are crucial in a field as dynamic as regulatory compliance. Whether seeking out professional certification by peer-led organizations or attending state-level or national conferences, the best compliance directors maintain a commitment to lifelong learning to stay at the top of their profession.

Certification for Compliance Directors

While professional certification is not a requirement to serve in this profession, many compliance directors seek it out to establish their expertise with employers and peers.

The Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) has a Compliance Certification Board (CCB) that offers premier industry certifications in three areas: healthcare compliance, healthcare research compliance, and healthcare privacy compliance.

For the Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) designation, applicants must have one year of experience in a full-time compliance position in the last two years; and 20 continuing education units approved by CCB (and completed in the previous year). Once deemed eligible, applicants must pass a two-hour, 120-question examination to earn the CHC designation. Those who earn the CHC designation must recertify every two years by completing 40 hours of continuing education units and paying a renewal fee.

Health Ethics Trust (HET) offers two more professional certifications for healthcare-focused compliance directors: a Certified Compliance Professional (CCP) credential for early-career compliance directors and a Certified Compliance Executive (CCE) credential for mid and late-career compliance directors.

Eligibility is determined by scoring a mix of the applicant’s work history, educational achievements, and letters of recommendation. Once deemed eligible, applicants must pass an essay examination. Holders of either certification are required to renew every three years by completing 40 hours of professional education.

Salaries for Compliance Directors By Region & Experience

As previously discussed, salaries for compliance directors are lucrative and well above the national average for all occupations, which is $56,310 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020). By comparison, the BLS shows the average annual salary for medical and health services managers, a similar occupation, is $118,800 (BLS May 2020)., an aggregator of self-reported salaries, shows similar numbers, with the average annual salary for compliance directors at $101,526 based on 1,231 salaries (PayScale Apr. 2021).

Salary Percentiles for Compliance Directors

Salaries fall on a wide numeric spectrum based on education, years of experience, and cost of living in a particular area. The BLS shows the following annual salary percentiles for medical and health services managers (BLS May 2020):

  • 10th percentile: $59,980
  • 25th percentile: $78,820
  • 50th percentile (median): $104,280
  • 75th percentile: 139,650
  • 90th percentile: $195,630

PayScale shows the following salary data for compliance directors based on the number of years of experience (PayScale Apr. 2021):

  • Entry-level (less than one year): $78,000
  • Early career (1-4 years): $82,000
  • Mid-career (5-9 years): $98,000
  • Late career (10-19 years): $113,000
  • Experienced (20 or more years): $117,000

Top-Paying States and Metropolitan Areas for Compliance Directors

Here are the states with the highest average annual salaries for medical and health services managers (BLS May 2020):

  • Washington DC: $157,590
  • New York: $156,140
  • Hawaii: $139,650
  • California: $138,030
  • Massachusetts: $136,930

The following are the ten top-paying metropolitan areas for medical and health services managers (BLS May 2020):

  • Vallejo-Fairfield, CA: $174,010 average annual salary
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: $171,430
  • Madera, CA: $168,090
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT: $156,160
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $156,050
  • Corvallis, OR: $155,030
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: $153,590
  • Binghamton, NY: $153,490
  • Salinas, CA: $153,100
  • Danbury, CT: $151,670

For those who prefer living in nonmetropolitan areas, the five top-paying rural areas for medical and health services managers are as follows (BLS May 2020):

  • West North Dakota: $136,680 average annual salary
  • Central East New York: $134,300
  • Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California: $134,250
  • West-Central Southwest New Hampshire: $133,670
  • North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California: $133,380

It’s worth noting that several of the highest-paying states and metropolitan areas are located in states with high living costs. New Hampshire and North Dakota are the only states not listed in the top 10 most expensive states to live in, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021), an organization that calculates the annual average cost of living for each state. When job searching or negotiating salaries, considering the cost of living in a particular state or region is essential.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging issues in healthcare administration and public health, with a particular focus on progressive policies that empower communities and reduce health disparities. His work centers around detailed interviews with researchers, professors, and practitioners, as well as with subject matter experts from professional associations such as the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) and the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHCA).

Related Posts

  • 1 October 2018

    Influential Healthcare Law and Policy Professors to Know

    Sitting at the intersection of law and healthcare is a group of talented educators who are experts in how policies shape public health outcomes.

  • 30 April 2024

    Did Hackers Who Attacked Change Healthcare Collect $22 Million in Ransom?

    Although students in MHA and healthcare MBA programs learn a vast assortment of managerial strategies, it’s unlikely that any of these programs would have taught them how to manage through the kind of catastrophic cyberattack that shut down Change Healthcare—and much of the U.S. healthcare industry.

  • 16 April 2024

    Palomar Health’s Financial Crisis: Is Private Management the Answer?

    Most MHA and healthcare MBA students who interview for internships and jobs with county medical centers and other state and local hospitals expect that they would work for such institutions as public employees following an offer. But if such facilities follow the controversial lead of California’s largest public healthcare district, public/private distinctions like those might soon become a lot more complicated.

  • 2 February 2024

    Measuring the Healthcare Sector: Who, What, Why?

    Alongside HHS and still within the Department of Commerce, one finds the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The BEA is responsible for producing economic statistics in general. They contribute to measuring healthcare spending as part of their calculation of GDP as a whole—the healthcare sector just happens to entail one-fifth of that total amount. They coordinate closely with NHEA and CMS on these calculations.

  • 23 January 2024

    Greening the Healthcare Sector: How Hospitals Can Reduce Emissions

    In late 2015, nearly 200 governments worldwide signed a landmark action plan known as the Paris Agreement. After decades of blame-shifting, disorganization, and avoidance, there was finally a formal acknowledgment of the shared nature of climate change and a unified effort toward tackling the mounting crisis.