Joining the C-Suite: Top-Paying Positions for Healthcare Executives

The highest paid people in the healthcare industry are not necessarily doctors. In many healthcare settings, they are healthcare executives. According to the The New York Times, executive salaries in healthcare saw a considerable increase in the 1990s, and the trend has since continued. The number of healthcare administrators is also increasing at a much faster rate than the number of physicians; however, the job forecast for healthcare administrators remains positive for the next decade. What what are these top positions, and how much are they paying?

At the top of the pyramid are the leaders. For healthcare executives, this means taking responsibility for some or all of the moving parts of a healthcare facility and ensuring that they run efficiently, safely, and profitably. Within that mandate are the nuances of specialization and intra-facility collaboration. All top positions require not only strong organizational skills but also a foundational and fluent understanding of healthcare systems.

Data on salaries is variable. Exact figures are based on experience, geography, setting, and experience. They can be further influenced by the value of bonuses and benefits and contrasted with the cost of living. The numbers below are not gospel, but they are a sourced average and can be a guide for those looking to join the C-suite.

Read on to get an idea about the top paying positions for healthcare executives.

Chief Executive Officer – $600,000 a year

Hospital CEOs are the captains of the ship. They bear all responsibility for making sure that a hospital runs smoothly, efficiently, and safely. Hospital CEOs have strong academic records in health administration, good personal mentors, and more than a decade of high-intensity experience. It should be noted that while the average salary of a hospital CEO is high, it varies more so than other executive positions.

In a study by the Harvard School of Public Health of nearly 2,000 hospital CEOs, those who ran small hospitals earned closer to $118,000 a year, while those who ran large teaching hospitals earned around $1.7 million a year—and those numbers were neither the lowest, nor the highest, of all responses. For example, the CEO of Northwestern Hospital in Chicago earned more than $5 million annually in salary and bonus.

Chief Financial Officer – $155,000 a year

The CFO of a medical facility has a lot of math to do. Between regulations at the federal, state, insurance, and internal level, a multivariable calculus must continually be refined to arrive at the perfect nexus of safety and efficiency. Medical CFOs need to be multi-talented, too. They incorporate data analytics, accounting, and communication skills to not only balance the books and keep the lights on but to translate financial insights into other verticals in the organization. A master’s in health administration (MHA) or a master’s in business administration (MBA) is a must.

According to Payscale data, a CFO with healthcare skills earns an average salary of $155,185 per year with total pay including bonus reaching more than $200,000.

Chief Information Officer – $208,000 a year

The CIO of a medical facility has more data to deal with than most other CIOs. Between patient data, regulations, and financials, there is not only more information and more rules to follow but also more sensitive data to protect. CIOs take on leadership and responsibility for utilizing that data in an efficient, safe, and legal manner. In addition to leadership experience, training in internet technology and law is a benefit to aspiring medical CIOs.

Salaries for IT leaders in healthcare vary widely based on the size and type of organization and raises for CIOs have been relatively modest over the years, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives. However, the study found that healthcare CIOs still earned more than $200,000 a year—their average base salary was $208,417 in 2012.

Chief Nursing Officer – $124,000 a year

A chief nursing officer (CNO) directs the entire nursing staff of a large medical facility. He or she designs strategy and implements policy at the highest level and ensure compliance with government and facility regulations. Most CNOs have a master of nursing science (MSN) or a master of health administration (MHA)—or both—in addition to ample work experience in previous leadership roles.

According to Payscale data, CNOs can expect to make six figures a year in the U.S. Average annual compensation is about $124,000 with a yearly base salary of $85,000 on the lower end and $197,000 on the higher end. Salary varies according to geographic location but also type of employer. CNOs working in larger hospitals with more than 300 beds can earn more than $200,000 a year.

Clinical Informatics Manager – $90,000 a year

Between the sheer number of patients, insurance providers, and clinicians, medical facilities are data firehoses—and the clinical informatics manager has to turn the firehose into an irrigation system that is efficient, effective, safe, and in compliance with all regulations. Perhaps that is why directors of clinical informatics can earn more at a large facility, where the amount of data is exponentially more. A clinical informatics manager is more of an in-the-trenches position than that of a hospital CIO. As such, fluency in IT systems is crucial.

Payscale notes that the average compensation for a for a CI manager with clinical information systems skills is $90,847 a year. What’s more, salary does not change much according to experience, with the most experienced earning only a bit more than the least.

Community Health Director – $129,000 a year

Community health directors are in charge of a medical facility’s outreach programs. Their business is to promote health in and outside of a hospital setting. They design, implement, manage, and promote policies and programs that involve the community in disease prevention and health promotion, and they secure funding and buy-in from corporate partners. Community health directors often have an MPH, MHA, or another relevant graduate level degree.

According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for community health directors is $129,774, with a range usually between $106,603 and $158,230.

Compliance Director – $135,000 a year

Healthcare is practically mummified in red tape. Both the government and insurance policies have labyrinthine requirements and regulations for medical facilities. With the influx of massive amounts of patient data that needs to be stored, secured, and analyzed, a significant portion of a hospital can be dedicated solely to issues of compliance. Those at the head of these departments—compliance and risk directors—manage teams of compliance officers, develop and implement compliance plans, and manage processes and policies that comply with all accreditation standards. An MHA with a specialization in regulatory affairs is a minimum for this profession—a Juris Doctor (JD) is also beneficial when working for a flagship hospital.

Salary.com reports that compliance directors make on average $145,450, with a median salary of $114,487 on the lower end and $163,575 on the higher end.

Director of Case Management – $95,000 a year

Often working directly underneath a medical facility’s CFO, a director of case management develops ways to improve budget efficiency, to encourage case managers to offer health-related programs to patients, and to ensure that services are paid for through insurance providers, patients, and public funding. As such, they help drive good patient outcomes. In addition to an MHA or MBA, some directors of case management will hold credentials as a registered nurse (RN) or social worker.

According to Payscale, a director of case management tends to have more than ten years of work experience and the field is heavily weighted toward experienced professionals—likely due to the intricate moving parts of the position. Average wages for these healthcare directors is $94,851, but that figure can easily reach six figures with bonus, which is on average about $6,000.

Emergency Services Director – $137,000 a year

The emergency department is often the most chaotic area of a medical facility, and that chaos reaches over into the administrative side as well. Emergency services directors are responsible for managing budgets, policies, and procedures that support the facility’s infrastructure and ease the burden on patients, providers, as well as the bottom line. An MBA or MHA, and a love for finding order in chaos is essential.

Salaries for emergency services directors in the United States range between $120,309 and $154,882, with an average pay above six figures per year—$137,355—according to Salary.com. Payscale also notes that these professionals can make up to an additional $15,000 in bonuses and $5,000 in profit sharing.

Food Services Director – $104,000 a year

Everybody needs to eat. Managing that task at a medical facility requires a unique blend of healthcare administration and business sense. Food services directors have to manage the supply chains, storage, delivery, and scheduling logistics that keep employees, patients, and visitors fed. Keeping in mind the unique safety and equipment requirements of a medical setting, they can design budgets and processes that best fit a facility’s needs. Food services directors will often have an MHA or an MBA, and in some cases both.

Food services directors in the healthcare industry can expect to make $104,605 a year, according to data from Salary.com.

Health Insurance Operations Director – $143,000 a year

The matter of payment is much more complicated in medical facilities than it is in the business world. Insurance rates, reimbursement plans, anti-fraud measures, and full-on investigations make for a lot of moving parts. A health insurance operations director is in charge of managing an entire array of vendors, service areas, and accounts. They will often have an MBA or MHA, which equips them with a robust financial and organizational skill set.

Salary.com data shows that these professionals can make $142,939 on average in the United States.

Nursing Home Director – $109,000 a year

Nursing home directors are responsible for overseeing all operations of a nursing home. This often includes communication and community organization as well as marketing and staff management. Nursing home directors not only see to the efficient and compassionate operations of a nursing home facility, but also manage processes that include family involvement, community outreach, and integrated policy. Nursing home directors are typically registered nurses and often have an MHA.

Salary varies widely for nursing home directors. Salary.com notes that nursing home directors in hospitals can earn a median salary of $109,236. However, Payscale data shows that nursing home directors and long-term care nursing directors earn on average $79,428 and $80,815, respectively. Variations are in large part due to the type of facility of these employers and their location. According to Payscale, the highest salaries for these professionals are in Houston, Fort Worth, and Austin, Texas, as well as Chicago and Honolulu, where workers earn around $108,000.

Pharmacy Director – $141,000 a year

The pharmacy department of a medical facility requires strict oversight and strong leadership. Pharmacy directors not only operationalize this department for efficiency and safety, but also coordinate with other branches of the medical facility to ensure regulatory compliance, effective drug therapies, and a zero-tolerance attitude toward error. Pharmacy directors are, at the very least, registered pharmacists (RPh), and many will have a higher degree (PharmD). Due to their responsibility of the department’s professional and administrative components, many pharmacy directors also have an MBA or MHA.

Payscale reports that pharmacy directors can make $141,239 a year on average and up to $173,000. What’s more, pharmacy directors tend to have additional income from bonuses and profit sharing. In exceptional cases, they can make up to $25,000 in bonuses and $14,000 from profit sharing.

Private Practice Director – $133,000 a year

A private practice director is in charge of clinical and administrative operations for one or more private physician sites. While they work on a much smaller scale than a hospital CEO, they have similar responsibilities. They are responsible for coordinating between separate facilities, offices, and departments that are spread out geographically. They often hold an MHA, MBA, or both so that they can run the practice as an efficient business.

According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for a physician practice operations director in the U.S. is $132,915. Wages range between $109,845 and $169,956 according to a variety of factors, including geographic location, academic and professional experience, and the size of the employer.

Senior Electronic Health Record Director – $119,000 a year

Electronic health records (EHR) are a beast of their own. Often working either in a senior role or reporting to a CIO, a senior EHR director may design, implement, or manage a medical facility’s electronic health record system. They coordinate updates, maintenance, and training for EHR utilization. Senior EHR directors not only have a graduate-level degree, but they also have a specialization or fluency in IT and a certification in the format of EHR with which they work.

Due to the high qualifications needed for this career path, senior EHR directors make $118,764 a year on average, with a lower salary of $112,512 and a higher salary of $130,873, depending on geographic location and employer size, according to Salary.com.