How to Become a Hospital CEO

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A hospital CEO meets with a head nurse and a doctor.Organizations worldwide rely on chief executive officers to develop their business strategies, create organizational policies and facilitate daily operations. Hospitals are no different.

Hospital CEOs apply their medical background as well as their business expertise to manage a hospital’s day-to-day operations, create patient care standards, hire and manage staff, and determine the organization’s long-term strategy and revenue goals.

Health care professionals looking to leverage their medical and business experience in an executive-level role may want to consider pursuing an online DNP degree. The curriculum is designed to advance students’ administrative and managerial skills for health care spaces, as well as illuminate the path to becoming a hospital CEO.

The Hospital CEO Role at a Glance

Hospital CEOs represent their organizations to the wider world. They are responsible for managing staff, creating a successful business strategy and overseeing the organization’s day-to-day operations.

One of their key responsibilities is coordinating and placing staff members and managers. CEOs regularly assist managers with staffing choices and budget allotment. Additionally, they are responsible for establishing a positive company culture, which helps managers retain staff as well as create an environment where people are happy to work.

Hospital CEOs also set policies and standards of practice for the hospital to adhere to. In order for the hospital to provide the highest quality of patient care, the hospital CEO must be endlessly curious about technological advancements that benefit administrators, as well as nurses, doctors and surgeons. This includes researching and educating staff on new health care equipment and instruments and implementing new technologies for administrative processes such as new computers, scheduling software and advanced storage systems for record keeping.

Hospital CEOs regularly address the board of directors, owners and staff to provide business updates on patient volume, agency and overtime costs, employee performance and patient care quality, for example, as well as to communicate the organization’s direction.

Using their business skills and problem-solving abilities, these hospital executives address challenges during company-wide meetings and create action-oriented solutions. Externally, the hospital CEO acts as the face of their organization for the media and surrounding medical community.

Hospital CEOs must be able to create and maintain budgets. Generally, private hospitals are more stringent with their funds, requiring the CEO to turn to the owners and board of directors more frequently for additional funding. Public hospitals rely on taxes for funding, and because there is no specific owner or group of owners managing the funds, hospital CEOs may have an easier time obtaining a budget increase.

Essentially, the hospital CEO is the organization’s top administrator. These executives are responsible for delivering strong financial performance by building an ethical and profitable business, as well as guiding it to success.

How to Become a Hospital CEO

Aspiring health care executives must gain years of medical and business management experience to become a hospital CEO. Typically, hospital CEOs have eight to 10 years of administrative, business management and health care expertise in addition to a master’s degree in health care or health care administration.

Post-master’s degrees are becoming more common for top health care executives to broaden their skill set and strengthen their core competencies.

Beyond their work experience and education, successful hospital CEOs exhibit the following traits.


Hospital CEOs are leaders in all aspects of the organization. They define the business goals and are responsible for reporting on metrics to the hospital’s owners and board. They are also responsible for cultivating a culture of success and high-quality, ethical health care for patients.

Successful leaders invest time and energy into the organization, making their presence felt throughout the hospital. They set the tone for the workday and inspire their teams to push through challenges.


Hospital CEOs act as mentors to all staff members. They cultivate relationships with their teams and serve as a resource for aspiring health care executives. When organizations face challenges, CEOs use their problem-solving skills to illuminate actionable resolutions and guide the involved parties toward resolve.

If a hospital is experiencing high turnover, for example, the CEO might create a survey to gauge the staff’s views on company culture, work-life balance and overall organization. The CEO then could address the issue and create steps toward fixing the problem, helping individual employees meet their personal career goals and building trust with the hospital community.


As organizational leaders, hospital CEOs interact regularly with a number of departments and staff members. They must be able to communicate clearly across email, newsletters, town hall meetings and one-on-one interactions to articulate their progress toward company goals as well as their vision for the organization moving forward. As the face of the hospital for external communication, the hospital CEO regularly interacts with the media and publications, such as through interviews, white papers and web content.

They must also be able to listen to their staff and be open to criticism. By engaging with and listening to their staff, they build an open flow of communication, which often leads to more satisfied employees and the discovery of new development opportunities.

By applying these characteristics, the hospital CEO fosters a sense of community among the staff. With courses such as Healthcare Economics, Finance and Leadership, University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program is built to strengthen professionals’ ability to lead in an executive-level health care role.

Salary and Job Outlook

Advancing toward becoming a hospital CEO can offer significant financial opportunities. According to PayScale, the median annual hospital CEO salary in the U.S. was around $153,000 as of June 2020. Hospital CEO salaries vary by hospital type as well as hospital size and traffic.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of top health care executives to grow 6% between 2018 and 2028, aligning with the average growth rate for all jobs. Due to the rise in the number of health care executives, it is critical for aspiring CEOs to build their skills and resumes through on-site experience and advanced education.

Learn Essential Skills to Become a Hospital CEO

With a diverse curriculum designed to help health care professionals develop and strengthen leadership skills, University of North Dakota’s online Post-Master’s DNP program gives students the confidence to pursue their career aspirations. Learn more today, and start a new chapter in your career with University of North Dakota.

Recommended Readings:

MSN vs. DNP: Comparing Salaries, Job Outlook and More

What Is Health Policy and What Role Does It Play in Nursing?

BSN vs. MSN: What Are the Benefits of a Master’s in Nursing?


American Hospital Association, “What It Takes to Be the New CEO”

Becker’s Hospital Review, “The Most Important Thing a CEO Does”

Becker’s Hospital Review, “7 Traits of a Great Hospital CEO”

Board Effect, “The Role of the CEO for Healthcare Industries”

Houston Chronicle, “The Average Salary of a CEO of a Large Hospital”

PayScale, Average Hospital Chief Executive Officer Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Top Executives