Physicians in the C-Suite: Demand Continues to Outpace Supply


The growing number of clinicians making their way to the C-Suite — to Chief Medical Officer, Chief Clinical Officer, and other roles — has been noted many times here on the Witt & Wisdom blog. (See, for example, “Health System Leadership: Seeking Physician Executives with Business Acumen.”) This trend is not slowing down and was the focus of the cover story of Health Leaders Magazine’s May issue. Kudos to that publication for a lengthy, well-researched, and thought-provoking article. ”Clinicians In The C-Suite” features interviews with leaders from some of the premier healthcare providers in the industry, along with Witt/Kieffer’s own Linda Komnick and Christine Mackey-Ross, co-leaders of our Physician Integration and Leadership practice, who weighed in on the challenges they face in recruiting physician executives and keeping up with client demand for top-notch clinical leaders throughout the industry.

“There are so many organizations looking for [physician leaders],” Komnick notes. “We used to have between eight and 10 candidates for these types of positions. Now I’d say we have three to five, and they’re each looking at several opportunities.”

The demand “has grown as organizations are looking for individuals to oversee initiatives aimed at clinical integration, population health, and alignment and engagement of both employed and independent physicians,” she adds. “In the pipeline there is a dearth of physician leaders who have the tools to take on these roles.”

Christine Mackey-Ross

Linda Komnick

“What’s more, the job descriptions have become more rigorous,” adds Mackey-Ross. “Clinicians are in the thick of strategic decisions. They’re expected to not only bring a clinical voice to deciding what’s best for patients and practitioners, but they are expected to have the same business acumen as any other member of the leadership team.”

Despite the challenges involved in recruiting and integrating clinical leaders into the structure and culture of an institution, it is clearly worth the effort. According to the U.S. News & World Report 2016-17 Honor Roll, physicians are at the helm of the top five-ranking hospitals: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and UCLA Medical Center. Beyond that, a 2011 study published by Social Science & Medicine shows that hospital quality scores are approximately 25% higher in physician-run hospitals.

Whether physician leadership boosts hospital performance or physician leaders are drawn to high-performing hospitals has yet to be proved, but it seems fair to say the trend will continue and the demand for qualified clinicians to move to the C-suite will increase.

By the Witt & Wisdom Team

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