Healthcare Management

What Does a Physician Executive Do?

What Does a Physician Executive Do?
Physician executives are physicians who transition to healthcare leadership positions. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella July 12, 2022

Completing a physician Executive MBA can help clinicians qualify for leadership positions like hospital chief medical officer, medical director, and vice president and utilize their unique healthcare background to run (and improve) facilities.

Related Programs You Should Consider

Article continues here

The last 40 years have seen a significant trend in healthcare management: the infusion of more trained physicians into business leadership positions. Data from the executive hiring firm WittKieffer indicates around 20 percent more healthcare facilities are considering physicians for CEO positions today than a few years ago. More and more are getting the job too.

That’s potentially good news for healthcare providers and patients. As healthcare grows more complex and more expensive, the business needs experienced clinicians involved in critical decisions.

The industry understands this. According to a 2021 Becker’s Hospital Review article, demand is increasing in part because healthcare organizations realize they need to improve their care systems. Executives with just a business background may focus more on the bottom line than patients, who are doctors’ first priority. The article suggests physicians are intrigued by management positions for precisely this reason.

Becoming a physician leader requires administrative experience (not to mention clinical expertise) and usually additional education. Many physicians who decide to pursue executive positions return to graduate school for a master’s degree. A Physician Executive Master of Business Administration (PEMBA) is among their top choices.

This article answers the question what does a physician executive do? Topics include:

  • What does a physician executive do?
  • What is a physician Executive MBA?
  • Top physician Executive MBA programs

What does a physician executive do?

Physician executives are physicians who transition to healthcare leadership positions. According to ZipRecruiter, physician executives focus on improving facility-wide patient care practices. They frequently hold a certificate from an organization like the American Association for Physician Leadership.

Physicians can step into traditional executive roles or new positions like Chief Wellness Officer (CWO), which the Nemours Children’s Health System created during the pandemic. In an interview with the American Medical Association (AMA), the CWO said her care skills help her succeed in her new role in tackling burnout among hospital staff.

Physician executives often seek jobs with the following titles.

Hospital CEO

Hospital CEOs oversee the entire facility. They do not work with patients but implement organization-wide programs to achieve positive outcomes. CEOs also deal with regulatory bodies and work to create or approve budgets.

PayScale says the average CEO earns over $150,000 per year, but the number is misleading. CEOs at top hospitals frequently earn millions of dollars per year.

Other top executive roles of this ilk include vice president of medical affairs ($300,000), chief operating officer ($145,000), and chief administrative officer ($125,000). Professionals in each of these positions run a different section of the facility; they must have financial experience and typically report to the CEO and board of directors.

Chief medical officer

CMO is another executive position offered by large healthcare providers. These professionals remain practicing physicians, unlike other administrators.

CMOs communicate with medical staff and members of the executive staff and board to implement new initiatives and optimize care delivery. They are sometimes called medical directors. CMOs can expect to earn an average annual salary of nearly $300,000.


Healthcare providers can become consultants and advise how to advance care practices, either at a specific facility or within the field. Glassdoor says the average management consultant earns nearly $120,000 per year. Again, this number may not accurately reflect the compensation for someone with as much education as a physician with a business degree.


“I’m Interested in Healthcare Management!”

University and Program Name Learn More

What is a physician Executive MBA?

According to the Harvard University School of Public Health, qualities of effective leaders in healthcare include emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and excellent decision-making skills. Physician Executive MBA programs help doctors acquire the management skills and business acumen needed to become healthcare leaders.

While PEMBA programs cover the core business and management competencies needed for a leadership role, professionals can seek additional training, on-job experience, and certifications to bolster their resume. Organizations like the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) offer relevant certificates.

Typical physician Executive MBA student and their qualifications

PEMBA student usually have several years of clinical experience—between seven and 20 (including residency) in the University of Tennessee program. Most programs don’t impose additional requirements; admissions are selective. Programs prefer candidates with at least a little prior leadership development training or management experience.

Physician Executive MBA program structure

PEMBAs are a specific kind of Executive MBA (EMBA). Traditional EMBA programs help experienced business professionals qualify for executive and c-suite positions. They jump straight into advanced business coursework, skipping the basic courses traditional MBA programs include. EMBAs also move at a faster pace than most MBAs. PEMBA programs, like traditional EMBAs, are designed for experienced working professionals, so they skip over a lot of foundational content.

Many PEMBA programs embrace online learning because of its convenience. Students often complete online classes but attend in-person residencies, workshops, and networking events. Programs vary in length; most involve one (or under) to two years of part-time study. PEMBA coursework can count towards the Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits doctors need to maintain their license.

What do you learn in a physician Executive MBA program?

PEMBA programs do not cover clinical practice; they focus only on healthcare business, including entrepreneurship and law. UTK’s core topics include economics, strategic planning, accounting, finance, lean operations, customer value, and healthcare management.

Unlike traditional MBAs, PEMBAs typically do not offer concentrations; specializations are uncommon in any Executive MBA. Many PEMBA programs do offer electives and ask students to complete group projects.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

Applicants submit their resumes, transcripts (from undergraduate and medical school), a personal statement, and participate in an interview. Most PEMBA programs do not require standardized test scores. Applicants have already taken the MCAT and completed years of medical education; that tells admissions offices more about their preparedness than any GMAT score would.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: Healthcare ManagementManagement & LeadershipNursing & Healthcare