Outlook for the Chief Medical Officer Role

by Beverly Harvey

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CMO

The watchwords for the role of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) are “change” and “evolution.” No longer solely focused on patients in hospitals, CMOs are now often charged with leading sweeping transformation. Martha Sonnenberg, MD, suggests numerous new competencies required of CMOs, including integrating hospital utilization, quality and safety, credentialing, and physician practice evaluation, as well as heading off conflicts between physician goals and hospital goals.

Roles similar to and sometimes overlapping with the CMO role include Chief Quality and Safety Officer, Chief Integration Officer, Chief Physician Executive, and Service Line Medical Director. Writing for Managed Care magazine, Timothy Kelley suggests that “Chief Clinical Officer” is a more attractive and accurate title for the role because it embraces “care management, population health, quality reporting, and strategic planning.”

Where virtually all CMOs were once hospital-based, Chief Medical Officers today function in three basic environments:

·       Hospitals and similar medical facilities, where they manage clinical operations, ensuring patient safety and quality medical care by influencing and coordinating administration and medical staff.

·       Pharmaceutical firms, in which, writes David Shaywitz for Forbes, they function in one of three roles: (1) overseeing all drug development, along with such activities as medical affairs; (2) leading medical functions but not drug development; or (3) serving as strategically focused “medical counselor in chief” with no responsibility either for product development or medical functions. McKinsey’s Edd Fleming, Ken Park, Nav Singh, and Ann Westra prescribe “fundamental changes” to the pharma CMO role designed to result in “a single point of accountability” who can drive organizational change.

·       Large tech companies at what Shaywitz calls the “intersection of technology and health,” serving as “an authoritative voice to represent healthcare inside the company, as well a credible voice to represent the company to the external healthcare community.”

Key Competencies for the CMO Role

The CMO role requires a medical degree and state licensure as a physician, sometimes enhanced by specialty-practice certifications and a degree in business, as well as management experience and 5-10 years of clinical experience beyond residency. CMOs typically report to the Chief Executive Officer or board of directors, though more than half have multiple or shared administrative reporting relationships, notes Becker’s Hospital Review.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CMO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Grasp of IT and analytics
  • Business, marketing, and legal knowledge
  • Ability to manage culture change
  • Exceptional interpersonal skills to recruit, engage, mentor, and align physicians, as well as liaise between administration and medical staff
  • Clinical risk-management skills
  • Exemplary written and verbal communication skills
  • Advocacy for the highest standard of medical care for patients
  • Ability to inspire physician performance
  • Expertise in healthcare regulations and safety standards
  • Innovation skills to improve clinical services
  • Budgeting skills
  • Effective leadership and management skills
  • Vision and ability to set goals

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CMO role, expand their horizons in an existing CMO role, or even rise beyond the CMO role:

  • Consider a supplemental degree. Though medical school is a huge commitment, prospective CMOs can make themselves even more marketable with a Master of Health Administration (MHA), Master of Public Health (MPH), or Master of Business Administration (MBA).
  • Lighten the current CMO’s load. On the Becker’s Hospital Review site, Laura Dyrda reports on survey results in which 86 percent of surveyed CMOs cited a desire to “offload responsibilities to other leaders, most likely medical staff tasks,” so they can focus on their top priorities. If you are not yet a CMO, boost your learning and visibility by asking what you can do to assist.
  • Turn to artificial intelligence and machine learning. These days, nearly every executive role is advised to deploy these emerging technologies. “Technology can help support clinicians and researchers by analyzing massive amounts of information, machine reading, and applying learning heuristics that support the decision-making process,” says Microsoft’s David Rhew, as quoted by Bill Siwicki in Healthcare IT News.
  • Become adept with clinical strategy. When Manoj Pawar talked with CEOs to identify what these top officers want to see in the CMOs who report to them, he learned that CEOs have “an increasing desire for closer collaboration between the CMO and the Chief Strategy Officer,” which may involve “identifying potential new partners, managing external relationships, managing key external groups for engagement and performance, and creating new venues for participative management around value.” CEOs also told Pawar they are looking for CMOs to lead collaboration around clinically relevant cost management and manage the clinical value proposition.

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