Healthcare organizations are comprised of various departments, clinics, programs, and staff that must cohesively work together like a well-oiled machine for good patient care. Keeping all of the moving parts cranking smoothly is what the Chief Operations Officer (COO) does. COOs are senior C-suite executives who typically are second in command behind the CEO. The Chief Operations Officer plays a significant role in developing, designing, and improving the systems that deliver the best medical treatment. It’s their goal to improve clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction while reducing extraneous budget costs. COOs strive to eliminate the opportunity for medical error by organizing effective protocols and procedures. The COO works with other executives to align clinical operations with the facility’s overall strategic vision. Typically only large medical centers hire Chief Operations Officers because the CEO would be overwhelmed.
According to survey data on Salary.com, the median yearly salary for Chief Operations Officers in the United States is a whopping $433,682. This is equivalent to an hourly wage of $209, or $8,340 weekly. With bonuses, social security, disability, retirement, healthcare, and time off included, the total average compensation for COOs is $707,326 each year.
When just being promoted to COO, executives will likely land in the lower 10th percentile with a stellar income of $248,488 yearly. However, Chief Operations Officers with years of experience in large healthcare delivery systems can eventually earn over $652,815. Becker’s Hospital Review found that chief officers receive an annual pay increase of two to four percent.
The Chief Operations Officer exercises supreme responsibility over ensuring their healthcare facility is delivering efficient services that satisfy patient needs. Under the direction of the CEO and Board, the COO will enforce the organization’s mission with lower-ranking staff. They’ll evaluate whether clinical operations are safe, producing good financial results, and building the facility’s excellent service culture. COOs will meet regularly with department heads to stay up-to-date on daily healthcare operations. Chief Operations Officers create standardized protocols to prioritize accountability and performance management. Setting the right financial parameters to maximize budget resources is another essential duty. COOs will also maintain regular contact with physicians and monitor their performance for safety.
Like other administrative leadership positions, becoming a COO requires various skill sets. The Chief Operations Officer must possess the strong verbal and written communication abilities to speak with everyone from clinicians to board chairmen. Decision-making skills are important for COOs to quickly address any operational problems with patient well-being in mind. COOs must have analytical skills to pore over clinical, financial, and legal documents. Being congenial, enthusiastic, and ambitious will help COOs motivate their employees for operational objectives. Chief Operations Officers must possess clinical knowledge to redesign innovative systems and develop new care models. Strategic thinking, project management, problem-solving, and organizational skills are also key for COOs.
Degree and Education Requirements
Knowing inpatient and outpatient health operations inside and out is key for COOs. That’s why holding a master’s degree is typically required for Chief Operations Officer candidates. You can begin by obtaining an undergraduate major in health science, public health, business, healthcare management, or a related field. Then take the GRE or GMAT to apply for graduate schools. Pursuing a Master of Health Administration (MHA), Healthcare MBA, or similar degree is suggested. Graduate programs accredited by the CAHME represent the best of the best. Take coursework related to operations management, patient safety, quality improvement, disease management, population health, and healthcare finance to prepare. COOs also could benefit from obtaining a Doctor of Health Administration (D.H.A.) or M.D.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Chief Operations Officer is one of the most coveted titles in the healthcare industry, but landing the job comes with both rewards and challenges. On the positive side, COOs hold a position of power and prestige by having the final say on operational tasks. The executive role is ideal for extroverts who enjoy interacting with various faces throughout their workday. The COO is able to turn clinical knowledge into improvements that positively touch thousands of patients. They have the ability to save lives by setting physician protocols and enforcing them. Of course, Chief Operations Officers earn a humongous salary with plenty of perks like bonuses and benefits. However, COOs must battle through keen competition with other health administrators for the position. Tepid job growth for executives means investing in higher training and certification is required. The COO faces tremendous stress to keep operations running smoothly and successfully. Most Chief Operations Officers work beyond 40-hour weeks, including weekends.
Newbies won’t be welcomed into the COO position without paying their dues. Most healthcare organizations require Chief Operations Officers to have at least 10 years of clinical experience, preferably in management. During college, begin crafting an impressive resume with internship, practicum, and administrative residency placements. Making lateral moves within a healthcare facility will help better understand their operations. You may begin your career as administrative assistants before promoting to patient services manager, account manager, materials manager, clinical director, or another title. Some RNs move into supervisory roles and attend graduate school to sharpen their leadership skills for the COO title. Becoming a certified fellow for the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) can encourage advancement. Doing so requires a master’s degree, at least two years of management, and three references. 36 hours of continuing education credit is required for maintaining FACHE status.
Rising patient populations and expanding healthcare practices produce a medical industry with favorable job prospects. The formation of new medical centers to serve aging baby boomers and newly insured citizens will require more executives to direct operations. Inpatient care is shrinking though as hospitals lose patients to outpatient care facilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of Chief Operations Officers will grow by 6 percent through 2024 across all sectors. Strong competition is expected, so extensive managerial experience and advanced education is essential. Healthcare COOs can find jobs in medical group practices, ambulatory centers, hospital networks, and managed care organizations.
The Chief Operations Officer is a strategic, top-level leader who oversees the efficient operation of patient care facilities. Although they report to the CEO, COOs are given full command for managing the organization’s physicians, nurses, administrators, and subordinate staff. They play a significant role in meeting the operation’s desired clinical outcomes on budget. After serving as Chief Operations Officer, you could become CEO or join the Board of Directors.
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