Job Profile: Director of Patient Safety

It’s become well-known that medical errors result in between 44,000 and 98,000 unnecessary deaths as well as over one million cases of harm annually in the United States. According to a study by the Institute of Medicine, these mistakes end up costing the medical field up to $29 billion each year. That’s why it’s becoming even more important for medical facilities to elect a highly trained Director of Patient Safety to ensure patients receive the reliable care they deserve and the organization maintains long-term health. Also referred to as patient safety officers, these directors play a prominent role in maintaining the strategic direction of their facility’s patient safety program and developing a workplace culture where safety is the utmost priority. Patient safety directors utilize data to proactively identify and address any patient safety issues to keep patients protected from harm.

Salary

According to the mega jobs listings site Indeed, the average annual salary for patient safety directors and officers is $92,000, which is 61 percent higher than the average salary for all job listings available nationwide. This could be comparable to a mean hourly wage of $44.20, but overtime pay and bonuses are common in this profession.

Beginning Salary

For patient safety officers initially promoted to this leadership role, it’s likely that the average starting salary will be around $56,000. However, it’s important to note that patient safety directors with additional years of experience in larger organizations can easily break the six-figure salary mark to make upwards of $150,000 annually.

Key Responsibilities

Patient safety directors are given the ultimate responsibility in coordinating and overseeing the development of comprehensive patient safety improvement initiatives to reduce medical errors and healthcare incidents. Directors work collaboratively with executives, administrators, doctors, and nursing staff members to develop effective strategies that boost patient safety. Directors usually head the facility’s patient safety committee, which means they must communicate all initiatives both vertically and horizontally to the workforce. Patient safety officers need to ensure clinical services are being delivered in compliance with federal and state safety standards. Most directors will report directly to the healthcare system’s CEO and COO as well as other external agencies related to patient safety.

Necessary Skills

To successfully take on the Director of Patient Safety position, individuals must be resourceful, detail-oriented, and strategic to customize safety plans that fit their healthcare system. Patient safety directors must effectively advise the facility’s senior leadership team of safety initiatives, so possessing solid communication abilities are a must. Interpersonal skills will help directors to train a variety of healthcare professionals for a smooth implementation of their patient safety programs. Since patient safety directors spend significant time poring over incident reports and conducting data analysis, having good analytical and mathematical skills are required. It’s also important for the Director of Patient Safety to be a strong problem solver to make necessary changes in lax patient safety measures for improved care.

Degree and Education Requirements

At the bare minimum, patient safety officers must have earned at least a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited post-secondary institution. However, most employers prefer to designate a Director of Patient Safety who has successfully completed graduate school with a master’s degree. Since knowledge of healthcare operations is a must, many patient safety directors decide to earn a Master of Health Administration (MHA), Master of Public Health (MPH), or Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in quality or risk management. It’s highly recommended that aspiring patient safety officers fill up their schedules with courses related to quality assurance, patient safety, systems analysis, risk management, clinical quality improvement, organizational change, and infection control.

Pros and Cons of the Position

When you join the well-respected healthcare industry as a patient safety officer, you’ll receive strong job stability, solid salary potential, and excellent insurance benefits. Not only do healthcare facilities provide a stimulating, fast-paced work environment, but they also will allow you to positively impact thousands of patients’ lives every day with your safety initiatives. Unlike many other careers in healthcare, this one typically offers a normal daytime schedule without the need for overnight or holiday hours. On the downside, patient safety officers are often placed under pressure to quickly improve patient outcomes. Working under the watchful eye of federal and state regulatory committees may also be stressful for patient safety directors.

Getting Started

After receiving an appropriate education, you’ll need to get your feet wet in entry-level patient safety positions to start building an impressive resume. Many patient safety directors come from a clinical background and get their start by working in nursing or health informatics. In most cases, you’ll need to obtain at least five years of administrative experience in healthcare management and/or performance improvement before reaching your goal as a Director of Patient Safety. Pursuing the Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS) credential through the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) is a smart idea to expand job prospects. You’ll need to have at least three years of experience, including any time spent in residency programs, to qualify for taking the certification exam. Though it may be costly, you may also want to consider enrolling in specialized training programs offered through the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) too.

Future Outlook

As our booming healthcare industry is strapped with a critical shortage of over 260,000 nurses and 90,000 doctors, there’s a growing fear that this will translate into higher patient mortality rates, more failure-to-rescue incidents, increased infection rates, and longer hospital stays. To prevent this from occurring, many healthcare facilities are redesigning their patient safety initiatives under the close guidance of a Director of Patient Safety. Though there are no specific reports available for this specialized role, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of all medical service managers, including patient safety directors, will skyrocket by 23% over the next decade. Patient safety directors may face competition, but prospects should be favorable in hospitals, clinics, outpatient care centers, medical group practices, nursing homes, and other healthcare delivery organizations.

Although everyone working in the medical field plays a role in reducing complications, the Director of Patient Safety is placed at the helm of leading efforts to design system initiatives that will minimize the likelihood of future errors. Directors thoroughly analyze reports of adverse events to brainstorm, develop, implement, oversee, and evaluate patient safety programs. If your health administration aspirations take you to the role of Director of Patient Safety, you’ll be given the rewarding opportunity to foster an environment of clinical service excellence.

Another excellent resource:

The Top 10 Best Master’s in Healthcare Administration

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