Advanced Healthcare Careers: What Is the Average Hospital CEO Salary?

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A hospital CEO works with members of the medical staff

A recent article in Modern Healthcare describes growing demand for “disruptive” hospital CEOs. Change management is a highly valued skill. With the rapid pace of change in the healthcare landscape, hospitals look for CEOs who are innovative thinkers, able to usher their organizations into new operating environments.

Some of the major challenges facing today’s hospital CEOs are consolidation, leading to fewer and larger healthcare organizations; reduced revenue; the aging population, and hospitals’ growing reliance on Medicare payments; and shifting national and state healthcare policy. Today’s hospital CEOs also need to take into account trends and innovations — such as the fast pace of technological advances, big data, digital engagement and community partnerships — while not losing sight of the mandate to provide high-quality care and reduce costs.

Healthcare professionals interested in attaining this advanced position can benefit from pursuing an online Master of Health Administration, which provides graduates with the tools and knowledge to improve an organization’s healthcare delivery while balancing financial responsibility.

What Is a Hospital CEO?

The CEO oversees all of the hospital’s operations and manages its resources — financial, physical and human. CEOs are responsible for making crucial corporate decisions, for ensuring the hospital is in full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations and for designing and implementing the hospital’s long-term strategy. The CEO answers to the hospital’s board of directors, as well as to the community. As the public face of the hospital, the CEO must effectively communicate the hospital’s mission and vision to the world at large.

In addition to ensuring optimal outcomes for hospital patients, the CEO must navigate the political landscape, be aware of trends in public policy and stay on top of technological advances.

The CEO will work with and oversee the other members of the executive team, which can include the chief operating officer (COO), who is usually second in command; the chief financial officer (CFO), who oversees finance; the chief medical officer (CMO), usually a physician who oversees the medical staff; the chief nursing officer (CNO), who oversees the nursing staff; and the chief information officer (CIO), in charge of information technology and computer systems.

A Look at the Hospital CEO Salary

The hospital CEO is often well compensated for a job that is extremely demanding, challenging and invested with great responsibility. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for chief executives in healthcare and social assistance, which includes hospital CEOs, is $173,770.

Hospital CEO salaries can vary widely, depending on a number of factors. Modern Healthcare’s recent annual Executive Compensation survey of 384 health systems and 988 hospitals found median annual hospital CEO compensation to be $706,000. CEOs of major teaching hospitals usually earn more than those of nonteaching hospitals. Hospital CEOs in rural areas tend to earn less than those in urban areas. In major metropolitan centers, total compensation for a hospital CEO frequently exceeds $1 million per year. In 2016, the twenty top-earning public hospital executives in New York state each earned over $1.6 million.

CEOs of hospitals with over five hundred beds are likely to earn more than those with a smaller number. CEOs who manage multiple hospitals also receive higher compensation. The medical center directors of Veterans Affairs hospitals (the equivalent of a CEO) earn significantly less than their private sector counterparts.

A portion of a hospital CEO’s compensation is frequently in the form of bonuses tied to performance targets. A CEO can also expect generous benefits and a severance package.

The Essential Skills of a Hospital CEO

To be effective, a hospital CEO needs exceptional leadership skills. Duquesne University’s online Master of Health Administration program enables students to master the advanced leadership, management, communication and problem-solving skills necessary to succeed in this role. Additional abilities and skills that can enhance the hospital CEO’s effectiveness include emotional intelligence, diplomatic skills, collaborative skills, critical thinking, strong time management skills and the ability to adapt quickly to new challenges. The Duquesne program can help students acquire these skills through coursework and opportunities such as faculty-led research projects, capstone projects and administrative fellowships.

According to an article in the New York Times, fewer than 5 percent of hospitals in the U.S. are run by CEOs with medical training, although a background in the healthcare industry is desirable. Advanced degrees such as a master’s in health administration are often required. Duquesne’s program offers three areas of concentration: Health Informatics and Data Analytics, Healthcare Compliance and Risk Management, and Population Health.

Fulfill Your Leadership Potential with a Master of Health Administration

In today’s increasingly complex healthcare landscape, the job of hospital CEO calls for leaders with ambition, passion and vision. Learn how Duquesne University’s online Master of Health Administration program can equip students with the skills they’ll need to advance in their careers to become hospital CEOs.


Recommended Readings

How to Become a Hospital CEO

Healthcare Industry Trends: Mapping the Future of Health

MHA Degree: Salary and Benefits



B.E. Smith, “Healthcare Executive Compensation Intelligence White Paper 2018”

Modern Healthcare, “As Healthcare Changes, Systems Need to Broaden Search to Find Disruptive CEOs”

Modern Healthcare, “Hospital CEOs Get Big Raises Despite Pressure to Control Healthcare Costs”

Modern Healthcare, “Steady Executive Pay Hikes Eclipse Cost-Containment Concerns”

The New York Times, “Shouldn’t Doctors Control Hospital Care?”, New York Nonprofit Hospital Pay 2016

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Top Executives

Veterans Health Administration, “OIG Determination of Veterans Health Administration’s Occupational Staffing Shortages”