What a Medical Director Does
Medical directors are board-certified physicians who oversee large medical operations, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. Their primary priority is to ensure that all patients are receiving proper care, while being mindful of efficiency and budgetary expectations. In order to facilitate this, they oversee all medical and non-medical staff, including hiring, training, and ongoing development.
Who would enjoy a career in Medical Directorship?
The path to becoming a medical director is lengthy because individuals must first complete medical school, usually practice as physicians or doctors, and then move into administrative positions. Because of this, the path is only ideal for those who are committed to spending more than a decade on studies and gaining experience.
The role is a hybrid of medicine and business, which means people who do best in the position not only have extensive knowledge of medicine as a whole, empathy for patients, and business acumen. It can be an emotionally rewarding career for those who want to impact change on a large scale and who want to influence the lives and health outcomes of many people.
Who mightn't like the career?
Those who are unprepared for the rigorous study required won’t make it into the position to begin with. It’s also not a good choice for those who can’t manage stress well as well as those who lack in strategic thinking or people skills. Some physicians may also find themselves disenchanted with the lack of direct patient contact, depending on what inspired them to begin a medical career.
Others seek out director roles because they think it will help them earn extra money easily, but this is rarely the case because considerable time often needs to be invested. Lastly, there are legal implications of becoming a medical director, so those considering accepting such responsibility may do well to consult with an attorney before accepting any positions.
Many years of education are required for becoming a general practitioner (GP) or physician. The minimum education is a 4-year undergraduate program, 4-year medical program, and a 1-2-year residency program. Undergraduate programs involve courses in chemistry, anatomy, physics, mathematics, and more. After graduation, students must apply to medical school. Getting in is extremely competitive; applicants must provide impressive transcripts, letters of recommendation, and admission essays to be considered. In addition to an interview with the admissions committee, almost all United States medical programs and many in Canada require the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). After completing medical school and the required internships, graduates must complete a residency program. This residency consists of 1-2 years of on-the-job training in a hospital/clinic. A final licensing examination is required after this residency before practice.
Some general practitioners choose to take extra steps toward specializing in family or internal medicine. This requires board certification. After 3 years of extra training and passing a written exam, those who aspire to be family practitioners may receive certification from the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM).
It is only after this that an individual may begin working toward a medical director role. Additional certifications, such as the Certified Medical Director (CMD) designation, may be beneficial.
Potential medical directors will be asked questions about their patient care philosophies as well as business acumen.
Moving into Medical Directorship from another career
Regulations typically require medical directors to be doctors, so the only immediate path is through work as a GP or physician. However, others may opt to attend school and follow the path into administration as well. For further reading, see “Becoming a Physician Executive: Where to Look Before Making the Leap.”
Role: During medical school, student physicians are often required to complete an internship program in preparation for residency or another specialized track of medicine. Usually this internship lasts about a year.
Role: After graduating medical school, resident general physicians practice their careers under the direct and indirect supervision of attending doctors. This is the period of time for physicians to learn hands on the ins and outs of dealing with real patients and the often high-intensity work environments of hospitals and clinics. Medical residencies are notorious for the long hours they require, averaging about 80 hours per week with limitations on number of hours required in a row. In the UK, more limitations have been placed on residency hours in hopes of encouraging lighter work weeks.
Role: After completing a residency program a general physician can begin their unsupervised practice, often in a private office or clinic. They will be working with their own patients and diagnosing conditions to then recommend or prescribe proper and necessary treatments. General physicians can work independently or with other groups of doctors.
Working in a larger hospital means collaborating with other medical specialists for a client’s care but less independence than working in a smaller organization. Usually, general physicians practice during regular business hours, but they may often put in longer days or spend hours being on-call while away from the office.
Medical Administrator/ Manager
Role: Although it is not required that physicians work in administration prior to becoming a medical director, many lean the ropes by working as an executive physician or manager in large care facility. In these roles, the individual oversees a small team of physicians, handles hiring and training, and creates policies and procedures in an effort to make the team more efficient or deliver better care.
Role: The tasks medical directors are expected to carry out vary by position. In some cases, directors only need to work a single day per month for a facility, though these physicians often hold several director positions or work clinically as well. Directors may sit in on board meetings, oversee medical care, ensure regulatory compliance, and implement policies to improve care or efficiency. They’re also responsible for monitoring and setting budgets. Those who wish to move beyond a medical director role may find a VP position or work toward a C-Level role, such as Chief Medical Officer (CMO).
Medical directors may work in a single location or may cover a region, so some positions do require travel. The salaries associated with this position also make a considerable amount of leisure travel possible.
General Practitioner: According to PayScale, the average salary for a GP in the United States is USD $178,000. In the UK, it’s £66,000, whereas it’s CAD$193,778 in Canada and AU$150,000 in Australia.
Manager: Because management opportunities and titles for physicians vary in each facility, salary data is unavailable.
Medical Director: USD$210,000, £119,000, CAD$110,000, AU$270,000.
Bonuses are sometimes offered to GPs in clinics and hospitals. These can sometimes reach as high as USD$50,000 annually. At the director level, bonuses, profit sharing, and commission can easily add six figures onto one’s take-home pay, per PayScale.
Why a Medical Director moves on
Moving into administration is often an intentional and mindful decision made by physicians who want a business-oriented role, no longer want the stresses of clinical practice, or want to impact change on a larger level.
Those who make the switch for these reasons are generally happiest with their careers and may stay on the administrative side of medicine for the rest of their working years. Perhaps not surprisingly, more than 60% of those polled for their director salaries by PayScale said they’d been in their position for at least 10 years, with roughly half of them exceeding 20 years in the career.
The career is also one of the few to receive a perfect five-out-of-five score for employee happiness. In other words, few leave and almost all love their jobs. However, those who move into administrative roles for other reasons may not enjoy the field as much, and there are plenty of jobs outside administration a physician can take.