Evolution of the Chief Medical Officer Role in Teaching Hospitals and Health Systems

J Healthc Manag. 2023 Mar-Apr;68(2):121-131. doi: 10.1097/JHM-D-22-00097.


Goal: Clinical physician leaders have become an increasingly important asset to hospitals and hospital systems in a changing healthcare environment. Specifically, the role of the chief medical officer (CMO) has expanded and evolved amid the shift to value-based payment models and sharpened focus on patient safety, quality, community engagement, and equity in healthcare, as well as a global pandemic. In light of these changes, this study examined the transformation of CMOs and similar roles and evaluated the current needs, challenges, and responsibilities of clinical leaders today.

Methods: The primary data source used in this analysis was a survey fielded to 391 clinical leaders in 290 Association of American Medical Colleges-member hospitals and health systems in 2020. In addition, this study compared responses to the 2020 survey with findings from two prior iterations of the survey from 2005 and 2016. The surveys collected information regarding demographics, compensation, administrative titles, qualifications for the position, and the scope of the role, among other questions. All surveys consisted of multiple-choice, free response, and rating questions. The analysis was conducted using frequency counts and percentage distributions.

Principal findings: Thirty percent of eligible clinical leaders responded to the 2020 survey. Twenty-six percent of the clinical leader respondents identified as female. Ninety-one percent of the CMOs were members of the senior management team in their hospital or health system. CMOs reported that they were responsible for five hospitals, on average, with 67% indicating they were responsible for more than 500 physicians.

Practical applications: This analysis provides hospital and health systems with insight into the expanding scope and complexity of CMOs as they take on greater leadership responsibilities within their institutions amidst a shifting healthcare landscape. In reflecting on our results, hospital leaders can understand the current needs, barriers, and responsibilities of today's clinical leaders.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Leadership
  • Physicians*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires