The Most Common Professional Backgrounds of Healthcare Executives

There are 40,000 members in the American College of Healthcare Executives, and their professional backgrounds vary from nursing, to information technology, to finance.

In every field there are times when the question “Who is running this place?” becomes commonplace. Who are our leaders, and what are their backgrounds? When it comes to the healthcare industry, there are so many avenues that lead to the C-Suite, from long-time nurses and physicians to marketing or finance professionals.

The American College of Healthcare Executives is a professional society of healthcare executives in leadership roles at hospitals, in large systems, and in nonprofit organizations. There are roughly 40,000 members in the US, representing 80 different local chapters. The ACHE also provides advanced certification in healthcare administration in a fellowship program — if you’ve ever seen FACHE on someone’s e-mail signature, it means they’ve been credentialed by this group.

Here, we take a look at the most common primary specialties among the 38,985 members — 9,302 FACHE certified – of the group to see what service areas are the most prevalent among American healthcare executives. This information was gathered in the 2015 ACHE Members and Fellows Profile, a survey conducted among the membership of the organization.

So the next time you wonder who is in charge, there’s a chance it’s someone from one of these eight specialties.

8. Medical Care Program

Number of Members: 922

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 2.7%

This group represents the leaders who work in specific medical areas, such as oncology, radiology, or cardiology. In an interview with Radiology Business shortly after becoming CEO of Nyack Hospital in Rockland County, NY, Mark Gellar, MD, said, “Radiologists are uniquely positioned to have significant leadership roles in hospital administration … Wherever we have the opportunity to assumer those leadership positions, we should.”

7. Information Systems

Number of Members: 1,194

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 3.5%

As healthcare institutions are pushed to use more technology in the day-to-day operations, it makes sense that a good portion of leadership in the field comes from the Information Services field. Implementing electronic health records systems across hospitals, clinics, and ambulatory settings requires technical knowledge as well as fiscal savvy. Expect to see more hospital leadership coming from the IT sector, especially as tech projects become make-or-break for executives.

6. Clinical Support Services

Number of Members: 1,329

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 3.9%

These members fall under programs like diagnostics, pharmacy, laboratory, and rehabilitation services. The American Association for Clinical Chemistry announced its new president is Michael J. Bennett, PhD, the chief of laboratory medicine and director of clinical chemistry at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and in his announcement, Bennett said one of his goals is to “make laboratory medicine professionals more integral members of the healthcare team.”

5. Quality Assurance/Ethics

Number of Members: 1,402

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 4.1%

One of the most powerful organizations in healthcare reform is the National Center for Quality Assurance — which recognizes patient-centered medical homes and does health plan accreditation. The number of ACHE members from the QA/ethics areas is substantial, seemingly reflecting the importance of these areas in the changing world of healthcare.

4. Marketing/Planning

Number of Members: 1,789

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 5.2%

Particularly in the insurance sector, healthcare is becoming more of a retail product than a utility, which means marketing becomes more important. Some of the challenges facing healthcare marketing executives include incorporating non-healthcare perspectives into the regulations and structures already in place.

3. Nursing Services

Number of Members: 2,035

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 5.9%

While nurses have traditionally been the frontline of healthcare, there is growing recognition for the need for nurses to be included in the offices and boardroom, as well. The ACHE offers several educational programs directed specifically for nurse executives, including Focus on Population Health and “The Reform Ready ED”.

2. Financial Management

Number of Members: 2,579

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 7.5%

The oft-repeated wisdom of nuns who ran charity hospitals years ago was, “No margin, no mission.” And today that saying has remained true — while patient-first care is the most important goal of providers, proper financial management is also necessary to surviving in today’s world. These executives aren’t just bandage counters, they are strategic and creative leaders helping to keep the doors to the hospital open.

1. General Management

Number of Members: 16,417

Percentage of Total ACHE Membership: 47.7%

The largest group of members in the ACHE fold consider themselves part of general management. Many are department heads, vice presidents, and C-Suite members. Quality management has shown to lead to quality healthcare outcomes, meaning leaders have even more responsibility today to transform what was once a cottage industry into a highly-functioning, complex business.

General Information:

The median age of ACHE members and fellows is 48.5 years old, and the group is 57.7% male. More than 80% of the group surveyed identifies as non-Hispanic white, and 61.9% of all members hold one master’s degree. A quarter of respondents work in freestanding hospitals, while another 18.4% work in non-federal system hospitals.