How to Become a Medical Director

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Are you looking for an opportunity to work in a non-clinical job?

Would you be interested in a challenging new position that will give you more authority in your field?

If you’re a physician that’s ready to take on a leadership role, you may want to consider becoming a medical director.

Following is an in-depth look at the role of the medical director. From the requirements and certifications you’ll need to the day-to-day duties, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the role and responsibilities.


What Is a Medical Director?

A medical director is a trained physician who oversees the operations of a healthcare facility. They coordinate teams of nurses, physicians, and non-medical staff to ensure that the overall goals of their facility are being met.

A medical director also oversees patient care and is responsible for making sure that all medical staff is following the facility’s policies and agendas.

This supervisory role does not involve clinical care or direct patient care. The job is to ensure that the facility is meeting or exceeding company goals and standards.

As the director, you will be responsible for developing, approving, and updating policies and procedures. You will set and supervise the protocols of the hospital, medical center, or healthcare group.

You will also be responsible for establishing policies related to emergencies, natural disasters, and pandemics.

Despite the significance and importance of the role, it is usually a part-time position.

Most medical directors work between 10 and 20 hours per week. This allows physicians to take on a part-time leadership role in administration while still providing clinical care and tending to patients.

Looking for another career option? Check out: Your Step By Step Guide to Becoming a Physician Consultant.


Where Do Medical Directors Work?

Medical directors work in almost every health service setting, including long-term care facilities, hospitals, and healthcare groups. They also work in hospice facilities, public health departments, retirement communities, and pharmaceutical companies.

Requirements, responsibilities, and salary vary greatly depending upon your specialty and where you work.

For example, a medical director for a pharmaceutical company may be responsible for overseeing the clinical process of bringing a new drug to the market. They may conduct oversight of testing and marketing the drug or be tasked with determining safety issues that didn’t present themselves in clinical trials.

A medical director in a nursing home, med spa, or drug treatment center will have very different responsibilities. In these types of facilities, directors may be responsible for hiring a team of physicians and healthcare workers and overseeing that team, even if there are no actual physicians on staff.


What Are the Requirements For Becoming a Medical Director?

You’ll need to meet several requirements to be eligible for a medical director role. Certifications, education, and clinical experience all play a part.

You’ll Need Certifications

Depending on the type of facility you plan to work in, there is a range of medical certifications that you may need.

To work as a medical director of a long-term care clinic, you’ll need to be board certified in family medicine, occupational health, or emergency medical care. Some facilities may only require that you work in primary care, while others may require you to become a Certified Medical Director in Long Term Care.

For long term care facilities, you must have a specific understanding of diseases that tend to affect the elderly, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Regardless of what type of facility you choose to work in, you will also need a current medical license and certification to practice medicine in your state.

Many hospitals and large healthcare groups employ multiple medical directors — usually one for each specialty/department, such as anesthesiology, cardiology, oncology, emergency medicine, and neurosurgery.

If you’re interested in working as a medical director in a specific field, you’ll also need the certifications required in that specialty.

You’ll Need the Proper Education

You cannot become a medical director without having the proper training. Medical directors must have experience working as a physician first. While it is an administrative role, it requires the knowledge and education of a trained, practicing physician.

At the minimum, you’ll need to have completed medical school and finished your residency.

In cases where the role doesn’t require any level of patient care (such as a medical director for a pharmaceutical company), you may not need an active medical license to take on the role.

You’ll Need Several Years of Experience

Most medical director positions require that you have at least ten years of practical experience working as either a surgeon or a physician in your specialty. In addition, you should have at least five years of medical management experience and hospital administration.

Medical directors are administrators, so they must have experience in both clinical practice and administrative tasks.

You’ll Need to Have Strong Communication Skills

Excellent written and oral communication skills are a must. As an administrator, you’ll need to work closely with the physicians, nurses, and non-medical members of your team. To fit the job description, you’ll also need to have strong computer skills, be adept at maintaining electronic records, and be highly organized.

Communication skills go hand in hand with managerial skills. To properly manage your team, you’ll need to have clear and consistent communication with other members of the staff.

Be fully prepared for your interview — download the Physician Employment Interview Kit ebook.


The Day-to-Day Responsibilities of a Medical Director

So what exactly do medical directors do?

As we mentioned above, the medical director role is usually a part-time position. The vast majority of medical directors work between 10 to 20 hours per week in this administrative role. They typically spend the remainder of their time in clinical settings or working in their own practices.

Here are some of the essential tasks that a medical director will do:

Coordinate Goals

Medical directors are responsible for coordinating the goals of a facility and ensuring that the staff is working to meet those goals. They create and execute new medical policies and put new systems in place in order to contribute to the overall success of the company.

They also update and replace existing policies based on ideas set forth by the medical board or board of directors.

Medical directors must ensure the overall functionality of the facility and be able to identify areas that need change or improvement. That includes making sure that medical equipment, supplies, and pharmaceuticals are being used appropriately.

This particular aspect of the job requires an extreme level of professionalism as well as several years of experience as a clinical physician.

Recruit and Manage

It is the responsibility of a medical director to recruit, hire, and manage staff. That includes other physicians, nurse practitioners, and all additional medical and non-medical staff. The medical director must also encourage cooperation among staff members and evaluate any areas (or employees) that are not performing to company standards.

Medical directors also serve as liaisons between medical staff and hospital management.

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Conduct Training Sessions

Medical directors are responsible for leading the effort to maintain and exceed existing standards by coordinating and conducting training sessions and promoting continuing medical education. Medical directors themselves should continue their education and adhere to the highest set of standards.

Manage Budgets

Every healthcare facility has a budget. As a medical director, you’ll be responsible for managing that budget and ensuring that funds are appropriated in the right way. This often includes negotiating with and creating strong relationships with vendors in order to minimize the cost of products purchased for the facility.

Ensure Federal and State Compliance

Medical directors must ensure that their facility is in compliance, at all times, with federal and state laws. This includes CMS billing regulations and the handling of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Medical Directors Only Work a Few Hours Per Week

Medical directors are rarely required to work weekends or work on-call. They may do so as part of their clinical practice but usually will not do so for their directorship. In addition to earning extra pay and having a supervisory leadership role, this is one of the biggest perks of working as a medical director.


How Much Do Medical Directors Get Paid?

The question that every physician wants to know is how much do medical directors get paid?

The answer to this question varies greatly, depending on where you work, what your daily responsibilities are, and what your specialty is.

According to Glassdoor, the average base pay for a medical director in the U.S. is $218,064 per year. But the numbers vary considerably based on a variety of factors.

Most medical directors do not work full time. Medical directors working as clinical pathologists spend approximately 31 hours per week on their directorships. In comparison, medical directors of cardiology units sometimes spend as little as three hours per week fulfilling their duties as a director.

Your specialty and the amount of time you spend on the role are two of the most significant factors in determining your salary.

According to the Medical Director Survey by Integrated Healthcare Systems, here are the average salaries and average hours worked for medical directors in different specialties and different facilities:

Oncology

  • 688 hours per year
  • 13.2 hours per week
  • Average salary — $111,212

Cardiology

  • 553 hours per year
  • 10.6 hours per week
  • Average salary — $99,887

Emergency medicine

  • 801 hours per year
  • 15.4 hours per week
  • Average salary — $131,490

Hospitalist

  • 996 hours per year
  • 19.1 hours per week
  • Average salary — $118,341

Neurosurgery

  • 845 hours per year
  • 16.2 hours per week
  • Average salary — $215,377

Orthopedic Surgery

  • 461 hours per year
  • 8.8 hours per week
  • Average salary — $89,476

Pediatrics

  • 846 hours per year
  • 16.2 hours per week
  • Average salary — $103,592

Vascular Laboratory

  • 477 hours per year
  • 9.1 hours per week
  • Average salary — $66,651

Related: 7 Alternative Jobs for Physicians


Make Sure Your Contract Clearly States Your Responsibilities and Salary

If you’re considering accepting a position as a medical director, you can expect to sign a contract, just like you would as a clinical physician. But because the roles vary so much from employer to employer, you need to pay special attention to how much you’re earning and what you’re being paid for.

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Hire a Contract Review Specialist

Hire a contract review specialist to look over your contract before you sign it. Some employers may offer you a flat fee. Some may offer an hourly fee and require you to fill out monthly forms detailing how many hours you dedicated to the directorship role.

A contract review specialist will know what your pay should be based upon your specialty, region, and responsibilities.

A contract review specialist will also ensure that your responsibilities and liabilities are reasonable and fair. There have been cases where government regulators have held medical directors personally accountable for violations of administrative, civil, and criminal law.

There have also been malpractice cases where patients have sued the medical director directly. As a medical director, you are expected to supervise other physicians, nurses, and healthcare providers. Some plaintiffs bring suits against medical directors for failing to execute the proper oversight.

A contract review specialist will look at all clauses in your contract related to malpractice insurance and indemnification. They can also negotiate your contract on your behalf.

Failure to consult with a review specialist before signing a contract could have detrimental effects on your finances and your career. If you’re ready to sign a new physician employment contract or medical director agreement, contact Physicians Thrive now to find a thorough contract review specialist.

Read: Can You Negotiate Physician Contracts?


The role of a medical director carries an enormous amount of responsibility. Unlike a clinical physician, whose primary goal is to provide excellent patient care, a medical director must do that and more.

Medical directors work in all sorts of healthcare facilities, from hospitals to nursing homes to rehabilitation centers. The role is ideal for physicians looking to take on leadership roles, reduce some of the time spent in a clinical setting, and increase their salary by taking on additional responsibilities.

In this position, you can expect to recruit and hire new staff, supervise that staff, and amend or create policies to further the mission of the facility. And while you won’t be working directly with patients in this role, your ultimate goal is to see to it that everyone under your management provides the best patient care possible.

Some medical directors spend only a few hours per week doing the work required in the role, making it possible for most physicians to do their current job and take on this additional responsibility.

If you’re ready to take on the new title of medical director, contact Physicians Thrive now. We can connect you to a contract review specialist before you sign your contract to ensure that it includes all the necessary details and offers you the protection you deserve.

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