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What Is a Clinical Director and How Do You Become One?

clinical director

The healthcare field has always held plenty of appeal for you. What’s not to love about an industry that focuses on caring for others and promoting good health in the community? It’s no surprise to anyone that this is the industry that caught your eye when you decided it was time to choose your career.

You appreciate the hard work of nurses, doctors and other healthcare specialists, but you’ve got your sights set on becoming a clinical director. This leadership position allows you to guide the direction of a healthcare organization and influence the lives of every patient and family who is cared for in your facility. Becoming a clinical director means that not only will you be taking charge of your career and potentially increasing your earning potential, you’ll also be making a difference for others.

But pursuing a career as a clinical director would push you outside your comfort zone. What does it really look like to work in this healthcare position, and what steps will you need to take to be qualified for the job?

We dove into the research and spoke with experts to bring you all the information you need when it comes to pursuing a clinical director career. Use this in-depth breakdown to decide if a clinical director position is calling your name.

What is a clinical director?

Clinical directors lead a team of healthcare providers in facilities both big and small. They manage and guide their team toward reaching the organization’s goals so that patients receive the best care possible.

Clinical directors work with teams of varying sizes depending on their healthcare facility. In a large hospital or clinic, a clinical director will likely be responsible for managing a specific department, such as nursing, surgery or physical therapy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In a small physician’s office, clinical directors are more likely to be in charge of leading the entire facility, according to John Baio, clinical director and owner of Martino Physical Therapy.

What does a clinical director do every day?

A clinical director’s daily job duties can vary depending on the type of healthcare facility they work for, the specific department they oversee and the size of their team. Clinical directors at all types of facilities are likely to spend their days developing policies and goals, meeting with their team to keep everyone working toward a shared vision, evaluating their staff and setting budgets for their department.

Clinical directors working in a smaller office are more likely to wear multiple hats when it comes to job duties, according to Baio. “My roles can be infinite. If the front desk staff member is sick, I can make appointments, explain insurance benefits or take payments. If the office manager is on vacation, I'm doing the supply ordering, adjusting staff schedules and focused on billing/coding.” On top of all this, a clinical director’s main job duty is still to manage the staff and ensure quality patient care.

Clinical directors in a larger clinic or hospital with multiple departments will probably have more specific job duties focused on their team rather than the facility as a whole. They’re responsible for organizational tasks like scheduling, managing finance reports and putting staff procedures in place, as well as people-centered duties like hiring and training new staff members. They may also represent their department at facility meetings and collaborate with other healthcare managers to set goals and establish a positive work environment.

What characteristics and skills should a clinical director have?

Clinical directors set the tone for the work culture of everyone they supervise, so it’s important that they have strong leadership and organizational skills. We used job posting analysis software to identify the top qualities employers are looking for in clinical director applicants:1

  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork/collaboration
  • Planning
  • Research
  • Problem-solving
  • Writing
  • Building effective relationships
  • Organizational Skills
  • Leadership

Of course, clinical directors are required to have experience with technical skills related to the healthcare field as well. We once again turned to our job posting analysis to find real-time data about the skills employers are looking for in a clinical director:1

  • Budgeting
  • Patient care
  • Staff management
  • Quality assurance and control
  • Project management
  • Clinical research
  • Clinical development
  • Clinical trials
  • Quality management
  • Business development

What’s the job outlook for clinical directors?

Healthcare has a reputation for being a growing industry, and clinical director positions are no exception. The BLS projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow by 20 percent through 2026, landing it among the occupations growing much faster than average. With more than 72,000 new positions expected to open through 2026, there’s potential to land one of these healthcare leadership careers.2

Pay for clinical directors reflects the growing demand, with their median annual wage coming in at $98,350, according to the BLS. Those working in hospitals stand to earn even more, with the BLS reporting median annual wages of more than $107,000.2

How do you become a clinical director?

Becoming a clinical director seems like a natural move to advance your career if you’re already involved in healthcare. But what exactly does it take to get to such a high-level position? Is it possible to make it happen if you’re not in the industry already?

Though it will take some work, a clinical director career is accessible even to those outside the healthcare industry. The BLS reports that most clinical directors have at least a Bachelor’s degree, with Master’s degrees being “Common and sometimes preferred by employers.” These degrees typically focus on combining medical knowledge with administration skills, such as a Master of Healthcare Administration.

Earning a Master’s degree might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Rasmussen’s Master of Healthcare Administration programs can be completed in as few as 18 months.3 In the meantime, there are steps you can take to gain experience even while you earn your degree.

“For an aspiring clinical director, I would advise them to learn as much as possible about leadership and management,” Baio says. Taking initiative to expand your leadership skills in your current position can help you gain valuable experience while you work toward becoming a clinical director.

Directing your future

It’s hard to know where to go next when you’re ready to advance your career. If you’re intrigued by the thought of managing a healthcare team and leading a facility to achieve its goals, becoming a clinical director just might be the high-level career for you.

If you’ve got your heart set on climbing the ranks and managing a clinic or unit of your own, you’ll want to consider earning a Master’s degree. Visit Rasmussen College’s Master of Healthcare Administration program page to learn more about what this program can do for your career. (analysis of 12,992 clinical director job postings, Jul. 1, 2017 – Jun. 30, 2018)
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed September 18, 2018] Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
3Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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