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Medical director jobs: types, responsibilities, and salaries

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If you’ve spent any time exploring non-clinical jobs in medicine or physician leadership opportunities, you’ve probably encountered the job title of Medical Director. You may have noticed that medical director jobs span a wide range of position types, pop up in several different areas within healthcare, and have vastly differing job descriptions and requirements.

If you’ve met one medical director, you’ve only met one medical director

It turns out all these different medical director jobs do actually have some things in common. According to BusinessDictionary, a director is a “person who leads, manages, or supervises an organization, program, or project.” A medical director, then, is a person with these obligations, but specifically as they relate to the medical aspects of the services or products offered by an organization.

So far in my career, I’ve held two medical director positions. They have been quite distinctive from one another in terms of the company and projects I’ve worked on. But, on the other hand, my function was essentially the same:  ensure that the medical and clinical facets of the organization are accurate, appropriate, and keeping with the company’s mission. Both positions required that I work with teams made up of a variety of positions. These teams were, in a sense, my “patient.” I diagnosed and treated the medical problems that arose.

There are scores of medical director jobs outside of a conventional patient care setting. I’ll talk about several of the most common ones here.

Medical Director Jobs in Non-clinical Settings

Medical directors in a primarily non-clinical setting are typically hired by organizations in fields that are closely related to healthcare and medicine, but may not be directly treating patients – at least not in the traditional sense.

Pharmaceutical Company Medical Director

A pharmaceutical company is a great example of this. Developing a drug and getting it to market requires a whole lot of medical expertise, clinical experience, and healthcare knowledge along various steps of the process. A medical director is responsible for providing oversight for the clinical aspects of the process.

There are actually several types of medical director jobs within the pharma industry. The main ones are within medical affairs and pharmacovigilance. A medical affairs medical director develops and executes the clinical plan for a product and provides medical insight for the strategy used in testing and marketing the drug. Pharmacovigilance (or drug safety) medical directors are involved with drugs that are already on the market. They are responsible for reviewing adverse events reports and post-marketing surveillance data to determine if there are any safety issues that weren’t identified in clinical trials prior to approval.

The job description might include:

[quote]Design and develop clinical plans and protocols based on knowledge of the disease area and science in order to meet regulatory and disease strategy targets. Work closely with team members, stakeholders, and governance bodies to translate protocol strategy into objectives and action plans. Participate in medical marketing, clinical development, and communication activities.[/quote]

Managed Care Company or Health Plan Medical Director

The medical director of a health insurance company usually works under the direction of the Chief Medical Officer and assists with making coverage decisions for complex cases, developing coverage policies, updating the drug formulary, and so forth.

The job description might include:

[quote]The medical director will develop, implement, support, and promote population health strategies, tactics, policies, and programs that drive the delivery of high value healthcare to establish a sustainable competitive business advantage. He or she will be highly involved with programs in utilization management, quality improvement, network management, and clinical coverage protocols.[/quote]

Facility Medical Director

Any facility, center, lab, or other place that provides health-related services – even if not provided directly by a physician – often requires a medical director to oversee the services. These types of places include:

  • Rehab and drug treatment centers
  • Correctional facilities, such as jails, prisons, detention centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospice programs
  • Weight loss centers and med-i-spas

Depending on the type of facility, there may be special requirements for the medical director. For example, a laboratory that uses complex lab tests will probably require that a board-certified pathologist serve as medical director. A rehab center might hire only a psychiatrist for the role.

The job description might include:

“The medical director will provide overall supervision and clinical services for the site as well as serve as liaison for clinical matters with medical providers outside the system. The director will chair committees, provide direction to the quality assurance program, assist in hiring medical providers for the facility, and review the center’s protocols and policies”

Non-profit Health Organization

Not-for-profit organizations with a health or disease focus often require the assistance of a medical director to ensure their services align with current medical standards, to engage with medical leaders outside of the organization, and to confirm the medical accuracy of publications and other materials. For a few examples: the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Small non-profits often hire a consultant medical director on a part-time basis, rather than having one on staff.

The job description might include:

“The medical director will monitor and promote the initiatives of the organization, the quality of services provided, financial performance, and work of the staff. He or she will meet with the Board of Directors at least annually to review operations, goals, and mission. The medical director will be available to the director of nursing and executive director to answer medically related questions and offer advice pertinent to the organization on an as needed basis”

Hospital and Healthcare System Medical Directors

We tend to be a non-clinical bunch here at L4Z, but the conventional medical director job in a clinical setting warrants a section to make this article as comprehensive as possible.

For many physicians, the most familiar type of medical director is that which is part of a hospital system. Healthcare systems sometimes use the title of medical director instead of division chair, department chair, or division chief. This can depend on whether the system is part of a university (and therefore less likely to have physicians with academic titles), or simply what they’ve chosen to use as an organizational structure. Some use the title of medical director to distinguish the position from one which merely manages the other physicians in the department, since the medical director at a large hospital system may oversees the efforts of the entire department (including non-physician staff).

Healthcare systems and university hospitals are often big enough that just having a division chair for each medical service doesn’t suffice. Research programs, multidisciplinary teams, and cross-department projects sometimes necessitate that there be leader with a solid medical background to oversee and guide various initiatives. Some examples of these positions are:

  • Medical Director for Cancer Programs
  • Medical Director of Adult Outpatient Services
  • Medical Director of Respiratory Programs
  • Medical Director of Simulation and Standardized Patients
  • Medical Director of Performance Improvement

Many of these positions include a large component of direct patient care. Most have some percentage of time dedicated to administrative work; however, the positions are likely to be occupied by board-certified doctors who are actively practicing.

Medical Director Requirements, Training, and Salary

A search on Glassdoor indicates that the average medical director salary is $228,217 per year, with a range from $167,000 to $304,000. This is no plastic surgeon salary, but certainly is comparable to a primary care salary. It’s worth noting that many medical director positions don’t require working weekends or being on-call. Personally, I would take a lower salary for that!

A snippet from a medical director salary search on Glassdoor.

Most medical director jobs require completion of medical school and a residency. A fellowship is preferable for some positions, such as one in a pharma company within a narrow therapeutic area. If there is no patient care component to the position, it probably won’t require an active state medical license. Some medical directors are required to collaborate with or oversee the work of advanced practitioners at the facility, necessitating that they are licensed.

There generally isn’t specific training needed beyond the typical training that a physician has. There’s no overarching medical director designation to go behind your name. But there are specific fields that have their own certificates related to the position of medical director. For example, you can become a Certified Medical Director of the American Board of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

Use This Overarching Job Title to Your Advantage

The fact that the medical director job title spans so many different types of positions can lead to some confusion. This is especially true for those who are just starting to explore non-clinical careers. But there is an upside to this. If you’re looking to transition your medical career to a non-clinical role but aren’t totally sure what you want to do, searching for “medical director” on any job board is very likely to bring up a smattering of positions that will help you tease out where your interests lie.

Have you held a medical director positions? What was your role within the organization?

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