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Must CMOs Always Be Licensed Physicians?

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, August 16, 2012

For eight years, the top doctor at the 496-bed Northwest Community Hospital in Chicago was, in fact, a doctor—but with an asterisk. Besides being a non-practicing doctor, he couldn't practice because his medical license had expired in 1999.

In June, Leighton Smith, MD, left his position as chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs. The C-suite knew he wasn't a practicing physician, and the top brass didn't seem to care.

The local media, however, raised questions after the fact, about whether having a CMO who wasn't a practicing physician in some way compromised the hospital's patient care efforts.

Smith's lack of a license surfaced during a Northwest doctor's internal appeal of a review, and Smith resigned shortly thereafter. Hospital executives disclosed they knew about his lack of a license when he was hired. Like many other states, Illinois doesn't have licensing rules for chief medical officers.

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4 comments on "Must CMOs Always Be Licensed Physicians?"


Dave Mittman, PA (8/20/2012 at 11:38 AM)
Not trying to be hostile but I have a license to practice medicine also. Why could a PA who has an advanced degree and is licensed not be a CMO? It happens in smallest hospitals. How about an NP also? I think the US Army Surgeon General is an RN. I could argue that as they never practiced medicine. I in fact do and went to medical school to learn my craft. Dave

A.Duhe (8/16/2012 at 11:11 PM)
Dr. Leighton Smith, as a CMO without a medical license, shouldn't have been making medical decisions regarding patients and their surgeries...as he was known to do. Mr. Bruce Crowthers ( together with the confidentiality agreement he hides behind) is not stubborn nor oblivious; accordingly, he must be hiding something. Let's get to the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This story reeks. What was there to hide between 1999 to June of 2012? Qui bono?

Keith Steinhurst, MD (8/16/2012 at 3:39 PM)
Well - as more physicians seek non-clinical positions this topic will likely come up with more frequency. The license does not necessarily speak to quality - it does speak to permission to practice clinically in a given jurisdiction. The intent here though is to limit the field to specified criteria - in this case holders of unlimited licenses - which I submit that, for this position, is unrelated to quality of care. Best qualified should, in my opinion, always prevail!