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Must CMOs Always Be Licensed Physicians?

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, August 16, 2012

An increasing number of physicians are getting MBAs in addition to their medical degrees, the New York Times reported  last year. Since the late 1990s, the number of joint MD/MBA programs in the nation has increased from under 10 to 65, according to the Times, which noted that the "trend is being driven by the need to become more entrepreneurial and savvy as the business of medicine grows more complicated."

Smith, the former CMO at Northwest Community Hospital, apparently is now in business for himself, too. He denies that his employment ended because he is not licensed, but declines to comment further, citing a confidentiality agreement, according to media reports.

Currently listed as president of Leighton Consulting Inc. on Linked in,  Smith describes himself as a "physician executive with over 25 yeas of progressive leadership in a variety of complex and diverse healthcare settings. Proven abilities in program development and improvement through teamwork, with a focus on customer service, quality patient outcomes, medical staff relations and managing institutional priorities."

When Smith was hired, leadership at Northwest believed they had found what they were looking for. At Northwest Community Hospital, the CMO is "responsible" for clinical excellence, operational effectiveness and the management of more than 1000 physicians who care for 450,000 patients a year, the CEO Crowther says.

Despite the controversy since Smith's departure, "in recent years, we have built one of the most respected medical staffs in the area," Crowther adds. He mentions a list of them: "recognition from U.S. News and World Report for six different medical specialties and the highest award from the Joint Commission, the nation's predominant healthcare accrediting body."

By not disclosing Smith's lack of a license, however, Northwest didn't help itself in being "transparent" about its medical operations. The local media says that the hospital is in a fight with rivals to gain a larger share of its market, including the fact the hospital hasn't posted an annual operating gain since 2008.

While Northwest Community Hospital evaluates who will be its next CMO and may continue to spur debate about qualifications for that position, some hospital systems don't have a CMO to begin with.

Snow's hospital, the 445-bed Shawnee Mission Medical Center, part of the Adventist Health system, only hired its first CMO nine months ago. "That came about because the CEO had perceived there would be difficulties implementing computerized physician order entry systems, and our hospital electronic medical records," Snow says. "It's a very difficult process and very difficult for physicians."

The new CMO, Larry Botts, MD, "will help us continue our tradition of open communication with our medical staff so that we can ensure we're providing the highest quality care possible for our community," said Shawnee president and CEO, Samuel H. Turner, Sr. said in a statement.

For the record, Botts is a licensed pulmonologist.


Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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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!