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What is a doctors boss called?

Doctors play a critical role in healthcare, diagnosing and treating illnesses to improve people’s health. However, doctors don’t work alone – they are part of a larger medical organization with a hierarchy and leadership roles. So who exactly is a doctor’s boss? The answer depends on the specific work environment. In a hospital, a doctor’s direct supervisor is typically called the chief of the department or the medical director. In a private practice, the doctor may answer to a managing partner. Academic physicians are overseen by the dean of the medical school or the chair of a department. Understanding the leadership structure and chain of command enables doctors to collaborate effectively and provide the best possible patient care.

In A Hospital Setting

In hospitals, physicians report to department chiefs, who are also doctors. The department chief, also known as the chair, head, or medical director, provides leadership for the physicians within a specialty department. For example, a cardiologist would report to the chief of cardiology, a neurologist to the chief of neurology, and so on. The chief is responsible for overseeing schedules, mentoring doctors, facilitating communication between departments, monitoring quality of care, and representing the department in the hospital’s leadership structure.

Some key responsibilities of a hospital department chief include:

  • Recruiting and hiring physicians for the department
  • Scheduling and assigning physician shifts and rotations
  • Evaluating doctors’ job performance and productivity
  • Setting and managing the department budget
  • Promoting high standards of care through development of policies and procedures
  • Resolving any conflicts or issues within the department

The department chief reports to the medical executive committee, which is comprised of chiefs from various specialties. Above that is the chief medical officer, who is in charge of all clinical departments in the hospital and serves as the top medical leader alongside the CEO and board of directors.

So in summary, the hierarchy looks like this:

Individual Doctor → Department Chief → Medical Executive Committee → Chief Medical Officer → Hospital CEO/Board

The department chief serves as the direct supervisor and resource for physicians, overseeing day-to-day clinical operations. Although the chief has authority over the doctors, the relationship also involves mentorship and promoting professional development. While disciplinary matters may arise, the chief aims to deal with any issues constructively and retain talented physicians.

Qualifications of a Department Chief

Being a department chief in a hospital requires strong leadership capabilities on top of excellent clinical skills. Here are some common qualifications required to be a department chief:

– Medical degree (MD or DO) with board certification in their specialty
– Completion of a medical residency and fellowship program
– Extensive clinical experience in their field, often 10+ years
– Proven management experience leading teams and projects
– Strong communication, collaboration, and interpersonal abilities
– Completion of a master’s degree in healthcare administration, business, or management (optional but preferred)
– Ongoing leadership training on finances, strategy, and hospital operations

The role takes both medical and business acumen. In addition to expertise in healthcare delivery, chiefs must have financial management skills to control costs and negotiate budgets. They also need vision to set goals, make improvements, and guide strategy for growth. Department chiefs often have a passion for mentoring others and derive satisfaction from developing the next generation of doctors.

Chair of a Hospital Department

The term medical director and department chief is sometimes used interchangeably. Chair is another synonym for the same role. The chair leads the physicians within an academic department at a hospital, particularly those that are part of or affiliated with a medical school. The chair oversees not just clinical services but also the department’s research initiatives and educational programs. They facilitate learning opportunities and professional growth for medical students, residents, and fellows training in that specialty.

In A Medical Group Practice

Doctors in private practice work in physician-owned or managed group practices rather than hospitals. In this setting, physicians may have the title of partner, shareholder, member, or employee of the practice. Each doctor reports to and is supervised by a managing partner, president, or medical director of the group practice. This person may be a physician founder of the practice or an experienced doctor appointed to the leadership role.

The managing partner or president has responsibilities such as:

  • Recruiting and hiring new doctors to join the practice
  • Ensuring sufficient staffing and appropriate scheduling
  • Overseeing the practice’s finances and setting annual budgets
  • Negotiating contracts with insurance plans
  • Setting policies, productivity standards, and clinical protocols
  • Tracking quality metrics and promoting continuous improvement
  • Guiding strategy for practice growth and expansion

They manage the business side of the practice as well as support the physicians in delivering excellent patient care.

In large multispecialty groups, there may also be clinical department heads, similar to hospital department chiefs, that oversee smaller divisions focused on a specific field. There are department chairs for family medicine, cardiology, orthopedics, etc. Depending on the organizational structure, these physicians may report directly to the managing partner or provide another layer of leadership beneath the partner.

Beyond the physician leadership, private practice groups often have an executive team comprised of administrators focused on finance, marketing, human resources, IT, and patient experience. They handle day-to-day operations while physicians devote their time to seeing patients. The non-physician executive team members report to the managing partner.

In Academic Medicine

Doctors working in academic medicine are based at universities and teaching hospitals. They have dual roles as clinicians who see patients and educators who train future doctors through medical school and residency programs. In this environment, a physician’s direct supervisor depends on whether their primary role is research or clinical work.

For Researchers

Physicians who are scientists and researchers report to the department chair at their institution. This chair is the senior faculty member who leads an academic department at a medical school, such as the Department of Medicine or Department of Neurology. The chair oversees the faculty within that department and the research and education activities.

Department chairs have responsibilities such as:

  • Recruiting and hiring professors and researchers for the department
  • Mentoring faculty and evaluating their performance
  • Assigning teaching responsibilities and course schedules
  • Overseeing residency and fellowship programs
  • Leading strategic planning for research growth and new programs
  • Managing budgets and allocating resources within the department
  • Supporting faculty in obtaining grants and research funding

The department chair reports up to the dean of the medical school, who serves as the school’s chief academic officer. The dean in turn reports to the provost and president of the university.

For Clinicians

Physicians who primarily see patients in the medical school’s affiliated teaching hospital have a slightly different reporting structure. While they have accountability to the department chair for academic responsibilities, their clinical work is overseen by the hospital department chief, as outlined earlier. The chief of cardiology or neurology oversees the faculty physicians alongside private practice doctors who work in the hospital and have admitting privileges.

In summary, the two chains of command look like this:

Academic chain:

Doctor → Department Chair → Medical School Dean → University Leadership

Clinical chain:

Doctor → Hospital Department Chief → Medical Executive Committee → Chief Medical Officer → Hospital CEO/Board

This allows the physicians to have leadership focused on both their research and patient care responsibilities. The department chair and hospital chief collaborate frequently to support faculty members in balancing the two roles.


While doctors have autonomy in caring for patients, they still work within healthcare organizations that provide oversight and leadership. The specific title of a physician’s supervisor depends on whether they work in a hospital, private practice, or academic setting. By understanding these reporting structures and hierarchies, doctors can effectively collaborate with leaders to provide high-quality patient care. The right leadership and support enables doctors to thrive in their careers and achieve their goals as medical professionals and healers.