2004 Salary Survey Results

Incomes are up but still room to improve career path

Pursue higher degrees, seek bigger role in team

Salary levels are up for risk managers this year but may be leveling off, according to the results of this year’s Healthcare Risk Management Salary Survey. (To see charts illustrating the results, click here.)

The median income for health care risk managers in this year’s survey is $75,000; up from last year’s $70,000 and the $65,000 reported for the previous three years. The increase in income follows a steady trend: In 2000 and 1999, the median income was $62,500 and before that the median income for directors of risk management was in the high-$50,000 range.

Despite the increase in reported income, respondents still report a median salary increase over the past year of only 1% to 3%, the same as in previous years. Forty percent report increases in that range, down slightly from last year but the same as the year before. Twenty-three percent report increases of 4% to 6%, up slightly from last year’s 20% but less than the 34% reported in the previous year.

The higher salary figures may signal that risk managers are reaching a plateau for income, however, as evidenced by the fact that fewer respondents are reporting significant percentage increases in their incomes. For instance, the number of risk managers reporting no change in their incomes jumped to 19.62% this year, up from last year’s 15% and 10% the year before. The number of respondents reporting a decrease in their income also was up sharply, 2.53% this year compared to last year’s 1%.

Risk managers still report working long hours, but that figure is not increasing. Twenty-six percent reported working 46-50 hours per week, the same as last year. The year before, 35% said they worked those hours. Nineteen percent reported working 51-55 hours per week, down from last year’s 23%. Nearly 9% reported working 56-60 hours a week and 1.9% reported working 61-65 hours.

More RNs entering field

Employment opportunities for risk managers remain good and stable, says Jeffrey Driver, JD, MBA, chief risk officer with Stanford (CA) University Medical Center and president of the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM). But in a field that is getting used to constant change, he says the face of risk management is starting to take on a new look.

Of note lately, Driver says ASHRM research has suggested that more registered nurses are moving into the risk management field. "I think that has to do with the patient safety movement, the move to focus in on professional liability and loss control," he says. "The number of registered nurses in risk management has been rising since the 1980s."

Risk managers looking to grow their careers should consider pursuing advanced degrees, Driver suggests. "The MBAs and JDs clearly have advantages," he says. "For those inclined to move up in risk management, that’s the avenue to do it."

A higher salary level goes along with those higher degrees, Driver says, and ASHRM data show that those with higher degrees are seeing larger percentage increases each year in their salaries.

Ask for bigger role

Another strategy for improving your lot is to make yourself more of a key player in the organization, Driver says. The degree to which risk managers are involved in high-level decision making and strategic planning varies considerably from one organization to another, he says, and it often is possible to move yourself up. "Clearly, if you want to move up, you want to push toward senior management," he says. "Being part of senior management corresponds with a higher salary."

Overall, Driver says this is a good time to be in health care risk management and a good time to join the field. He points to the fact that many risk managers are experienced and may be retiring in large numbers before long, leaving the door open for others to come in. A large number of those joining the field probably will be nurses, which Driver says reflects a continuing trend toward a clinical emphasis in risk management, spurred largely by the focus on patient safety.

But at the same time, ASHRM is emphasizing enterprise risk management and more concentration in nonclinical areas. "I’ve heard risk managers talk about how they’re being pushed out by the quality folks, but I’ve always encouraged people to expand their horizons," Driver says. "If your employer is focusing intently on quality and that is not your background, that doesn’t mean you can’t be involved. But it might mean that you need to seek the right educational opportunities and position yourself differently."

He says risk managers can greatly improve their position within the organization by simply seeking more involvement in upper-level management. "Sit down with your leadership and ask them where you can be helpful in the organization," Driver suggests. "Understand the organizational plan for your organization and where you fit into that, and tailor your risk management expertise to that vision."

He also recommends going out of your comfort zone by taking on tasks and responsibilities that you may not be entirely comfortable doing. "That’s the only way you can learn and make yourself more valuable," Driver says. "If you’re clinically trained, the financial components might be a little scary, and vice versa."

More visible role now for risk managers

Risk managers are becoming more valuable to the health care industry every day, says Fred M. Messing, LFACHE, a health care management consultant with The Herman Group in Spotsylvania, VA. He spent 30 years in hospital and health system senior executive positions.

Messing says the malpractice crisis and growing liability risks make senior management seek out risk managers who can make a difference. "I can tell you that from the institutional side we found ourselves settling a lot of cases when we knew we had done absolutely nothing wrong," he says. "But the risk of going into court and facing a massive judgment was just too much. Anyone who can help you avoid that kind of no-win scenario is going to be looked on as a valuable member of your team."

Role is as visible and viable’ as ever

Messing goes on to say that he thinks the role of risk manager is "as visible and viable as it has ever been, and I think that’s only going to improve in the near future."

So what would Messing have wanted to see in a risk manager when he was CEO of a hospital? In addition to the basic qualifications and either a solid clinical or legal background, Messing would want someone who’s willing to dig deep. "I’d want to see an acute intellect, someone who can really probe beneath the surface because when something goes wrong you’re going to get a lot of versions of what happened," he says. "I’d want someone who can probe deeper and find what’s beneath the surface. And secondly, I’d want someone who is a terrific communicator."

Messing says he would want to see a risk manager who can communicate well both verbally and in writing with peers, and with other departments. "If someone came to me with those qualities and wanted to play a bigger role, I would find that very appealing," he says. "That’s something I would encourage."

(Editor’s note: The exclusive 2004 Healthcare Risk Management Salary Survey was sent to about 1,200 readers in the June 2004 issue. A total of 158 were returned, for a response rate of 13%. The results were tabulated and analyzed by Thomson American Health Consultants, publisher of HRM.)