Healthcare organizations are supposed to be safe, trustworthy places where patients feel secure that their medical concerns are addressed properly. However, the CDC ranks hospital error as America’s third leading cause of death behind only heart disease and cancer. Estimates show that 440,000 U.S. lives are lost annually due to preventable medical mistakes. That’s why healthcare providers are beefing up their quality management teams to help protect patients under their care. One of the prominent, upper-level roles being appointed is director of patient safety. As their title implies, patient safety directors coordinate clinical protocol reviews to guarantee that patient well-being is the #1 priority. Directors will develop ethical system improvements that prevent the incidence of medical harm. The director of patient safety spearheads training workshops to keep facility staff up-to-date on safety initiatives.


According to survey findings on, the median annual salary for patient safety directors in the United States is currently $79,398. This is equivalent to a mean hourly wage of $38 or $1,527 each week. Directors of patient safety commonly benefit from bonuses, social security, disability, healthcare, and pensions that bring mean yearly compensation to $110,914.

Beginning Salary

When patient safety directors initially assume leadership, they’ll likely land in the bottom 10th percentile with a salary around $57,468. Nonetheless, directors of patient safety with years of senior-level experience can eventually break six figures for over $105,382 per year. Some may advance into the coveted title of Chief Quality Officer for an average base salary of $123,912.

Key Responsibilities

Directors of patient safety play a pivotal role in supervising the creation and execution of quality improvement missions for an effective healthcare culture. They’ll carefully review data on patient-related medical errors to suggest positive changes. Directors oversee the facility’s patient safety staff while reporting to the Vice President or Chief Operating Officer. It’s the patient safety director’s responsibility to keep clinicians focused on high-quality treatment that thwarts harm and infection spread. Not only do they form risk-minimizing policies, but directors also implement monitoring systems to detect patient safety faults. When incidents occur, the patient safety director will answer questions from legal counsel and accreditation agencies.

Necessary Skills

Being successful at the helm of the patient safety department requires several top-notch leadership skills. Patient safety directors must have the communicative ability to clearly inform subordinates about new safety protocols. Extroverts with great interpersonal skills are most suitable to easily collaborate with the diverse healthcare team. Directors of patient safety must have the analytical and critical thinking skills to make inferences from patient incident reports. Problem-solving skills are a must for directors to creatively locate effective strategies for promoting error-free medical practices. Good clinical judgment, self-determination, and ethics are also essential for the director of patient safety to possess.

Degree and Education Requirements

Nursing provides an excellent pathway for earning promotion to director of patient safety. At minimum, directors must hold an accredited baccalaureate degree from a four-year college or university. Obtaining a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Nursing, Health Administration, or Public Health makes the most sense. Most employers will prefer job candidates who went the extra step for a master’s degree though. Many patient safety officers have acquired a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration. Others own a Master of Health Administration (MHA) or Healthcare MBA for management expertise. Some universities offer dual MSN/MHA or MSN/MBA programs that can be beneficial. Look for post-graduate certificates in patient safety too.

Rewards and Challenges

Advancing your healthcare career to the esteemed job of patient safety director will have benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, directors of patient safety are well-compensated with a higher yearly salary than most RN positions. Excellent benefit packages are included for good ROI. Patient safety directors have positive job prospects as demand in the medical industry heats up. Directors work primarily in a comfortable office setting, though department meetings are regular. Unlike RNs, patient safety directors generally work normal business hours with less shift irregularity. The director of patient safety also reaps the intrinsic reward of keeping patients healthy and satisfied throughout their stay. In the minus column, directors have less interaction with patients. Intensive training and certification is required for patient safety directors. The job comes with looming pressure to fix safety protocols before lives are lost. Directors of patient safety also have to stay up-to-date on new government regulations.

Getting Started

Earning a college education is only one piece of the puzzle. Aspiring patient safety directors must also develop impressive resumes that paint a picture of in-depth clinical experience. Most employers prefer promoting directors who have worked as registered nurses. Doing so will require passing your state’s NCLEX-RN exam and a background check. You can then segue into entry-level patient safety jobs like clinical quality, infection control, risk management, or compliance specialist. Healthcare organizations will look for five to eight years of experience before hiring you as director of patient safety. Heading back to graduate school and taking online or evening classes for a master’s can increase your marketability. Professional certification is another great option. The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) offers the Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS) designation. Achieving this title will require having three years of experience, paying a $400 fee, and passing the five-part exam.

Future Outlook

The NCBI reports that medical errors cost the United States $19.5 billion. It’s no surprise that healthcare organizations are looking to lower expenditures by improving patient outcomes. This couples with an increased demand for medical treatment from aging “baby boomer” patients. Patient safety directors will be necessary to prevent critical shortages in the healthcare workforce threaten patients’ mortality. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for medical directors will grow much faster-than-average by 17 percent through 2024. That’s approximately 56,300 new administrative positions being created. Directors of patient safety find leadership in hospitals, physician practices, ambulatory care facilities, health groups, rehabilitation clinics, and surgical centers.

Overall, the director of patient safety is appointed to organize safety procedures that minimize the likelihood of deadly medical complications. Patient safety directors strive to develop an accredited clinical environment where control measures help prevent adverse errors. Trained nurses looking for advancement should consider becoming a director of patient safety to evolve the healthcare competencies that keep patients protected.

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