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FL Hospitals Say 'Yes' to Unlicensed Doc as CMO

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, September 19, 2013

Should a hospital's top-ranking doc maintain a license to practice medicine? One hospital system with facilities in Florida says it is often "inadvisable" for a practicing physician to be a CMO.

Editor’s note: The original column stated that Dr. Leighton Smith's lack of a medical license at Northwest Community Hospital prompted him to resign. HealthLeaders Media retracts that assertion, and the article has been amended.

Physicians must commit considerable effort to secure and maintain a license to practice medicine, but not every physician leader does so, nor is required to do so. For example, Leighton B. Smith, MD, does not have a license to practice medicine but serves as chief medical officer at 156-bed Florida Hospital DeLand and at the nearby 175-bed Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City. Florida Hospital is part of the Adventist Health System.

A Florida Hospital spokeswoman, Lindsay Rew, confirmed that Smith was named the hospitals' new CMO in March and said Florida Hospital officials had no problem with him taking the job, knew about his background, and added that it is "often inadvisable" for a CMO to be active on the medical staff.

Rew says Florida Hospital officials have confidence in Smith. She released a statement saying that Smith is an "accomplished physician executive with more than 25 years of leadership experience, both in hospitals and medical education environments." Smith's experience includes serving as CMO at Northwest Community Hospital in Chicago for eight years, also without a license to practice.

While the value of a medical license is clear—the American Medical Association has stated that "members of the medical profession should always remember that the business of medical licensing boards is to protect the public from unqualified and unfit physicians"—should that also apply to physicians in the C-suite?

Comments are moderated. Please be patient.

4 comments on "FL Hospitals Say 'Yes' to Unlicensed Doc as CMO"


Anonymous (10/21/2013 at 6:50 AM)
Comments to previous articles regarding this topic suggest that CMO's do make decisions that indirectly and sometimes directly do involve medical care and hence should require licensure. Examples include authorization(s) of exploratory surgeries to investigate malpractice claims especially in indigency situations, input to policies regarding levels of care, in general but also particularly in indigency cases and more which can be found in other articles. Perhaps state legislature(s) should cure this anomaly by requiring licensure for CMO's.

anonymous (9/27/2013 at 8:26 AM)
I am a Medical Staff Coordinator and I believe if his job function is to "to continually strengthen the relationships between physicians, clinicians and non-clinicians," the he should be a "Physician Liaison or a Director of some sort". How can you lead a Medical Staff if you are not abreast of the continual changes in Healthcare (CME). I'd love to follow these to hospitals and see they evolve with an unlicensed Doc as a CMO.

Gainer Pillsbury, MD (9/19/2013 at 4:49 PM)
I have been a CMO for 15 years and began with a part time practice. I think this increased my credibility with the medical staff in the beginning. I retired from practice 10 years ago when I could see that time commitments might conflict, but have kept my medical license current. I think retainig a licesnse is important in maintaining confidence of the medical staff who are occasionally tempted to state "You aren't really a doctor anymore and are out of touch"