What Is a Compliance Officer and How Do You Become One?

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Organizations today are operating on an unprecedented scale. Legal and regulatory complexity comes with the territory, and is especially pronounced in fields such as health care and life sciences, where people’s safety is directly impacted by corporate decisions. To avoid the fines and other penalties that come with violations, businesses need well-trained and experienced personnel focused on compliance. Compliance officers typically lead teams focused on regulatory matters, where the task is to evaluate a company’s adherence to rules and recommending action when necessary.

Becoming a compliance officer means gaining an encyclopedic knowledge of the regulations relevant to a particular field, then being able to apply that data practically and analytically. As team members with leadership responsibilities, compliance officers must also be skilled communicators and motivators of others.

A compliance officer shares findings with colleagues.

What does a compliance officer do?

The general outlines of compliance officer roles are the same across industries, though individuals’ duties may vary significantly depending on the type of company they work for. These employees are responsible for ensuring all corporate activities are carried out in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, and that the organization is not at risk of incurring penalties. That could mean implementing anti-money laundering policies within financial firms, ensuring medical businesses are in compliance with the Health Care Portability and Accountability Act or other industry-specific undertakings.

PayScale indicates that being the compliance manager for a large organization means reporting to the board that governs the business and issuing suggestions about how to proceed. Such a role could be completed from an office at one location or involve travel if the company determines that the compliance officer should witness conditions at multiple locations firsthand.

What is the salary and job outlook for compliance officers?

U.S. News & World Report indicated that demand is high for individuals who can monitor and assess compliance risk, largely due to the increasingly complex legal frameworks impacting companies. As digital communications broaden companies across national borders and provides access to ever-greater amounts of personal consumer and employee information, regulations are multiplying. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of compliance officer roles will rise 8% between 2016 and 2026.

The BLS placed the median salary for compliance officers at $68,860. PayScale gives an average of $67,666. While those figures may typify salaries across the wide variety of roles that deal with compliance, there is potential for much higher earnings, with PayScale noting that top compliance officers make over $100,000 annually. The site also noted that HIPAA compliance knowledge increases potential earnings in this line of work by 2%.

How do you become a compliance officer?

The BLS explained that compliance officers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree when entering the field, and that they receive on-the-job training in their highly specialized roles. The education and training necessary to lead an organization’s compliance program will depend heavily on the type of business. In health care, a background in the related laws and policies is vital, as these regulations’ focus on patient record privacy is unique. All life sciences organizations that have access to privileged personal information face the same need for specialized preparation.

PayScale indicated that field-specific requirements can include certifications and credentials. Becoming a Certified Medical Compliance Officer can be a key step for aspiring health care employees, while those in finance may find Certified Compliance and Regulatory Professional credentials are important. Hiring could be competitive for these roles, as organizations cannot afford to depend upon unprepared or irresponsible compliance officers.

What degree can prepare you for a compliance officer career in health care?

Studying for a legal degree can equip students with knowledge of local and federal laws relevant to the industries of their choice, and help them apply that information to their daily professional duties. The online Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy program at Hofstra Law combines an in-depth look at legal requirements in medicine with an all-remote delivery method that allows students to study on their own time while maintaining full-time jobs. Subjects include the development of Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the proper application of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Health Care Compliance is the course most directly focused on dealing with the legal challenges and requirements of operating a medical organization. Students who graduate with an MA in Health Law and Policy will have new knowledge to apply when seeking compliance officer roles in the health care field.

Learn more about the online Master of Arts in Health Law and Policy program by visiting the program page.

Recommended Readings:
6 careers that can benefit from a health law and policy degree
Comparing HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018
13-1041 Compliance Officers
Bureau of Labor Statistics – Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail
O*NET Online – Summary Report for: 13-1041.00 – Compliance Officers
PayScale – Average Compliance Officer Salary
U.S. News & World Report – Compliance Officer Overview