When Susan Salka came to AMN Healthcare in 1990, it was still known as American Mobile Nurses and employed 18 people. She was hired as the “head of finance,” which meant she did everything—literally.
“It ranged from, ‘Can you wash the dishes’ to ‘Can you keep the books?’ I joined them thinking, ‘Well, you know, I’ll do this for a year or two.’ Because who makes a career out of healthcare staffing?” Salka says to Chief Executive.
Twenty-eight years later and she’s still there. AMN is no longer just a small little healthcare staffing company. Today, it employs 3,000 people, has revenue of more than $2 billion, and is publicly-traded on the New-York Stock Exchange. It’s diversified beyond staffing into workforce solutions, such as managed service programs, vendor management and recruitment process outsourcing.
Salka, CEO, President and Director of AMN Healthcare, says she never had any intention of becoming the company’s chief, but as AMN grew, she took different roles and responsibilities. “It really gave me an appreciation and a love for the work we’re doing. And it became much more of a mission and a journey than a job,” she says.
Diversifying the company
Salka grew up in rural Nebraska with a Midwestern sensibility around “salt-of-the-earth people” like her parents, and graduated in a high school class of 12. She moved out to San Diego after college, crashing on the couch of her parents’ friend’s house. She got a job at a company named Hypertech for a year, making such an impression on the CEO and CFO that they asked her to join them at their venture capital firm.
“This was another really good lesson for me because I had people that believed in me, probably even more than I knew that I was capable of. They gave me opportunities to stretch myself and do interesting things, and gave me experiences that I really had no business trying,” she says.
Eventually she made her way to AMN, and rose the ranks of the company as it made acquisitions to solidify itself as the biggest staffing firm in healthcare, both in nursing and overall. Salka was named CEO in 2005 and by 2010, she was guiding the company as it transitioned from strictly being a staffing firm to offering workforce solutions.
“It was not a popular move with our shareholders because we were just coming out of the recession, just gaining some ground and traction. And then, we took on a bunch of debt and made this seemingly risky move. But we felt very passionate about the benefits that we could deliver for our clients and our shareholders,” she says.
The move has paid off, not just because workforce solutions represents more than half of AMN’s revenues from 2017. But also, Salka says, because many companies have begun to offer early-stage workforce solutions within healthcare, which shows AMN was ahead of the curve.
The shortage of talent in healthcare is the biggest challenge AMN faces, Salka says. “We hear this anecdotally from our clients that as fast as they hire people, people are going out the back door. And for every two jobs that are open, only one gets filled.”