Building Trust in the Changing Landscape of Medicine

Forbes 100 Most Trustworthy Companies list scrutinizes a business’s high-risk events, revenue and expense recognition methods, SEC actions, and bankruptcy risk—all in the interest of creating the best possible grouping that leaves no stone unturned. In 2014, AMN Healthcare Services not only received this impressive accolade, but it also won a second award from Novation, acknowledging its ethical business operations. A key player in maintaining that trust is Denise Jackson, AMN’s general counsel, senior vice president, and corporate secretary.

Currently, the health care landscape is changing rapidly, and Jackson makes sure she is keeping on top of government relations and translating what that means for AMN’s clients. With all this in mind, being the general counsel for the country’s largest health care staffing company is a daunting task, but for Jackson, who has 18 years of in-house experience—13 of which with AMN—it’s just a matter of making sure everyone is on the same page. Although AMN is not a direct Medicaid or Medicare biller, there is a trickle-down effect on the volume of physicians and other clinicians a hospital will need. A health care shortage has been a lurking shadow for years, and with an aging workforce, staffing companies are looking for ways to sustain the quality of physicians and clinicians and meet the increased demand. “A lot of my time is spent communicating and managing different teams,” Jackson says. “With any sizable organization there are a lot of different initiatives.”

Jackson holds an uncharacteristic quality of a general counsel, and that is to keep her shareholders and internal and external clients happy. “We place a premium on transparency,” she says. “Our various stakeholders, including our clients, trust us to tell them what we are seeing and where there is opportunity to achieve their goals. At times, it may not be the most popular message, but we have credibility.”

It’s a bit of tough love, but Jackson is focused on delivering a 10 percent margin to AMN’s shareholders. Some of the ways the company achieves this is by looking at the means of creating efficiencies, as well as expanding the company’s workforce solutions offerings. “We listen and evaluate our client’s pain points and come up with a strategy to address now and in the future,” Jackson adds.

Although Jackson started out as the sole in-house counsel for AMN, she now works with a 33-person staff between legal, risk management, corporate audit services, and government and community relations. “I’m a lawyer but I do a lot of team management,” she says. “On a normal day, I will be talking with executives on our strategic initiatives and how we communicate to our teams, clients, board members, and investors. It’s incumbent on me to make sure my teams know the company priorities and align their responsibilities to effectively serve the need.”

When it comes to more specific areas of expertise, including high-stakes litigation, Jackson calls on outside firms. “With a workforce the size of ours we are going to have litigation, and we are not equipped to handle that internally,” she says. “We have long-standing relationships with firms that have taken the time to really understand our business, listen to what we are trying to achieve, and execute in a responsive manner.”

She works directly with her teams every day as well as cross-functional teams with internal clients that represent every department of the 1,900-person company. Her hands-on approach has been recognized by her peers in the Association of Corporate Counsel as In-House Counsel of the Year and by the San Diego Business Journal as Top Corporate Counsel. And in May 2014 she was a finalist for the Athena San Diego Pinnacle Award, which recognizes professionals who exemplify, advocate, and support female leadership in the San Diego business community.

On top of all that, Jackson devotes her time to serving on several for-profit and nonprofit boards, including AMN’s roughly 20 subsidiaries; PipelineRx, a telepharmacy company; Girls on the Run International; the Lux Art Institute; and the Association of Corporate Counsel–San Diego.

With her additional positions and the current health care environment, Jackson’s role demands quite a bit. But in the end, it always comes back to informing AMN’s client base, which engenders the trust to make her company thrive.