Susan Salka

Above and Beyond

AMN Healthcare initiative improves lives in Guatemala

Posted on August 17, 2018

“It started with sort of a collision of passion and purpose.” That’s how AMN Healthcare Services CEO, president, and director, Susan Salka, says the company’s now-annual Guatemala mission trip began. When a friend reached out to AMN chairman Doug Wheat seeking assistance securing doctors and nurses for a planned medical and community mission trip, Salka leapt into action. “We have this huge network of clinicians around the country. We’d never done anything like this before, but I said, ‘We’ll do what we can,’” recalls Salka.

Using only social media to put out word on the project, they were taken aback by the hundreds of responses they received within days. When an AMN staffer returned from the trip, Salka says, “He was a visibly changed man. I could see the inspiration in his heart.” So, shortly thereafter, she took a trip to Guatemala to gain her own perspective. “It changed my life forever,” she says. “It showed me what we could do to make an impact in this world through our great resources and connections in the medical community, but also within our corporate ranks.”

The missions include setting up a surgery center and medical clinic where, over the course of five days, approximately 150 surgeries are performed and 1,000 patients are seen for everything from colds to cancer. Ophthalmologists, audiologists, and dentists offer specialized care. Where people live in huts and use wood-burning fires indoors for heating and cooking, volunteers install stoves to help improve air quality inside and reduce burn accidents. “We want to address the medical issues, but we also want to get to some of the root causes, and that starts with what’s happening in the home,” says Salka.

A favorite memory from Salka’s involvement in these missions is meeting a young boy named Mauricio, whose eye was bulging from its socket. Despite his pain, his bright smile captured her. The cause of his issue was identified — a large, benign tumor behind the eye — but they lacked the proper means to treat him. Painfully, Salka had to tell him and his mother to return the following year when they’d be prepared to help. She snapped a Polaroid of herself and Mauricio together and gave it to him. Sure enough, he and his mother sought Salka out a year later, holding the photo and telling everyone there she’d promised to help. Following a successful surgery, he was able to return to school and live a normal life. A photo of Salka with Mauricio, post-surgery, sits on Salka’s desk as a daily reminder of their missions’ impact.

Susan Salka

Susan Salka with Mauricio

“I hope that it strikes a chord with other companies,” says Salka, a Rancho Santa Fe resident. “I have no problem inspiring, motivating, or whenever necessary, guilting people into stepping up to do more, so if this just gets one other business leader to say, ‘Maybe we can do something like that,’ I think we would have made a pretty nice impact.” AMN’s sixth annual mission trip is scheduled for next month. amnhealthcare.com/guatemala   Deanna Murphy

Susan Salka

Susan Salka in Guatemala, 2017

Mauricio: Photo by Charlie Neuman