Taking “No” for a Challenge: How two New Jersey RNs started a multi-million dollar healthcare staffing firm
Last time updated: 17 January, 2024
Last time updated: 17 January, 2024
Last updated on January 17th, 2024 at 05:10 pm
When Danielle Doyle and Diego Davis met, they were two hardworking RNs in the New Jersey healthcare system. After an “Aha” moment on a momentous birthday night out, a dream was born and they started Access Healthcare. Eight years and many ups and downs later, Access is a booming healthcare staffing firm doing $1.5 million a week across 40+ states, and recently placed 3rd in Staffing Industry Analysts’ list of Fastest Growing Companies. We sat down with the CEO and the CFO to hear more about how they have achieved their success.
The year is 2014, and Danielle Doyle was working as a staff nurse at the St. Francis Medical Center ICU in Trenton, New Jersey. During her shifts, she kept hearing about “travelers” coming into the building:
“I’m like – what’s a traveler? I barely even knew what that was. But what I remember most is everyone was asking me, have you met Diego yet? Even my friend from down the road at Capitol Health was like, you have to meet Diego. Well, I thought, I guess I have to meet this person!”
Doyle and Diego Davis met and instantly hit it off. After a few months, Davis’ travel contract was up and he was off to his next assignment. Doyle was intrigued by the travel nursing model and ended up quitting her job to start traveling full time in New Jersey.
About a year later, fate brought the two nurses together again while working contracts at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark. For Doyle’s birthday, the two friends celebrated at a bar and started talking:
“We’re sitting at the bar and got to talking about what we wanted to do with our lives, because we both had dreams of starting and owning a business. And we talked about what we were making currently. Turned out, with the same recruiter and the same agency, Diego was making $500 more a week than I was. And the thing was, I had been happy with what I was making! I had no clue I was getting dipped.”
Davis told her it was because she didn’t know her worth.
“And it was true,” she admitted. “And we realized there was an opportunity here – to create an agency where everyone was treated equally and there was no difference between what a nurse A and nurse B in the ICU are making just because they didn’t know how things worked.”
Doyle remembers walking outside after on the unseasonably warm March night, looking at the stars and thinking about what her life would look like in a year if they carry through with their dream of starting an agency or if she kept going as she was, working very hard while living paycheck-to-paycheck.
“We got our state business license for New Jersey very soon after that.”
The very first thing the two entrepreneurs did was schedule a dinner with the owner of the New Jersey Hospital Association. She was a fellow nurse who had started a registry in New Jersey, and they thought their story would resonate with her. Davis remembers walking into the meeting, business license in hand, and hoping for the best:
“We go to Spring Lake, NJ, with just one little piece of paper in hand, hoping she will be impressed with us. And she said, ‘My advice to you is go to Pennsylvania and get some experience first, because you’re not going to be working in my state.’ It definitely was an eye-opening experience where we realized there’s going to be a lot more to this than we originally thought!”
While this news was disheartening, it did not deter Doyle and Davis from pursuing their dream.
“The main quality that Danielle and I share is that when someone tells us no, we just try harder again next time,” Davis said. “When we first decided to go into business together, I remember getting a phone call during lunch that said, ‘If you can be in Trenton by 8pm we will pay you this extremely high rate.’ Mind you, I’d already worked a 12 hour shift that day. They said, ‘not only will we pay you well, we’ll be your first contract for your company.’ So I had some coffee, drove up and worked all night on a really critical patient. And I just remember thinking – absolutely nothing can stop us. Nothing is going to get between us and success. We will continue to grow.”
Three months later, they got their break in a health system in Pennsylvania. Davis recalls driving through the Smokey Mountains at 3am every morning through the snow to build a business in Pennsylvania. Within a year, it had doubled in size.
A few weeks after Davis’ memorable all-nighter in Trenton, the business partner that was supposed to be the ‘money man’ fell through and they found themselves in dire need of liquid cash to fund projects. Seeking options, they learned about Advance Partners and set up a dinner with their sales rep, Mary Jane.
“Even though we didn’t have a lot of experience then, I think Mary Jane and the team at AP saw our conviction, what we were made of,” Doyle said. “Advance took a gamble on us. And that started our journey.”
Growth hasn’t always been linear for Access. At the start, Doyle and Davis recall “failing forward” quite a bit.
“Failing forward is a nice term for losing a lot of money!” she said. “At the time we had no clue what we were doing, businesswise. We were experienced nurses but we didn’t know how to do the money and finance part. We kept coming up negative, and it came to the point where people are asking, ‘When are you just going to give up? It’s not working.’ But that’s just not in our vocabulary.”
Davis recalls sitting down with the team at Advance, in a “back to the wall” type of moment.
“We said give us a year,” he remembered. “I jumped into CFO mode, I’m on YouTube, I’m reading tons of books, throwing myself into the accounting part of the business. I’m working 80 hours doing payroll and crunching the numbers. And it paid off.”
Within a year, Access had turned it around completely and business was booming. All the health systems and vendor managers started coming to them.
And the New Jersey Hospital Association?
“It took us four years for that woman to let us into the program. Four years of consistency and persistence. Now we are 27 vendor managers strong across 40 states doing $1.5 million a week,” said Doyle.
They both express gratefulness to Advance for being a partner through it all.
“We couldn’t do what we do without their support. True to their name, they have been a true partner to us throughout it all and we have developed a beautiful relationship. It feels like family.”
Where do you see the travel nursing industry going?
“Travel nursing had a huge boom during and after the pandemic, but afterwards you have the health systems hurting, they’re trying to normalize the rates and now we’re seeing a constriction. Our industry is predicted to take a 25% downward curve in 2023, some companies have taken a 50% hit on their business. But illness is cyclical, and there is a huge nursing shortage that will continue to grow as the population booms. And Access Healthcare will be there!”
What does is take to succeed in down times?
“I think it’s important to be flexible and ready to pivot. Right now we’re focused on creating other streams of revenue. Foreign exchange nurses, permanent staff, starting our own VMS, etc. There will always be a need for healthcare professionals, especially with the shortages we have now.”
What’s most important when it comes to running a business?
“The most important things to me are by far, transparency and integrity. I always want to make sure that we’re keeping true to why we started our business, which was to help people. I never want to become a greedy corporation that put ourselves before our nurses and our clients. At the end of the day, it’s about helping people. We’ve paid people’s mortgages off. We’ve paid for their cars. It’s about the people, and if you make it all about the business, then you’re not going to win.”
“How I am able to live my life is the way I want others to be able to live theirs. Leadership trickles down in that way, I think. It’s incredibly important to us care for the overall well-being of the people that work for us. Spiritual, physical, and mental well-being – we invest a lot in that in our company. We have what we call Wellness Wednesday where we do yoga together, sometimes we go live for Q&As. Whatever we can do to make our employees lives better, we do.”
What advice do you have for healthcare firms just starting out or shifting into the healthcare space?
“Success doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not easy. Give more than you take. And above all else, you need to be willing to fail and take risks. We failed over and over, but we always learned. There’s been many times where we had our backs up against the wall, and we just had to close our eyes and jump anyway. We had to trust in God and the universe that it was going to work out.”
“It’s about doing something to achieve your dream every day. Consistency and momentum. Every day you have to try a little bit to achieve your dreams because if you don’t, what happens? Nothing. You’re going to go through tough times, and like Danielle said, you have to have faith in whatever brings you peace to realize, it will work out. The people that have momentum and put in that work effort are doing more than the people who are just wishing about it. The American dream still exists. We’re living examples of that.”
Thank you to Danielle Doyle and Diego Davis for sitting down and talking to us about your inspiring story! For more information on Access Healthcare, visit accesshealthcarestaffing.com.
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