This immigrant has built a billion dollar career marketplace for healthcare workers

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 21, 2024 4:10 PM EDT
Iman Abuzeid. Photo credit: Iman Abuzeid

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the COVID-19 pandemic put extreme stress on the healthcare workforce leading to shortages, increased worker burnout, exhaustion, and trauma. These pandemic-related challenges exacerbated pre-existing workforce shortages and maldistribution in a workforce where burnout, stress, and mental health problems are prevalent. Post-pandemic, the American healthcare system continues to face a critical shortage of nurses with more than one-third of hospitals having a nurse vacancy rate higher than 10 percent. Healthcare facilities have consequently turned to temporary workers, albeit a pricey alternative to keep up with patient demand. Sudanese immigrant Dr Iman Abuzeid has a billion-dollar solution for the nursing shortage plaguing American hospitals.

In a simple but highly efficient strategy, her company, Incredible Health uses a proprietary algorithm the best candidates to open positions listed by U.S. hospitals. It operates like a highly specialized LinkedIn with more than 60 percent of the nation’s top-ranked hospital systems such as Cedars-Sinai and Baylor Scott & White their open jobs on the platform. The company is currently valued at $1.65 billion, making Abuzeid one of the few Black women to establish a unicorn company.

Medicine and its practice aren’t new to Abuzeid and her family. Born in Saudi Arabia to Sudanese parents, her father is a doctor and her two older brothers are surgeons. She earned her undergraduate and medical degrees from University College London in a bid to continue the family’s legacy. However, Abuzeid realised she wasn’t cut out for patient care and forfeited residency. She wanted to have a broader impact,  to make an immense difference beyond the daily practice of medicine.

“During my time in medical school, I came to realize that while one-on-one patient care was great, I wanted to make a greater scalable impact on entire health systems. I went on to pursue opportunities that allowed me to do that. The ultimate version of making an impact was founding Incredible Health, where our vision is to help healthcare professionals live better lives,” Abuzeid said of her inspiration to transform healthcare through Incredible Health.

Like many people looking to change the world, Abuzeid came to the United States to apply her medical expertise in novel ways. She worked as an associate at Booz & Company where she designed collaborations between New York City hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. As a summer associate at McKinsey & Company, she developed an oncology drug launch plan in the US and European Union. She graduated with an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and became the director of product management at AliveCor, a mobile EKG solution company. Having secured both work experience and the relevant education, Abuzeid was ready to launch her own health startup.

Alongside a colleague from AliveCor, Rome Portlock, she founded  Lift League, a customer-retention software for small and medium-sized healthcare companies. The startup was accepted into an accelerator program but its growth strategies were unfruitful and it was scrapped. Abuzeid was undaunted and decided to develop a healthcare recruitment tool for her second venture. It was vetted by Portlock’s family members who worked in nursing before being pitched to potential hospital customers.

In 2017, Abuzeid co-founded Incredible Health to connect healthcare institutions with the nurses they need to fill open, permanent positions. Unlike the usual sites where workers apply for roles, the company has flipped the table and allows employers to apply for the talent. Using personalized algorithms, Incredible Health decreases the 90-day national nurse-hiring process average to 15 days. Incredible Health focuses on filling permanent jobs and ensures security of tenure by eliminating short-term travel nursing or contract gigs. Its hospital customers subscribe annually through tier pricing based on the number of nurses they plan to hire. The company saves each hospital approximately $2 million in temporary labor costs for every hospital and its schemes enable nurses to enjoy a 15 percent increase on average in salary.

The company launched in California and was soon offering its services in more than 150 hospitals in the state.  Within three months of its establishment, the company was in contract discussions with HCA Healthcare, one of the largest hospital systems in the country. Incredible Health was able to scale up its business through $15 million raised in a 2019 Series A funding round. It was serving health systems that makeup 50% of hospital beds in Texas and California, the states with the highest number of hospital beds in the country within two years. The company launched the Pandemic Hiring Suite which enabled customers to hire permanent, specialized nurses within 12 days. The number of nurses in its network increased by more than 800 percent and thousands secured permanent roles.

In 2022, Incredible Health secured $80 million in Series B round of funding bringing its current valuation to over $1.65 billion. Company CEO Iman Abuzeid consequently became the fourth Black woman to own a unicorn-status company. Today, Incredible Health is currently used by over 500 hospitals nationwide including Johns Hopkins, Cedars Sinai, Stanford, and Kaiser Permanente, among others. Abuzeid envisions the company as the market leader in healthcare labor ultimately serving doctors, physical therapists and pharmacists.

Not only is Abuzeid addressing the healthcare labor crisis, but she is also ensuring that health professionals effectively serve patients. Incredible Health is transforming health service by providing an easy way for health systems to find great talent, free continuing education, personalized advice access, career coaching and more. An immigrant, Black woman and successful entrepreneur, Abuzeid is the personification of the diversity of the American dream.

“It’s probably not a good idea to overlook female CEOs or Black CEOs. Because they’re driving an enormous amount of value in business,” she told Forbes.