Image source: AMN Healthcare.

The healthcare industry has boomed in recent years, and medical staffing specialist AMN Healthcare (AMN 1.17%) has boomed along with it. By fulfilling the needs that hospitals and other facilities have for skilled professionals, AMN Healthcare has been able to tap into the huge demand among growing players in the medical industry. Still, some have expressed fears about the sustainability of healthcare's expansion, especially in light of results from Community Health Systems (CYH 4.22%) that pointed to lower-than-expected volumes. Coming into its fourth-quarter financial report, AMN Healthcare investors expected solid growth, and the company delivered even better results than most were looking to see. Let's take a closer look at AMN Healthcare's latest results and whether it can keep growing in 2016.

AMN gets a clean bill of health
AMN Healthcare's fourth-quarter results were business as usual for the thriving company. Revenue was up 44% to a record high $404.6 million, coming in well above the $388 million consensus forecast among those following the stock. Net income more than doubled to $20.2 million, and that helped produce adjusted earnings of $0.47 per share, which was $0.07 higher than most investors had expected from AMN.

AMN's three key segments all kept firing on all cylinders. The largest division, nurse and allied healthcare staffing, enjoyed a better-than-50% jump in revenue, and its operating income soared more than 70%. Temporary locum-tenens operating profits also climbed 70% on a 30% rise in revenue, and the physician permanent placement services unit posted 23% better sales and a 46% jump in its segment bottom line. Gross margins for the nurse and allied healthcare staffing unit climbed 3 percentage points to 31.6%, although the physician permanent placement services division saw a tiny decline in gross margin.

CEO Susan Salka praised the ability of AMN Healthcare to post such strong growth. "We successfully integrated acquisitions made early in 2015 and further expanded our workforce solutions into executive, physician, and nurse leadership placement services," Salka said, and the CEO believes that "with our unparalleled range of offerings, we have further solidified our market-leading position as the innovator in healthcare workforce solutions."

Can AMN Healthcare keep climbing in 2016?
AMN Healthcare also believes that 2016 will be a strong year, especially with its having completed its acquisition of healthcare interim leadership and executive search company B.E. Smith in January. As Salka said, "Based on the solid long-term macro drivers of our industry, the current market environment, and our own strong trends as we begin 2016, we feel positive about our growth trajectory."

AMN's guidance was also unqualifiedly positive. The staffing specialist set guidance for first-quarter revenue in a range of $444 million and $450 million, which is substantially higher than the $394 million that most investors were expecting. Gross margins are expected to be about 33%, and adjusted EBITDA margins of 11.5% would be consistent with AMN's performance during the fourth quarter.

The key question for AMN is whether the demand in the hospital space will start to slacken. Community Health Systems released its most recent results earlier in February, and the hospital company referred to lower patient volumes than it had expected. In Community Health Systems' case, some of the pressure is coming from its efforts to integrate its acquisition of Health Management Associates, and much of its weakness stemmed from locations formerly belonging to HMA. AMN investors have to hope that what Community Health Systems suffered is either a one-time anomaly or something specific to the company that doesn't reflect industrywide conditions.

AMN Healthcare investors celebrated the news, jumping to a 12% gain in pre-market trading Friday following the announcement. With so many strong points in its favor, AMN Healthcare is starting 2016 on the right foot and could continue to grow sharply both this year and over the long haul.