A Fun Family Affair

The little things make a big difference

Family. The word comes up frequently in conversations with the staff at Pioneer Healthcare Services, a grand-prize winner in Staffing Industry Analysts’ Best Staffing Firms to Work For contest.

Family has always been a priority for founder and CEO Dan Rietti, who launched the San Diego-based company from his garage in January 2012. Targeting both the travel nurse sector and the travel therapy sector — which includes occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists and assistants — Pioneer counts a full-time staff of 10, plus a couple of part-timers, and makes placements nationwide.

“My vision was to make it more like a family with an emphasis on teamwork,” Rietti says. “We really wanted our employees to understand that we want their families to come first. I know for me, when I have the right balance in my life, coming to work becomes enjoyable. Not something you endure, but something you actually enjoy doing every day. And not just because you need to earn a living — and you can make a great living — but because of the people that surround you and how they want the best for each other.”

Rietti has worked in all aspects of healthcare staffing and for some of the largest companies in the sector including Maxim Healthcare Services, Supplemental Health Care and CareerStaff Unlimited. Prior to starting Pioneer, he took over a travel therapy company from its inception. But within two years, the firm decided to sell and Rietti took the opportunity to launch his own firm.

It was Pioneer’s start-up potential that first attracted Michelle Peiss, but she now values the family atmosphere, leadership and integrity of the company. Peiss joined the company about three years ago, after a 10-year hiatus from the staffing industry to operate her own pet care company.

“Dan sees us as family, with lives outside of Pioneer as well,” says Peiss, who previously worked for Manpower as well as other agencies. “He respects that.” For instance, Rietti might leave his desk in the early afternoon to attend a Brownie troop meeting; likewise, if an employee asks to leave early to attend an event, he never says no. “I do love the fact that I can say, ‘I have something to do, can I go do it?’” Peiss explains.


Like a well-functioning family, the Pioneer team supports each other in their quests to achieve goals. Director of Recruitment Courtney Norman has been in the industry since 2009 and previously worked for Rietti at another firm; she joined him at Pioneer in June 2012 as one of its first employees.

“What I really like about working here is that we really enforce a team environment, which is unlike any other company that I have ever worked for,” Norman says.

Calls never go to voicemail, and every recruiter is expected to help with each other’s candidates. “If somebody has a question about anything, the expectation here is that anybody who picks up the phone should be able to help that person,” Norman explains, “which for me is huge, because it makes external employees happy, it makes internal employees happy.”

That mutual support of external workers extends to internal staff as well.

“If you are feeling stressed, there is always somebody who has been in your shoes so you can take that minute to talk to them and know that you are not alone in this journey,” Norman says. “You can feel from down to up in the matter of a minute. We, as a team, really try and bring each other up. We don’t see ourselves as individuals in this office, which is kind of weird for a sales environment, but we really, really focus on seeing ourselves as a team.”

And Peiss says there’s no micro-managing at Pioneer. “When I envision what a day of work is like here, the word that comes to mind is ‘fun,’” she says. “We are all grown up. Everybody does their job.”

The recruiters all sit in what they call “the pit” and there are no cliques or “us against them” attitudes, according to Peiss. “There’s a lot of laughter in the pit, camaraderie, friendship. At some of the bigger companies you might feel that a little bit, but here, we work as a team.”

Daily Cheer

However, it’s not all hard work and no play at Pioneer. As a smaller firm with fewer staff, engagement with employees is easier, according to Rietti. Pioneer holds monthly potlucks, happy hours and impromptu fun get-togethers. Employees can bring their dogs to work, which helps lighten the mood and reduce stress.

“I feel that it is the little things that make a big difference,” Norman explains. “It’s not always the big, ‘we are going to do this huge event’ that is a one-time thing. … You can do your quarterly events — which we do and those are fun — but it is the day-to-day activities that make a huge difference in any company that you work for.”

Employees also laud the Pioneer Gives Back campaign, which works with local charitable organizations. They recently helped pick thousands of pounds of oranges for the San Diego Food Bank. Pioneer is also involved with Home of Guiding Hands, a 50-year-old nonprofit organization that provides services to more than 2,500 people with developmental disabilities such as autism, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities through programs in San Diego and California’s Imperial Counties. And the Pioneer Gives Back campaign is looking to team up with additional charitable organizations this year.

Full-Steam Ahead

The company boosted its travel nursing business last year after receiving the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission. It plans to add key people this year to grow the travel nursing division and maximize the contracts it gained last year, as well as expand its travel therapy division. Poised for growth, Rietti thinks it could grow into a $100 million a year company. Regardless, he wants the company to keep its current atmosphere, culture and “family vibe.”

It may be harder for the smaller company to compete with significantly larger companies for internal staff, but Pioneer proves it can be done with proper sourcing and a shared vison. Pioneer may no longer operate from a home’s garage, but it still feels like a family.