Abstract Purpose A crisis in the financial sustainability of the public healthcare sector often compels governments to consider privatization. The purpose of this paper is to summarize various strategies to overcome the challenges facing the privatization of academic medical centers (AMCs) in Saudi Arabia. Design/methodology/approach In this paper, the authors discuss the challenges faced in privatizing AMCs in delivering their core functions such as patient care, medical education and research. Further, the appropriate strategies are listed to overcome these challenges in privatization of AMCs. Findings The authors described the benefits of privatization that include a reduction in the financial burden on government healthcare expenditure, quick decision making and creation of new financial models to improve healthcare services. On the other hand, the profit motive of private management could create pressure on patients and may divert AMCs from their primary objectives. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to develop and implement appropriate strategies that balance the benefits of privatizing AMCs with eliminating the negative impact of privatization on patient care, medical education and research. Originality/value Though AMCs privatization is currently feasible in Saudi Arabia, appropriate strategies are essential to overcome the challenges of its implementation. The government should frame a uniform rules and regulations prior to privatizing public hospitals so that it will fulfill the purpose in an efficient manner.