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Making a Career, Following a Calling at U of U Health

Jul 08, 2022

University of Utah Health is consistently ranked one of the best health systems in the nation, making it a prime destination for health care professionals. It is also a good environment for people to advance and grow their careers. The combination of education, opportunity, and a supportive work environment creates a setting for growth and advancement. 

As we enter a new academic year, I reflect on how I have been able to grow my career here. I started as a medical student and now am a hospitalist and palliative medicine physician at University Hospital. I wanted to take this chance to share my story, as well as the paths of two other clinicians who worked their way up in the U through a mix of hard work, resiliency, and teamwork.

Kencee Graves, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer for Inpatient Health

I grew up in Eagle, Idaho. I knew early on I really liked science and I really liked people. Medicine seemed a perfect fit. I felt like getting my Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification was one way to get experience. The high school had a CNA course taught as an elective. 

When I turned 18, I started at St. Luke's Hospital in Boise while attending college. I worked full time over summers, and during the school year, I worked weekends and evenings. I attended the College of Idaho in Caldwell, which was about 30 minutes away. 

I chose the University of Utah for medical school, and after graduation, matched with the U of U Health. When I was interviewing for residency, I interviewed at several health systems and loved them. But what I didn't find anywhere else was this group of people at the U that really enjoyed their jobs, were good at them, and were approachable. I needed a place where I felt I would get rigorous training, but also where I would be supported and able to ask questions. I felt like that was truer here than anywhere else I interviewed on the residency search trail. After residency, I knew I wanted to stay in Salt Lake City and loved working with the people I trained with. I was fortunate to be hired as a hospital medicine physician, so I was able to stay at the U.

Kencee Graves, MD, thanks US Navy medical team for their service, March 2022.

Hospital Medicine is a specialty that cares for adult patients with an acute medical problem, like pneumonia or kidney failure. In this specialty, I get to meet patients during some of their most vulnerable moments, and then I work with a broad variety of people in the hospital to help return those patients to health. 

It’s not an easy job, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was even tougher. But early on, the university started coming up with flexible solutions. That turned out to be huge because of how rapidly things changed. 

It's refreshing and motivating to know we have this tremendous workforce that's dedicated to doing the best we can for our patients. We also have a lot of emotional support for each other and a lot of really creative people who think outside the box. We also support each other and show gratitude for each other. That's made the hard times easier to bear.

I've always liked being in a position to help people and give back, and that's why I've never left the U.

Blanca Hernandez, BSN, Labor & Delivery/OBES Nurse Manager

Blanca Hernandez came to Utah from Mexico when she was 3 years old. Growing up in the state, she always had an interest in medicine, especially since she often found herself serving as an interpreter for her family when they sought medical care.

When Hernandez had her first child in 2005, she decided to pursue medicine as a career. That was thanks to one nurse who treated Hernandez, then a teen mom, with dignity and respect.

"She didn't see me as a child," Hernandez said. "She took time to educate me, to know that I understood I was important, and understood the decisions made by that medical team. That kind of attention made me want to be that person in health care who made that difference for patients and families."

She started as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and joined U of U Health’s Labor & Delivery team in 2006, working at the front desk and as a CNA. Since then, the hospital encouraged and paid for Hernandez to get her Medical Assistant (MA) certification, followed by her nursing degree.

Today, Hernandez is the Labor & Delivery/OBES Nurse Manager at University Hospital. Her 16-year career path from CNA to nurse manager has inspired her to be an example for others.

In addition to room for growth and development with the university investing heavily in its employees, Hernandez said the teamwork of her staff members keeps her motivated.

"We're a very cohesive unit and remain resilient by always jumping in to help each other," she said. 

Hernandez said she used to think being a nurse manager was her ultimate goal. But she's also keeping an eye on future opportunities at the U because of the good those would allow her to do.

"I think the higher you go, the more you have a voice for the staff and the patients," she said. 

Nicholas Snow, DNP, MS, Nurse Manager, Infectious Disease, International Travel Clinic, Immunology, Endocrinology

Nicholas Snow had an early exposure to medicine. Snow's uncle was a renowned pediatric urology surgeon. As a sports enthusiast, Snow joked he had plenty of exposure to the orthopedic doctor.