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From Patient to Advocate

Failure is what led Juan Carlos “JC” Montañez back to school. Not a typical type of failure like in a career or academia, but rather, kidney failure.

JC was working on a multi-million dollar architecture project in Latin America when he had to start his life over. After beginning dialysis treatment back in the U.S., JC was placed on a kidney transplant list. It was at this time he decided to go back to school to study nursing and healthcare systems. “I needed to find a way to occupy my mind or I would lose it,” he explained.

While on the transplant list, JC earned his associate’s degree in nursing at the Community College of Denver. Still waiting for a kidney, he continued on at Metropolitan State University for his bachelor’s in healthcare management. Waiting still, JC decided to apply to the MS in Healthcare Leadership through the University of Denver’s University College. The summer before starting his master’s degree and six years into dialysis, JC underwent his kidney transplant.

“I started DU’s grad program while in recovery knowing I would go back into the workforce retooled and well prepared to focus on my new calling helping people with healthcare challenges.”

While in the Healthcare Leadership program, JC expanded his healthcare knowledge and developed a robust professional network. Recipient of several recognitions and scholarships—including the ACHE Congress on Healthcare Leadership Scholarship and the ACHE Albert W. Dent Graduate Student Scholarship—JC recommends all students get involved with professional organizations to help them cultivate their soft skills.

“As a non-traditional student who has already been in the workforce and having been a hiring manager, I know your education is very important,” he said. “But it’s the professional organizations and networking opportunities that are invaluable in rounding out our academic accomplishments.”

JC found his niche in healthcare policy and legal issues, learning from attorneys and healthcare professionals in his University College courses. In addition to his coursework, JC has been working pro bono as a legislative healthcare policy advisor embedded in the Colorado State Capitol.

“Going to hang with our representatives is like going to a live lab,” he said. “I’ve earned the trust of high-profile healthcare champions, and having navigated kidney failure, I know what is good and what is not so good in healthcare, so I am able to offer first-hand insights.”

That first-hand knowledge is what inspired JC to change careers and pursue a role as a patient advocate. He’s already working as a change consultant, putting what he learned in the classroom into action in the workplace. Now that JC has graduated, he is pursuing opportunities to lead a hospital system in the U.S. or Latin America and waiting for an offer.

And based on JC’s experience, it’s amazing what can be accomplished when you’re waiting.

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