When she was a child growing up in New Orleans, Whitney Evans-Snardon carried around a little bag that she pretended was filled with medical supplies and instruments.
"I was one of those little kids that had a doctor's tote," said the 34-year-old hospital executive. "I studied math and science in accelerated classes in high school (aiming to become a doctor)."
Ultimately, she decided against going to medical school and became a healthcare manager instead. This was after a brief stint as a bank teller, where she says she learned the value of customer service.
Today, Evans-Snardon is chief operating officer of Parkridge Medical Center, which is part of the vast HCA Healthcare system. She is responsible for operations at the 275-bed facility including about 500 employees. She is also the recipient of the Champions of Healthcare "Rising Star" award for 2023.
Tested by Hurricane Katrina when she was 16 years old, and more recently by the untimely death of her mother, Evans-Snardon says the challenges in her life have given her a strong sense of community.
She says she took the job in Chattanooga in large part because of the partnership between Parkridge and nearby Orchard Knob, where hospital employees help repair houses, attend community meetings and generally spread goodwill throughout the neighborhood.
At 16, Evans-Snardon was among the thousands who evacuated New Orleans in August 2005 just hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall and decimated the city. She and her family took refuge in Texas.
"Our home did not get destroyed, but it was the only one on both sides of the family that didn't," she says. "We saw my grandmother's house on CNN flooded to the roof."
Later, she attended Loyola University on a full scholarship, and after her stint at Chase Bank in New Orleans she attended graduate school at Tulane University. From Tulane, she took a position helping rebuild New Orleans East Hospital which had been flattened by Katrina.
"I was part of team to reopen that hospital that had been closed for nine years post-Katrina," she says.
The act of reopening the hospital in a healthcare-starved area of the city was just the kind of work, blended with community service, Evans-Snardon has sought throughout her career.
She accepted a fellowship with the hospital chain Mercy Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, and settled into a six-year stint in Paducah, Kentucky, where she met her eventual husband, Corbin Snardon. They have an adopted son and a baby girl on the way.
Evans-Snardon took the job at Parkridge in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic expecting to be here only a couple of years. But two promotions and her current pregnancy have her thinking of Chattanooga as a longer-term home base, she says.
She says one of the biggest challenges Parkridge faces is employee recruitment and retention in a low-unemployment environment. Fortunately, HCA offers good benefits, and Parkridge management is committed to creating a fun, family environment for employees.
For example, Evans-Snardon says the hospital is installing basketball hoops on the property and plans to sponsor a company 3-on-3 tournament in the future. A former high school basketball player, Evans-Stardon says she is eager to hit the court and launch some jump shots against her co-workers.
Also on the drawing board are a celebrity look-alike contest for charity, and a cornhole competition, she says.
Keeping it light is one of the ways Evans-Snardon hopes to recruit and retain good employees, who will in turn give great service to Parkridge patients and ensure the facility's success in the market.
In the meantime, she has begun to put down roots.
"Chattanooga has so much to offer and has helped me grow," she says. "It's a good place to start a family as well. I enjoy it here and hope I'm here for quite awhile."
What do you do for relaxation?
I enjoy cooking and listening to music and true crime podcasts.
What led you to become a medical professional?
I've always been intrigued by health care, but what solidified my decision is my younger sister. She had to go to the ER a few times before turning one. Each time, I was very cool, calm and collected. I always asked the paramedics and doctors a lot of questions. That sentiment carried over into my teen years when I helped my mom take care of my grandmother.
If you could choose another profession, what would it be, and why?
I would be a photographer. I am not good at photography at all, but think being able to capture moments in time is an incredibly meaningful art.