Nurse practitioner recounts unexpected journey to fulfilling career at UC Davis Health
Kimberly Sommerhaug grew up with dreams of becoming an engineer. The science intrigued her, and her engineer father’s work at Area 51 mysteriously called to her. She held on to that dream, until a fateful night in 1987.
Sommerhaug, a sophomore at Sacramento State, was headed home after studying for her first-semester finals.
While driving along Auburn Folsom road she swerved to avoid an oncoming car. She rolled her Honda CRX down an embankment 4.5 times and landed in the Emergency Department of UC Davis Health.
“I remember they asked me what color my car was. I said blue,” Kimberly said. “They told me they had to scrape blue paint out of the bone in my left hand.”
She credits orthopaedic surgeon Robert M. Szabo for saving her hand. It took many years and multiple surgeries. She put school on hold and gave up her professional dreams. But every time she returned to the ortho-trauma floor of UC Davis Medical Center, a familiar face managed to get her through the darkest of days.
“Nurse Peggy O’Neal. After my accident, she realized I was depressed and sat at the end of my bed every night. Every time I came back, she was there willing to give up her time and take care of me more than just physically,” Sommerhaug said. “She changed my life. I decided I didn’t want to be an engineer and work in a cubicle. I wanted to be with people.”
At the age of 20, Sommerhaug pursued nursing with the same zeal she had her engineering dream. She earned an associate degree, then a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, following by a master’s degree in nursing. All of this despite her counselor’s warning that she could never be a nurse because of her injured left hand. With her only lingering disability – the inability to make a fist - she’s been a nurse since 1994.
“UC Davis was the only place I wanted to be. Once I ended up getting a job in the surgical ICU, that was it for me,” she said.
Sommerhaug continued her quest for knowledge and ultimately became a nurse practitioner (N.P.). Now, she serves as an advanced practice nurse manager at the UC Davis Health Heart and Vascular Center.
“So much of our lives are shaped by our experiences. Every patient contact we have makes a difference. That’s why UC Davis is so invested in relationship-based caring,” said Christi DeLemos, director of advanced practice at UC Davis Health. “Our advanced practice staff take pride in knowing that at UC Davis, our patients will be surrounded by a team that delivers on our promise of outstanding care.”
Sommerhaug, who has worked at other health systems throughout her career, contends that it’s just different here.
“For people here, it’s more than a job. We don’t just clock in and clock out,” Sommerhaug said. “Nurses aren’t a side note. We’re considered real professionals and can get involved in teaching, management, bedside and research; whatever your heart’s desire.”
Sommerhaug’s heart desires a doctoral degree so she can eventually teach. For that, she can look across the street to the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, where future doctorally prepared educators, along with future N.P.s, make an impact every day across the Sacramento region and beyond.
“Most providers never know the results of the lives they touch, but I am a testament that it happens,” she said. “I am forever thankful to and for UC Davis.”