‘There’s a Place for Everyone’

Jul. 17, 2019
Daunting job market, stint at NIH leads to rewarding career as a genetics nurse

The year was 2010, and the job market was the worst in decades.


“I applied to an embarrassingly high number of places,” said Andrea (Silvis) Hartgraves ’10N, who graduated from the Accelerated Bachelor’s Program for Non-Nurses(ABPNN) at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, but faced long odds in her job search. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 2010 was the worst year to graduate since at least 1983—and possibly the worst since the end of World War II.

Finally, two offers came through. One option was a one-year research fellowship, meaning that Hartgraves knew she’d be facing another potentially grueling job search in a few short months. But this opportunity was at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of its post-baccalaureate intramural research training awards program. Hartgraves’s mentor and former ABPNN co-director Elaine Andolina, was quick to offer encouragement.

“Elaine said, ‘Go for the NIH,’” Hartgraves recalled. “‘If the NIH asks you to be a janitor, you take the job.’”

With that advice, Hartgraves headed to Washington, D.C., to begin her nursing career. As a research nurse at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Hartgraves conducted both clinical and laboratory research of treatments for pediatric metabolic genetic disorders.

After two years working as a research nurse—first at the NIH, and then at the Kennedy Krieger Institute—Hartgraves wanted to gain experience on the clinical side of nursing in a hospital setting. She took a job on a cardiothoracic surgical unit but knew she wanted to get back to pediatrics. Hartgraves also craved a new home that would allow her to spend more time outdoors. 

“I knew I wanted to be closer to the mountains and water,” said Hartgraves, who then applied to positions based on proximity to those geographic features.

Now a genetics nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Hartgraves synthesizes her passion for working with children with her research background in an ever-evolving field of health sciences.

“I love genetics because there’s so much to learn,” Hartgraves said. “There’s new technology, and we work with lots of different families of diverse backgrounds.”

Hartgraves hadn’t always planned on becoming a nurse. As an undergraduate student at Penn State, the Pittsburgh native envisioned a career in early childhood education. She majored in biobehavioral health and worked in a group home for children with special needs, but soon realized that she wanted something different.

“I wanted to do something where there was something new every day and every year,” said Hartgraves. “I chose the University of Rochester School of Nursing because it was a great program, and I loved the town.”

In her current role, Hartgraves works within a diagnostics clinic evaluating patients to see if genetic testing is appropriate and performing diagnostic tests.

“We help these families find answers that they’ve been searching for, possibly for years,” Hartgraves said.

In addition to her clinical responsibilities, Hartgraves actively pursues research. She serves as co-chair on the professional practice committee of the International Society of Nursing Genetics. She’s also currently in the data analysis stage of a nurse-led study examining how satisfaction scores respond to an educational video developed to help families understand what to expect from the evaluation process.

“There’s sometimes a nine- or 12-month wait for patients to come in for testing,” said Hartgraves. “We identified a need for them to receive information while waiting and developed the video. Essentially, we’re finding that, if we get families to watch the video, their satisfaction scores increase.”

Of her unexpected career path, Hartgraves said, “I feel like I’ve been very lucky, and I’ve had great support along the way. Nursing is a great place to be if you’re interested and motivated. There’s a place for everyone.”