He's that recent high school graduate doing everyman's work. In Cruz's case, cleaning rooms.

Unfortunately, very few hospital C-suites have an Eddie Cruz: A minority.

Take a look around your executive offices. Chances are that data from the Institute for Diversity bear out — only 14 percent of hospital executives and 15 percent of first- and mid-level managers are minorities.

But that doesn't have to be the case and Cruz's story is illustrative. It's not a tale filled with drama and hardships. Rather, Cruz's story is one of drive and a passion for helping people. And, it's a story of encouragement from senior leaders who saw pure potential.

Born in Puerto Rico, Cruz and his family moved to the United States when he was a toddler. His mom worked in environmental services at a hospital in Milwaukee. When he graduated from high school, Cruz took a job at the same hospital, in the same department. A hard worker, he was often prodded by nurses and doctors to pursue a clinical career.

"They saw that I was good with patients," he says.

Nursing school wasn't in his plans. At 22, Cruz moved to Chicago and continued his career, eventually landing at Advocate Lutheran General. He started as a receptionist in a clinic and grew to practice leader, overseeing the nonclinical staff.

Although college still wasn't on his radar, a mentor pulled him aside and said, "A degree validates you." Cruz took the conversation to heart and enrolled at DePaul University, taking one class per night.

"I was on a 10-year plan," he says with a laugh.

He graduated in 2010 and immediately enrolled in an MBA program at National Louis University.

As he was attending classes and working, Advocate leaders asked Cruz to sit in on some meetings they were having with the head of Access Community Health Network, a system of nearly 40 federally qualified health centers, over ways to better coordinate care.

After the first meeting, the CEO pulled Cruz aside to solicit his thoughts on a potential collaboration. Cruz didn't hesitate, suggesting that it made sense financially and, more importantly, for patients. Once the partnership took hold, Cruz was tasked with helping to forge a strategy for co-locating a health center.

Cruz again earned praise and encouragement from leaders and ultimately moved over to Access as practice director. Within six months, 16 clinics reported to him. Then it was 37. Last October, 11 years later, he was promoted to vice president of operations.

Cruz, 41, doesn't shy away from the diversity aspect of his story. In March, the National Forum for Latino Healthcare Executives named him an emerging leader. He is also one of six scholars in ACHE's 2014 class of the Thomas C. Dolan Executive Diversity Program. "I believe in diversity," he says. "Especially now, it is important to understand our patient populations and make sure that we have their interests in mind."

It's that commitment to patients that shines through with Cruz. It's something he picked up earlier in his career while working as a nurse technician and being with patients before and after surgery.

"Especially at that point in time, everyone is equal," he says. "At the end of the day, this profession is all about how you touch someone."

— You can reach me at mweinstock@healthforum.com.