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Linda Leckman was just an Oklahoma teen working as a candy striper when she started asking the questions that would someday put her at the helm of the West's largest healthcare system.

Today, Leckman is a doctor, as well as vice president of Intermountain Healthcare and CEO of Intermountain Medical Group. But reaching those positions involved years of hard work and broken glass ceilings. Leckman will be honored for that work Tuesday with the Athena International Award at the Salt Lake Chamber's Women and Business Conference.

Leckman said Monday that the first time she wanted to be a doctor was during her time as a candy striper. Though she was assigned to assist nurses, she observed people with ailments and asked the doctors what was going on. The doctors indulged the teenage girl, and she was hooked.

"It just totally intrigued me," she recalled.

Leckman went on to earn an undergraduate degree in history at Texas Christian University and a medical degree from the University of New Mexico. She then came to the University of Utah to do a residency in general surgery.

As the first woman in the residency program, the experience was a challenging one for Leckman and included a number of "awkward" moments. She recalled one conversation in which someone asked a male surgeon a question. The man didn't know the answer, but Leckman did, so she spoke up. Afterward, the man offered her a warning.

"The surgeon said, 'You're never going to get a husband if you answer the question that the man cannot answer,' " she said. Leckman didn't have a response for the man, but she remained undeterred in her ambition.

According to Leckman, while most men weren't exactly antagonistic toward her ambition to become a surgeon, many did seem to convey a sense that women shouldn't be in medicine. She refused to let that stop her, and during her second year, the university let three more women into its residency program. Leckman finished the program in 1982.

Leckman set up her private practice in Salt Lake County, working out of an office in Sandy. In 1993, Intermountain Heathcare put together a group of doctors to explore the possibility of employing private physicians. Leckman jumped at the opportunity and by 1996 was leading the non-profit company's physician group. It was a risky move, Leckman said, because she had little experience with business leadership skills such as finance and human resources.

"I was not trained for the job, and I was a pretty good general surgeon," she said, adding that her new position shifted her role from that of decision-maker to someone who devised and implemented a vision.

Over the years, Leckman worked her way up the ranks, expanding Intermountain Healthcare's physician group from fewer than 100 doctors to more than 1,000. She expanded clinics across the state and developed mental-health initiatives. In the future, she will be rolling out a program that focuses on keeping Utahns healthy before they ever get sick.

Throughout all of this work, Leckman broke down barriers about perceptions of women. She also pointed out that companies with women in leadership roles are more successful and that woman bring new skills such as collaboration to traditionally male-dominated industries.

"I do think it is important to remember how much was sacrificed to get where we are," she added. "You cannot take it for granted. If you take it for granted, ground will be lost."

The Salt Lake Chamber Tuesday also will honor four women with the Pathfinder Award:

Jennifer Danielson, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah • Danielson became president of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah in 2012. She also serves as chairwoman of the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" campaign and the secretary-treasurer of the University of Utah Hospital Foundation. Other leadership roles include positions on the Chamber Board of Governors, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah's Board of Trustees and the Cambia Health Foundation.

Jennifer Godfrey, Salt Lake CAP Head Start • Godfrey is the Health & Family Partnership Manager of Utah's largest Head Start program, Salt Lake CAP Head Start. The program serves about 2,300 children and families. She also runs a private mental health therapy practice, is an active member of the American Counseling Association and has worked as a school guidance counselor and mental health coordinator.

Mary Kay Griffin, CBIZ MHM • Griffin is a veteran CPA and managing director of CBIZ, an accounting services firm. She also serves on the National Executive Board for CBIZ Women's Advantage. Among other things, Griffin holds positions on various boards including the School of Accounting at the University of Utah, the Women's Financial Group of Zions Bank and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Susan Mayo, Wells Fargo • Mayo current serves as a director on the Utah Bankers Association Board and the chairwoman of the Audit Committee for the Park City Community Foundation. She joined Wells Fargo in 2010 as a regional director. She previously worked as a managing director at JPMorgan.

For more information on the Women and Business Conference visit the Salt Lake Chamber website.

Twitter: @jimmycdii