From Cancer Survivor to Physician Assistant Finds his life’s calling

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“I felt like God was trying to redirect me to do something else, to be of more help to others, and at that moment I decided to go back to school,” Edgar Garcia said.
“I felt like God was trying to redirect me to do something else, to be of more help to others, and at that moment I decided to go back to school,” Edgar Garcia said.

Mega Doctor News

Edgar Garcia found a silver lining during his battle against cancer – no chemotherapy would be needed. That good news, combined with the care provided by physician assistants, inspired the 28-year-old to make the switch from dental school to the Physician Assistant Studies Program at The University of Texas-Pan American.

“It was a completely life-changing experience, there was a lot of turmoil going on in my life and I had a lot of uncertainty,” Garcia recalled when diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2010. “Luckily enough, I was very blessed with great providers. They really made a difference in my life and I realized then that’s where I needed to be.”

The Brownsville native was treated at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston where he underwent surgery Jan. 5, 2011. A week after his recovery, Garcia, who received his bachelor’s in biology from The University of Texas at Brownsville in 2009, decided it was time to start a new path. After returning to UTB to complete a prerequisite course, Garcia was able to enroll in UTPA’s Physician Assistant (PA) program fall 2012.

“I felt like God was trying to redirect me to do something else, to be of more help to others, and at that moment I decided to go back to school,” he said.

Last year Garcia, who graduated from UTPA in December 2014, participated in a clinical rotation the same place that saw his speedy recovery. At MD Anderson, Garcia gained hands-on experience as a PA and was able to walk away with a job offer.

Garcia said UTPA’s PA program prepared him for the elective rotation at MD Anderson. In 2012, the U.S. News and World Report ranked UTPA’s physician assistant program 38th out of 164 accredited programs.

“Initially it was a bit intimidating being around the best in the world and being at such a huge center,” Garcia said. “After 30 minutes I knew I belonged and that I was well prepared because of Mr. Frank Ambriz (PA program director) and the leadership he has provided for the program. Any PA that comes from UTPA comes out prepared to work anywhere in the country.”

Garcia was named recipient of the 2015 Erin Scott Courageous Spirit Award by MD Anderson, which is an award presented to a colon cancer survivor who demonstrates courage and a positive spirit in spite of their illness. The award will be presented to Garcia March 28 at the annual Sprint for Colorectal Oncology Prevention and Education (SCOPE) 5K Fun Run/Walk.

“Going through cancer is definitely not easy and it can definitely affect the mindset of one person,” Garcia said. “This award is probably the most meaningful and most important for me just because it shows the effort that I’ve put trying to overcome a terrible situation and trying to turn it into something good.”

Garcia ended 2014 on a positive note, being one of the select few to be inducted into the Pi Alpha Honor Society, the national honor society for physician assistant students and graduates. As of now Garcia is preparing for the board exam to become licensed and plans to return to MD Anderson, this time as a PA. He said the best aspect of becoming a PA is treating patients and making a difference in their lives.

“I think that being in the medical field, we are assigned a duty to help others,” Garcia said. “I definitely believe every person has the ability to become whatever they want — they just have to find that passion that fuels their motivation.” MDN