Physician Assistant Daniela Garza Answers Call to Serve

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Daniela Garza, a graduate of the UTRGV College of Health Professions’ Physician Assistant program, has been working with UT Health RGV and the School of Medicine at the university’s four drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, one each in Edinburg, Mercedes, Harlingen and Brownsville. (UTRGV Photo by Jenny Galindo) Photo: Daniela Garza at the UT Health RGV testing site in Edinburg. (Courtesy Photo)

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Daniela Garza is a powerhouse. At the age of 30, she is already a practicing physician assistant with UT Health RGV and has just completed her doctoral degree in medical science as well. She is also placing herself on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, swathed in personal protective gear to simultaneously block exposure to herself and prevent transmission to others.

Garza, a graduate of the UTRGV College of Health Professions’ Physician Assistant program, since March 2020 has been working with UT Health RGV and the School of Medicine at the university’s four drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, one each in Edinburg, Mercedes, Harlingen, and Brownsville. 

She and an army of UT Health RGV providers and staff have the daunting task of screening thousands of patients each day using COVID-19 nose swabbing tests. To date, UT Health RGV screening sites have taken about 15,000 swab tests.

A native of Elsa Texas, Garza is the first in her family to study medicine. “I’m a first-generation college student on my dad’s side, and second-generation on my mom’s side,” she said. “I grew up from humble beginnings and my parents are really hard workers. They worked their way up to become teachers. Because of them, I’m the first in my family to go into medicine. And now I have the highest degree in my family with a doctorate.”

While she worked on her medical career, she also was helping her family, including a sibling who is autistic. Her work ethic, along with the need to help others, has shaped the trajectory of her career, she said. It also helped prepare her, in many ways, for the battle against COVID-19.

“I found a perfect avenue through the university and the medical school to do what I love and to help others,” she said. “I was given the opportunity to work with UT Health RGV’s UniMóvil and have been able to work with the most vulnerable patients.”

Garza, who has asthma, said she has had to learn how to care for herself under an all new set of challenges. “I’ve had to learn how to care for my staff, too. I’ve asked myself, ‘How do we limit exposure to ourselves, to our family, to our partners?’ There were so many questions.” She is happy she can help her community by administering COVID-19 tests, but admits every day is a new battle.

“We have learned to adapt to so many issues,” Garza said. “The first issue was the PPE – the N95 mask is no joke. Many of us have had a lot of pain on our nose from the pressure to our face because of how restricting it is. But that issue came and went because we just got used to it.”

“Next, the Texas heat. A couple of us have been dehydrated more times than we’d like to admit. I had heat exhaustion on the line but kept working because there was such a severe need to test within our community.”

Mosquitoes and other bugs have been an issue, she said. And unexpected weather, like pouring rain. “I mean, we’re under a huge metal structure, along with our equipment. It’s been a learning experience, for sure, troubleshooting these issues on top of potentially being contaminated with the virus.”

Despite the many challenges, this is where Garza, and other UTRGV frontline workers, choose to be. They all try to stay positive, to help each other through it.