It was the second year of medical school, and after months of isolation from COVID-19 restrictions, Victoria Garza was finishing up her last preclinical course and beginning to prepare for the first of her board exams when she was struck with debilitating panic attacks.
“The panic attacks began suddenly, would last all day and continued for several months. It was all very new to me. I’d never experienced anything like it before,” she said.
With the support of a medical team, her parents, mentors and friends, Garza gained control of her health. As debilitating and frightening as the panic attacks were, she said she never contemplated giving up her studies.
“My dad was so concerned about my health, he suggested to me at one point that I take a step back from medical school until I got better, and I told him, ‘Absolutely not, we are going to make it through.’ Thankfully we did,” she said.
This month Garza will join her peers as she graduates from the Joe R. and Theresa Lozano Long School of Medicine. After graduation, she will specialize in pediatrics as a UT Health San Antonio pediatrics resident.
While she is optimistic about the future and passionate about her chosen career, Garza’s journey to medical school was a winding road to finding her true vocation.
Growing up in Ricardo, Texas, Garza excelled in sports and agriculture. Because she served as the president of her high school’s Future Farmers of America and 4-H clubs, her family and friends believed agriculture was in her future.
“My mom studied agriculture in college, so everyone thought I was going to do it, too,” she said.
Her mother, a high school science teacher, encouraged Garza to pursue a career in science, but Garza had another love — math.
“I wanted to be an accountant or an actuary. I thought about becoming an engineer, too,” she said. “But then I learned that in many of those jobs, you don’t have a lot of interaction with people, and I realized that being around people was necessary for me.”
With the support of her parents, Garza chose to pursue a degree in allied health at Texas A&M University. She said the degree plan exposed her to various options within the health care field.
While working toward her undergraduate degree, she decided on a postgraduate degree and career as a physician assistant after learning about it from a friend. She began shadowing several physician assistants from South Texas to learn more about the profession, and although they were proud of their work, they told her they would have chosen to be a doctor instead if they had the opportunity to go back in time. She heeded their advice.
“It was really nice of them to be honest and offer me that advice,” she said. It’s great for folks to reflect on their career and think, ‘You could have taken a different path.'”
After graduating from Texas A&M, she took advantage of a two-year opportunity to consider her options while working as an allergy care technician. Later, Garza said she was nervous about entering medical school after being out of college for two years, but she moved forward, enrolling in the Long School of Medicine. Initially, she considered a career in orthopedics. She said it seemed like an exciting career choice as a former athlete, but realized it was not the career for her and ultimately chose pediatrics.
“Pediatrics gives me the most fulfillment, and I feel I’m making the biggest impact with my daily decisions. In pediatrics, you work with the whole body, so you are not limited to certain organ systems,” Garza said. “I met a faculty member who said pediatricians were the closest human doctors to veterinarians given the limitations of the patients to communicate efficiently and the changing pathology as children age.”
After her residency, Garza hopes to return to South Texas to serve her community.
“I grew up in a small, medically unserved community. I’ve seen how high-quality decision-making can impact a single patient, let alone multiple patients. I want to make that positive impact so future children from these communities can be healthy, happy and know they can do anything they set their minds to,” she said. “The health inequity in these medically underserved communities due to a lack of accessibility is so vast, it’s astonishing. I want to be a solution to the problem. I know my efforts alone won’t solve all the problems, but I can be one additional person filling that bucket, little by little, with the hope of it one day being full.”
She said giving back to her community is something she learned from her parents and grandparents.
“My grandmother was a local store owner in the small town of Benavides, Texas, and she was friends with everyone, always offering a helping hand.” she said. “It was instilled in me that your community is your family. There is nothing better than knowing you’re making your surroundings better, not only for the present but for future generations.”