Mont. When Montana State University nursing student Martha
Garcia describes how Native American nurses are in demand on reservations,
she tells this story: Last summer, when Garcia was volunteering
at an emergency room on the Crow Reservation in southeastern Montana,
she witnessed something that made her realize she was needed. A
Native American woman was brought into the emergency room, disoriented
and distressed, and medical staff members were unable to calm her
down. The patient saw Garcia, another Native American, and things
began to change.
made eye contact, and she reached over, took my hand, and asked
me if I was Crow," Garcia said. "I said, 'no, I'm Pueblo.' The woman
immediately calmed down. I think she felt like she would be safe
with me. We are the same people.
think it comforts Native American patients to see that Natives will
be caring for them," Garcia said, adding that she knows there are
also many dedicated non-Native professionals on reservations.
one of the reasons Garcia, 45, is planning to work as a nurse in
Montana for the Indian Health Service following her graduation from
MSU. And as she looks forward and reflects on the path she has taken
to get to this point, she says she wouldn't have made it without
her children, her faith, and the many different people at MSU who
have helped her and exhibited kindness along the way.
has always known she wanted to be a nurse, but she has taken a circuitous
route to get there.
as a little girl, I was always trying to help people. Becoming a
nurse is something that has always been in my heart."
grew up in Las Cruces, N.M., where her mother worked as a nurse's
aide and later made hosiery at a company that is now known as Hanes.
Garcia's sister has worked in the medical field, too. In addition
to a number of other jobs after high school, Garcia herself spent
about 10 years working as a medical assistant in rheumatology, internal
medicine, family practice and pediatric offices, and at that point
she was considering attending school to become a nurse. But the
program she was looking into in Albuquerque was so popular that
it would be two years before her application would even be considered.
of the long wait, Garcia thought about studying environmental science
instead, and so she enrolled in a program that took her to Costa
Rica. While there, she became friends with Dan Buresh, a professor
at Sitting Bull College [www.sittingbull.edu] in North Dakota, who
had heard about MSU's Caring For Our Own [http://www.montana.edu/nanurse/]
(CO-OP) program, which works to recruit and graduate Native American
believe that meeting Dan and learning about the CO-OP program was
why I went to Costa Rica. It's incredible how Creator works," Garcia
didn't hesitate to take a leap. Garcia, who had just turned 40 and
had recently gone through a divorce, moved to Bozeman with her three
kids who were then 13, 9 and 7 in the summer of 2005
and started courses at MSU that fall.
needed a change, and this just seemed right."
might seem that the odds would be against a non-traditional aged,
single mother who came more than 1,000 miles from home to earn a
bachelor's degree in a competitive field. Yet Garcia, who is quiet,
bright and articulate, has distinguished herself as a motivated
and hard-working person.
fact, her quiet motivation is precisely what makes Garcia remarkable,
said Jim Burns, American Indian student adviser in the Department
of Native American Studies.
is representative of a lot of students out there single parents
particularly that I would call unsung heroes," Burns said.
"She exemplifies a lot of qualities that go unnoticed: People silently
doing their work every day, completing their tasks, doing things
behind the scenes."
said Garcia has played a "crucial" role in helping to organize the
American Indian Council pow wow and has been "someone you can count
on to call upon for any sort of assistance."
across the country with her children to a place where she knew no
one required facing a number of challenges and overcoming numerous
obstacles, Burns added.
just admire her tenacity and her character. She made a conscious
decision to improve her life by pursuing a degree in nursing and
is trying to be a role model for her family by pursuing a college
a lot of students don't make it, and Martha did.
She never lost sight of who she was as an individual and what she
wanted to give back to her community. She's very concerned about
health care issues in Indian country. I'm sure she'll be a phenomenal
health care professional."
points to several factors that have motivated her to become a nurse:
The need for Native nurses, her faith, her children and an incredible
support network at MSU.
see the need for Native nurses," Garcia said. "It's hard when you
walk onto a reservation and all of the health care professionals
are white. It's difficult for patients, particularly the elders."
Doyle, an academic adviser in the CO-OP program, agrees the need
is great, particularly because of a high turnover rate with doctors
who work on reservations. Many stay for about three years, she said,
often as a condition of loans they received while in school.
helped interview some elders about this," Doyle said. "What she
found is that elders were appreciative of the IHS services, but
they wanted (health care workers) who would understand them, stay
longer and be consistent.
a cultural understanding piece there, and Martha is very tuned into
is also convinced that she is meant to be at MSU.
believe Creator works for us in such amazing ways. I remember praying
to Creator that everything would work out as it was supposed to.
I'm still in awe of how it has."
during the times when working toward her goal has been particularly
challenging, Garcia credits the support networks at MSU and her
children as having been crucial to her decision to stick with it.
particular, the CO-OP program was a continual source of help.
staff members helped Garcia secure housing. They connected her with
a mentor, with whom Garcia would talk and go hiking. They helped
Garcia arrange her class schedule and found tutors when she needed
it wasn't for the CO-OP program, I wouldn't have lasted here," Garcia
said. "They served as family. They made me feel like I wasn't alone.
I moved here and I didn't know anyone, but they showed us so much
support. It was amazing to me that they took us in just like family."
American Indian Council was also a valuable resource for Garcia.
AIC has been like a safe haven here," she said. "You can go there
(to the American Indian Student Center) and be comfortable. You
feel like you belong.
know that if I didn't have those two programs, I would have packed
up and gone home."
said she almost did anyway. One challenge that seemed particularly
insurmountable was a required anatomy and physiology course.
didn't pass it the first time, and I just fell apart," Garcia recalled.
"I thought I couldn't do it."
CO-OP staff members encouraged Garcia to take it again. They said
there were tutors who could help Garcia. And her daughter encouraged
her to try again, too, which was a pivotal moment.
daughter said, 'so things get hard and you want to pack up and go
home?' And I thought, 'Ouch! Who's the parent here?' She was right,
and I didn't want her to look at me as a person who would give up."
Garcia took anatomy and physiology for a second time that summer
and was successful.
couldn't believe it, but I did it."
Doyle says Garcia's persistence and strong work ethic have served
describes Garcia as a good student who is patient and self-deprecating.
She said Garcia has also been tutoring CO-OP students in the lower
division nursing courses as a volunteer even though Doyle
is certain Garcia could be paid for her efforts.
is also "incredibly dedicated," Doyle said. "She's had challenges
here, but she has stayed here anyway. That really means something."
graduated from MSU with a bachelor's degree May 8, several weeks
ahead of her oldest daughter's graduation from high school.
an accomplishment that has helped her to realize that if a person
is willing to work hard, the resources are there to help that person
long as you have the desire, the support is there."