This story was originally published in Columbia Nursing‘s monthly e-newsletter.
Clinical Nursing Instructor Yudelka Garcia, FNP, showed interest in medicine at an early age while taking high school biology and anatomy classes’ in Washington Heights. While attending Cornell University’s pre-medicine track, however, she ended up switching majors to psychology after she felt the coursework focused more on treatment over patient care.
After six years working in research as a research assistant and coordinator, Garcia’s younger brother was tragically diagnosed with liver cancer at the age of 16. Late nights sleeping at his bedside at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York (CHONY) reminded Garcia of her passion for patient care. Garcia says it was the empathy and knowledge of her brother’s night nurses in the pediatric unit, most of whom were in their second careers, which inspired her to take a leap of faith and go back to school and enroll in Columbia Nursing’s Entry-to-Practice Program, which she completed in 2013.
From the sister of a patient, resident of the neighborhood, and alumni of Columbia Nursing, Garcia says she always felt a pull both toward health care and to the neighborhood of Washington Heights. So when a Clinical Instructor and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) position opened up at Columbia Nursing’s faculty practice, ColumbiaDoctors Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Group(link is external) (NPG) last fall, she jumped at the chance to “come home.” She says being from the neighborhood and speaking fluent Spanish, helps her to truly connect with her patients and her community.
What about your experience caring for your brother made you change careers to become a nurse practitioner?
My brother’s cancer diagnosis was a really tough time for my family. During that time it was so critical that one of us stay with him at all times. I started interacting a little more closely with the pediatric nurses at CHONY, and they were so wonderful. They were so helpful, knowledgeable, and caring. I think that’s the part that really attracted me to the profession.
I saw what was happening at the hospital, and I understood it. It wasn’t intimidating, and I was guiding my mother through the whole process. She would see all the tubes attached to my brother and get worried, and I was able to calm her down and explain what each tube was for and what it did. That’s when the idea of going back to medicine started. It’s been quite the journey, but I am very happy with it.
As an alum, what was it like to come back and take a faculty position?
I actually worked for Columbia at the New York State Psychiatric Institute before deciding to become a nurse, so I was already familiar with health system at the Medical Center. It was interesting because as a student, Columbia Nursing was a challenging program. It was very intensive, and we learned everything about nursing in a short amount of time.
It was overwhelming, but even then, it was such a good experience. My favorite part was always the clinicals, and when this opportunity came up, it was an interesting transition in the sense that it felt like I was coming back. So much of my time, and who I am today, is attributed to my experiences here at Columbia. It felt like a homecoming.
What is it like for you to bring accessible primary care directly to your neighborhood?
My entire family, about 80 percent of them, live within a 10-15 block radius of Columbia University Medical Center. This is part of the reason why I was so attracted to the opportunity at Columbia Nursing. I don’t see my family members as a practitioner, but I view every new patient as if he/she is my family member.
As for everyone in this neighborhood–I feel like I know their struggles. I know how difficult it is to find somebody who is a provider that they can relate to; someone who speaks their language, who they feel comfortable with. To have the opportunity to be that person for them, is extraordinary. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be in this position.
You are able to offer bilingual care. Why is that so important?
Anyone can hire an interpreter service, but there is a component of language that is not always translatable through an interpreter. A lot of the nuances or the tone get lost in the translation.
The highlight of my day is when I see a new patient who is from the neighborhood, who is a monolingual Spanish speaker, who has been looking for a primary care provider but hasn’t been able to find one. They come to me, and at the end they say how happy they are to have found this practice, and how friendly everybody is to them. That’s definitely important.
What does it mean to be a clinical faculty member?
We precept, which means a Columbia Nursing NP student comes to the practice and shadows me as I interact and diagnose patients. A lot of the hours for the FNP program are spent at the NPG practice, and we precept in terms of clinical skills. The student shadows me to see what visits are like and they see what it’s like to be in an outpatient clinical setting. They are able to grow and assess the patient, take the patient’s history, and participate in the treatment plan, which enhances their clinical skills. By the time they finish and almost graduate, they are as well prepared as they can be to take on the role of independent nurse practitioner.
Anything else you’d like to add:
The Nurse Practitioner Group(link is external) practice is the most driven and caring team that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Starting from the front desk staff, medical assistant, nurse, to all of the providers, we all have the same goal. We want our patients to feel welcome, comfortable, and that we did our utmost to take of them.