Featured Voice: Aaron Garcia, Future Nurse and Current Champion for Cancer Research

May 8, 2020

Aaron Garcia is a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Nursing. He is currently working as a nurse technician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, assisting healthcare workers on the COVID-19 front lines. In 2019, Aaron participated in Velocity, Columbia’s Ride to End Cancer, doing his part to advance cancer research at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. Aaron is set to graduate from nursing school this summer and plans to start the School of Nursing’s doctor of nursing practice program in the fall.

What has it been like to switch from being a grad student to working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response?

A: Just a few months ago, I was in a physical classroom, practicing clinical simulations and going through clinical rotations with fellow students and instructors. I did not anticipate that I would be working during a global pandemic before I graduated. No doubt, the transition required adaptability and mental resilience, and some things you cannot learn in a classroom. But I chose to work in healthcare for a reason. As a graduate student at Columbia, I have been preparing to use knowledge and clinical skills acquired to the best of my ability. While this has been a challenge for us all, it has also been motivating. If I can help, I am going to.

You rode 25 miles in the Velocity ride last fall. What pushed you to get involved?

A: I first found out about Velocity through banners posted at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in the fall semester of 2019. From what I researched about Velocity, it appeared to be a great way to get involved while working toward the common goal of providing funding for research, patient services, and infrastructure to improve outcomes for cancer patients. On a personal level, I decided to participate in Velocity's Ride to End Cancer in memory of my father who had passed away from metastatic melanoma in 2015. He was an advocate for education and remaining active, and I think he'd be proud of my involvement at Columbia and Velocity. 

What was your favorite part about Velocity last year?

A: Velocity's Ride to End Cancer was an awesome experience. While the food trucks at the finish line were a heavenly and delicious welcome back into New York City, my favorite part of the ride was the feeling of conquering the “Palisades Push.” Climbing that monstrous, steep hill on a single-speed bicycle, after riding for miles and miles, was no joke! It was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. And to push me through it, I thought of my father, and the patients and families I was riding for. If these individuals can battle cancer, I thought, I can ride my bike up a hill.

What motivated you to study nursing and what are some of your career goals?

A: My decision to pursue a career in nursing stemmed from an interest in neuroscience and clinical psychology. As I took on various roles within research and clinical care, I developed an understanding of the personal, social, cultural, and economic hurdles patients face, especially in seeking psychiatric care. In the long-term, my goal is to become a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner and work with individuals dealing with substance use and comorbid psychiatric disorders. I want to be able to provide treatment that addresses immediate and physical concerns, while supporting long-term wellness through an integrative approach.

What inspires you as you work with COVID-19 patients during this time?

A: During these uncertain times, I'm reminded of the adage, "To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always." I believe that a fundamental element of being an effective healthcare provider is to recognize that need for human connection. We may not have a cure for every ailment, or an exact treatment for every disease, but we can always provide empathy and be there for one another as fellow humans.

HICCC Featured Voices gives our patients, members, and supporters an opportunity to share their personal stories—living with cancer, surviving cancer, researching cancer, and aiming to end cancer. If you have a story to share and want to be included as a featured voice, please email the HICCC Communications team at cucancercomms@cumc.columbia.edu.