By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – When it rains, it pours. And for Fil-Am community leader Laura Garcia, spring 2017 meant an avalanche of citations for her hard work as a nurse and teacher. She currently works as nurse clinician at the NYU Langone Medical Center and as educator at NYU College of Nursing and Phillips School of Nursing at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel.
In the month of May, Laura completed her highest education degree in the Nursing Practice, received the Ulirang Guro (Exemplary Teacher) Award by the Association of Fil-Am Teachers of America, and was conferred as an outstanding high school alumna in her good old birthplace Butuan City.
The Outstanding Father Saturnino Urios University Alumni Award (TOFAA) was given on May 13, 2017 during the school’s 40th anniversary, which happened to be another shining moment for Laura as a nurse with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
TOFAA is the high school’s prestigious award conferred to alumni who are recognized for their exemplary achievements and success in their chosen field that has brought honor to their school.
“I was sad that I couldn’t join my high school classmates for our reunion but I would like to thank my batch mates for accepting the award on my behalf.” Atty. Patrick Batad, Laura’s classmate and the one who nominated her, accepted the award for her.
Missing the high school reunion may not seem so bad after all, as Laura was still able to laugh and giggle at her college alma mater’s reunion in Hawaii. This was the Silliman University Tipon (Gathering) 2017, the alumni gathering held every two years.
Last May 17, she marched as a graduate for a doctorate degree in Nursing at the Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. The nurse clinician and educator couldn’t make her friends and family any prouder.
Laura is a wealth of experience and insights and thoughtfulness. Now after finishing her doctorate degree, she and her beloved Fernando Mendez is carefully planning some well-being projects for Filipinos at home and in the US.
In the midst of a bustling life, Laura enjoys the simpler moments of being with her four grandchildren from her two children Pablo John Garcia IV and Teresa and the quiet evenings with Nanding Mendez.
Excerpts of our interview:
- How has the university shaped you as a leader, person? Has there been an impact of your educational background with your adult life?
I went to a Catholic high school (Father Saturnino Urios University) and studied college at Silliman University, a leading Christian institution. Both schools did not only instill in me a strong Christian faith that gave me a solid foundation, it also afforded me with excellent academic and clinical preparation.
Both schools, including my grade school, prepared me to take on leadership roles. I started taking up leadership roles in grade school when I joined the Pupil Government. I was elected senate president, garnering more votes than the president. I believe that to be an effective leader, one has to be a good follower. As the maxim goes, “Learn to obey, that you will know how to command.”
- Have you always chosen to be a nurse? Who inspired you to take up the course?
Nursing wasn’t my first love. But, because one of my sisters is a nurse and one of my brothers is a nurse, my Mom and the rest of the family urged me to become a nurse.
- Prior to coming to the US, how was your practice of nursing in the Philippines?
I taught Midwifery students in the Philippines. I was happy teaching, but I had bigger dreams for my family so I came to the United States.
- Unfortunately, part of the Philippines’ brain drain includes nurses. Is there a way to be able to improve on the health care system in the Philippines in order for nurses to stay in the country and serve? What is your take on this?
As an educator, it is important to educate people on healthy living (eating nutritious foods, the need for daily exercise, etc.). As an obstetrics nurse, prenatal care is very important, proper nutrition for both moms and babies are important, and availability of vaccinations. The government, in collaboration with organizations, can help by educating and empowering women to understand their bodies, pregnancy, postpartum care and child care.
There are other matters that need to be addressed such as fighting poverty, improving sanitation and living conditions in the Philippines, and universal health care. Again, the government and organizations can create initiatives to address these issues. Improving nurses’ salaries will help motivate nurses to stay in the Philippines to serve.
- Although being a nurse in the US is rewarding and very stable, it comes with a price too. Bullying, for instance, happens in the work place, which is discriminatory. Have you had instances when you were bullied and how did you deal with it?
I think each one of us, at some point or another, has been bullied. There is no one best formula to deal with bullying, as there are many forms of bullying. I think detection is the key – whether you’re a victim of the bully or your friend or colleague is a victim of the bully – detection is important to base your plan of action. Not everybody will like you. No amount of “being nice” will make you win everyone’s hearts. Sometimes, people just don’t like the way you breathe. Most of the time, it’s not even your fault that you are bullied. There are just people who are bullies, period.
If I sense that I am being “attacked” (by a bully), I make it known to the person how I feel, and that I will not tolerate such disrespect. Case in point, when I first came to America, we had a manager who was a bully. She would micromanage us in the clinical area, closely watch our break time, and speak to us in a loud and aggressive voice in front of patients and doctors.
One day I pulled my boss aside and spoke to her letting her know how I felt and that I don’t appreciate being disrespected. I was ready to be fired that moment. But after our “chat,” we became best of friends. Not all things work together for good. There will be times when we need help or people need our help. I think the worst thing about bullying is ignoring that it exists, whether in the workplace or anywhere else; and that you or your colleagues are victims.
Bullying is not only my fight, or your fight, or your colleague’s fight. It is our fight. We should all work together to stop bullying.
- You have been cited for leadership in the profession and the community. Is there a dream project you wanted to do here in the US or the Philippines? Tell us about it.
Yes, I have many things in mind along the lines of education, health and wellness, helping fight poverty, and philanthropy. I just finished my doctorate, so now I can start planning for concrete things.
Nanding and I have been interested in trying to give people the upside of life. We both believe that all of us have the potential to bring together resources to promote humanity and bring aid to those in need.
- Sorry you missed your school reunions. But share with us your best memories at school.
Grade School (Butuan Central Elementary School). I was a consistent honor student from first grade through 6th grade. The only time I did not earn an honor was in 2nd grade when my teacher was my Mom. I guess she didn’t want people to think that she favors me by getting an honor because she was my teacher.
I joined the Student Government in 6th Grade and became the Senate president. I started taking dance classes since grade school and learned to dance the Hula, began to love ballet and have been asked to present in school events.
High School (Father Saturnino Urios University). The Dance Troupe was my little world when I was in High School. As a shy, timid, lacking in self-confidence teen-age girl, dancing was an escape; a make-believe that I was not shy or timid, but exuding confidence and grace. It was also a form of self-expression and a celebration of life: a life I always found beautiful through rose colored glasses. I wore thick glasses.
To this day, even through good times and bad, I still find life to be beautiful, although now I see it through no nonsense contact lenses. It was so easy for me to share that beauty through dance. Many years later, I still have passion for dancing, yet I think I’m stuck in time because I prefer ballroom dancing to any trendy moves.
I was the president of the Book Lover’s Club. I loved reading poetry, literature, Greek mythology and romance novels. I joined a poetry reading contest and won first prize.
College (Silliman University College). Due to the rigors of nursing school, my best memories were the fun times away from the classroom. SU Founder’s Day was always fun! There were concerts, games, dance presentations, debates and oratory contests. I was a cheerleader. Our class always made it to either first place or close second during Silliman University’s Founder’s Day Cheerleading contest. I also joined an oratory contest and won first place.
I continued to study ballet, but the rigors of nursing school took up so much of my time that I had to quit. Then I met my love. I married my first boyfriend. We had two beautiful children. It was a young marriage and most young marriages don’t always work. But my ex-husband and I have put the past behind, and we remain friends.