We are pleased to feature Dr. Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, MD, as part of our Leaders in Medical Education Series. Dr. Garcia is a physician-scientist internationally recognized for his genetics-based research on lung disease and for development of novel therapies for critically ill patients with acute inflammatory lung disease. While he has numerous roles, including being the senior vice president for health sciences at the University of Arizona, and the dean of the medical school, he has also nurtured and guided many students into MD and PhD programs at many institutions including UofA, UIC, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago. We are excited to feature his words of wisdom and bits and pieces of his story on our blog today.
How did you decide on a career in medicine?
As an 11 to 15 year old kid working alongside migrant farm workers in the strawberry and lettuce fields of coastal California, I developed a true sense of wanting to help the underserved. With a strong aptitude for science, I developed a focus on a career in medicine.
What compelled you to choose pulmonary and critical care medicine as your specialty and research focus?
In my residency in Internal Medicine, I was drawn to the physiology at your fingertips that exists in critically ill, intubated patients in the Medicine Intensive Care Unit. Caring for the critically ill requires a rapid processing knowledge of medicine and is rewarding in this very high-risk group of patients.
As a leading pulmonary scientist, what got you so passionate about research in the first place and why did you choose to stick with it?
ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) is an enigmatic disease with no treatment options. I was excited to begin an exploration of the fundamental mechanisms that underlay the profound vascular leak that characterizes the syndrome and is responsible for the physiologic dysfunction. As it turned out, my lab was able to push the field forward, which was rewarding and exciting and led us to evolve to genetics and genomic approaches to this disorder.
How do you foresee medical education changing in the next few years?
The curriculum will be evolving dramatically to include serious attention on big data, health informatics, population health, comparative effectiveness strategies and precision health approaches to patient care. The basic science aspects of the curriculum will be reduced from 2 years to maybe 3 semesters to allow students to access the clinical components of the training at a much earlier stage.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing physicians today?
For academic physicians, the reductions in funds flow from the clinical enterprise to the academic college of medicine is a concern, given the shrinking margin of health care organizations. For physicians in private practice, the trend will continue to be an exodus from the private sector to being employed by hospitals in order to reduce the risk of CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) cuts, etc.
Do you have any advice for budding physician-scientists currently enrolled in medical school?
Academic medicine is a fabulous career that allows you to balance the demands of your personal life/ family and the rigors of a professional life in medicine. Academia now consists of a long menu of different career paths, including that as a physician-scientist. For the nascent physician-scientist in medical school, I offer the advice to keep your mind open to new opportunities and do not be afraid of changing the direction of your science. Finally, choose your mentor carefully, based on their record of mentoring, their record of success in obtaining funding and your gut instinct about the mentors match with your personality.