A Calling Answered: Margarita’s Story

AltaMed Nurse looking at camera

Nursing is not just a job, it’s a calling. Those who answer the call are never forgotten by their patients. In a patient’s vulnerable moments, nurses demonstrate skill, empathy, and kindness. PACE Manager of Nursing Practice Margarita Garcia, RN, BSN, PHN, MSN, is an extraordinary example of a caregiver who lives her true vocation every day. 


“In Mexico, back in the day, many people in small towns practiced nursing without being nurses. I remember people would seek out my mother in the middle of the night to attend to someone who was sick. She would provide care that sometimes included injections and take care of sick people in my hometown. 

I was amazed by my mother. Around the age of nine, when her mother died, her father put her and her three sisters in an orphanage because he could not care for them. Her two oldest sisters were maybe 14 and 16 years old when they left the orphanage to work at Guadalajara’s Hospital Civil to clean the wards or the operating room. They were called enfermeritas, little nurses, and their payment was lodging and food. 

My oldest aunt pleaded with the director to allow her youngest sisters to stay and work with them. On the days they did not work, she would sneak my mother and her other sister into the hospital since they really did not have a place to live. Nursing saved them from being homeless. 

My mother is my inspiration. I remember often listening to her for hours about her time in the hospital, and imagining myself being in her place. Since I was five years old, all I wanted to be was a nurse to be able to take care of sick people just like she did. 

I started as a volunteer at the LA General Hospital. As I entered the hospital, I would take a deep breath and just the smell would give me happiness—I could not wait to see the patients. Nursing is amazing! You teach, you care for patients, and yet it is teaching and caring for you, too. It is our calling to help people, to do good as women, and as human beings.

AltaMed Nurses
AltaMed Nurses

“Nursing is amazing! You teach, you care for patients, and yet it is teaching and caring for you, too.”

I am proud that I listened to the people God put in my path—they gave me advice and told me I could be somebody. I have loved nursing since I was five, but I didn’t know how to go about it. I didn’t even know the difference between colleges or what they offered. I went to school in Los Angeles, but I didn’t have a counselor or a teacher guiding me; I just knew I wanted to be a nurse. 

Soon after graduating from high school, I was in line to enroll in the ‘nursing’ program at Trade-Tech [Los Angeles Trade-Technical College] when a girl in front of me told me that the line was for the LVN program and asked, ‘Why don’t you go to an RN program?’ 

Without knowing the difference between the two, I listened to her and switched to RN. I took a few classes at Trade-Tech and transferred to East Los Angeles College. I met with the chair and director of the nursing program, who was instrumental in my success as a student; she guided and motivated me, and sometimes babysat my daughter so I could attend classes. 

The more you talk about what your goals are, nurses are always listening and willing to help you. I remember a time when an evening charge nurse I worked with gave me money in an envelope to pay for my books. I was a certified nurse assistant at the hospital, and she said, ‘You are going to be a good nurse. Here’s $500.’ 

Thirty-five years ago, that was a lot of money. She just said, ‘You need to pay it forward.’ I asked her what she meant. She said, ‘You need to help someone struggling like you are.’ So I pay it forward any chance I get by encouraging and motivating others and helping them the way other nurses helped me.”

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