On a mission to bring ‘care’ to health care

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Littleton native uses tragic family experience to fuel her education, career

By Rochelle Smolinski

Christina Garza's paternal grandfather, who worked in a uranium mine, was diagnosed with liver cancer when she was 4. He died a year later.
Garza knew then her calling was to be a doctor.
“In my opinion, his doctors weren’t doing as much as I thought they could have done,” Garza said. “I understand a lot more now that there wasn’t really a lot they could have done for him, but he was still in a lot of pain for months before he actually died. I wasn’t as impressed with his doctors. I kind of made myself promise I would be that kid who became a doctor and help people like that.”
Garza, 19, a Littleton native and a graduate of D’Evelyn High School, is a freshman at the University of Colorado Denver’s BA/BS-MD combined degree program. The selective program accepts 10 high school seniors from around the state and sets them on a BA or BS track, the successful completion of which guarantees them entry to CU's School of Medicine.
The program supports underrepresented student groups and aims to deliver quality health care to Colorado residents. Garza applied to two schools, Regis University and CU Denver, but CU was Garza’s first choice.
Garza's full course load and her career goals don't prevent her from participating in the Westernaires, a nonprofit horsemanship group based in Jeffco in which she serves as a first lieutenant. After more than a decade of riding, this will be her last year performing in the Westernaires' annual show and Denver’s Parade of Lights.
But when Garza isn’t attending class or participating in the Westernaires, the majority of her time is invested in study.
“My personal mission is to try and see more doctors that are better able to relate to their patients and be able to better treat their patients by understanding who they are and how they live,” Garza said. “That’s part of the reason why I’m considering majoring in public health.”
CU Denver is on the east end of the Auraria campus in downtown Denver. High school seniors interested in the BA/BS-MD program are encouraged to apply no later than Oct. 21. Application processing takes about three weeks, and applicants must apply to BA/BS-MD after acceptance into CU Denver. The program deadline is Nov. 12 and will accept its fifth round of students this year.
If Garza could give one piece of advice to high school seniors, it would be to major in medicine only if the applicant has a true passion for health care.
“They have to find a good reason to want to be a doctor,” Garza said. “It’s not just something you say one day, ‘I want to be a doctor.’ It’s something that you really have to have a passion in you to make it, because it’s hard and you have to have a passion for helping people. It’s not something that you go into that field because you want to make money or because it’s a respectable career.
"You have to actually want to do it because you want to help people.”