Employee Q&A: Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences

Employee Q&A: Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences

By Amanda BallardUniversity Communications
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Name: Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia
Position: Senior Vice President for Health Sciences
Number of years at the UA: 1 month
Favorite thing about working at the UA: I like finding pockets of excellence that I didn't know about. That's fun. To find out we are the best optical sciences program in the country, it's very cool. You go upstairs to the (Arizona) Poison (and Drug Information) Center, you have people who have so much knowledge about scorpion stings and rattlesnake bites. It's great that we have that fantastic expertise. 
How has it been adjusting to Arizona after living in Illinois? It's nice and warm for sure. The reception for my arrival here at the UA was warm as well. I think it's an exciting time and I'm really enjoying being here. Every evening I've been out on our porch and it's been 90 degrees in the evening, and then it goes down to 80 and it feels chilly. Eighty degrees feels chilly. It's strange.

The notable career of Dr. Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, senior vice president for health sciences at the UA, started with something simple: strawberries.

As a boy, Garcia balanced his time between typical activities for a kid his age – going to school and playing sports – with working alongside migrant workers in the fields of El Paso, Texas, picking strawberries and chopping lettuce.

The work was hard and dirty, and the pay was little, but Garcia formed bonds with many of the field workers, who treated him like family.

"That's when I figured out I wanted to do medicine," he said. "It really helped develop the social justice part of my career. That's been important to me throughout my career opportunities and leadership positions."

Garcia went on to graduate from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Although his initial aspiration was to become a family care physician, he found he enjoyed working in the realm of academic medicine.

"Life has been a series of taking advantage of opportunities that led me to this particular place," he said. "Academic medicine is a great job. It can really impact people."

Most recently, Garcia served as the vice president for health affairs at the University of Illinois and the Earl M. Bane Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Bioengineering at the University Illinois at Chicago. He is known internationally for genetic-based research focusing on lung disease and has nearly 400 peer-reviewed publications.

Garcia started in his new position with the UA on Sept. 1 and has big plans in mind.

"We're going to be getting into a transformation, which means that a lot of exciting things are going to be happening," he said. "It's a great campus, and one of the things I want to do is link us more with everyone else. It's important for health sciences to get more integrated and collaborative with folks on main campus. That's going to be a big push of mine."

During his rare free time, Garcia plays tennis and golf. He has four children and a 4-year-old grandson who live in various parts of the country. He said he is looking forward to their visit to Tucson in November for Thanksgiving.

Garcia recently took time to speak with LQP about his career.

What was your first job?

I worked in the fields along migrant farmworkers from about age 11 to 15. It's hard work. It's definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme. Picking strawberries, I made 50 cents a crate. When I was at my very fastest picking strawberries, I could do almost three big crates an hour. I stuck with it, although there were many times I didn't like it that much. I'd come home from the fields dirty and my mom wouldn't let me in the house.

Describe what you do.

At the UA, there are five health sciences colleges. So I have oversight over those five colleges. We're trying to raise our national stature in research, teaching and clinical care. We want to train new health care providers for the state of Arizona. We want to generate new knowledge about how to treat very complex diseases. We want to be national leaders in the area of academic medicine, and we're in good shape for that. Nursing, pharmacy, public health and two colleges of medicine – one in Phoenix, one in Tucson – means we have a lot of assets that will allow us to do that.

If you didn't have this job, what career would you have?

When my kids were growing up, I coached them all from age 5 to age 13 in every sport they played, practically. I was a good coach actually. I think if I were to do something else, it might be coaching. Or it might be something around business; I've got a pretty good business sense. I'd probably do something in biotech.

Who have been your best mentors and why?

I've had various mentors at various stages. I think it's important to get people to invest in your success. And they're more friends than mentors at this point. Ed Benz, head of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, recruited me to my position as director of pulmonary (and critical care medicine) at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He's a great guy and he's been very helpful to me throughout my career.

What career advice would you offer to someone just starting out?

Be adaptable. Take advantage of your opportunities when they come across your radar. Generally, it's good to have a path you want to follow, but while you're following that path, something new is going to come up. Have the confidence to maybe pursue it because you never know what might happen.

How would you like to spend your retirement?

How do we define retirement? If I'm working less hard than I'm working right now, that might feel like retirement. I'm going to be doing research for a while. I'd like to travel more. I'd like to play more golf. I was a pretty good golfer once upon a time, and I'd like to be a pretty good golfer again. I like writing. There are some projects I'd like to write down the road. I'd just like to stay active.

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