As a child, Margarita Garcia felt the odds were stacked against her, preventing her from ever reaching her fullest potential. Her family had emigrated to the U.S., and she worked in the fields with her parents, picking fruits and vegetables.
“The community I lived in was rough and living in a low economic status was tough,” she explained. “[It] sidetracked me from my education. I felt like I could never rise above and reach my potential.”
Now in her 30s, Garcia recently earned her Polk State Associate in Science in Nursing degree and is looking forward to pursuing a Polk State Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a rewarding career in healthcare.
“It is a great feeling to make my parents proud, my daughter proud, and my husband proud,” she said. “They knew I could do it, I just had to find it within myself.”
Garcia excelled in school, all while working diligently in the fields to help provide for her family. She was selected to represent John Snively Elementary School as a Disney Dreamers and Doers, and in sixth grade, she received a scholarship to what was then Polk Community College.
“I focused on schoolwork because it gave me a way out from the hard work of being in the fields,” Garcia said. “Winning these two awards meant a lot to me and my parents and gave me hope that I would have a chance to go to college.”
In high school, however, she became overwhelmed with not only her family’s financial situation but also with caring for those closest to her who were suffering from health issues.
“I lost the opportunity to use my scholarship because I did not attend college right after high school, as other obstacles were in my way,” she explained, “but I still kept the dream of being able to go to college one day.”
In her early 20s, she married her husband, Stevie, and had their daughter, Desiree, who she credits with motivating her to do something more with her life.
“When we had our daughter, that is when I changed my perspective. I needed to do something that I love, which is helping people,” she said. “I wanted to set an example for my daughter, and I also had my husband – my best friend – who has always been there for me and supported me.”
Garcia found a job with a gastroenterologist, who she has served for more than a decade. When their company joined Lakeland Regional Health, Garcia was exposed to the nursing profession and became inspired to pursue her higher education.
“My co-workers said that it takes a special person at heart to be a nurse, and they said I would be a great nurse,” Garcia shared. “I discussed it with my husband and daughter, and they supported and encouraged me.”
She received her Polk State Associate in Arts in 2020, becoming the first in her family to achieve a college degree. She was then accepted into the Polk State Nursing Program.
“As a Polk County native, I love this community, and Polk State is part of the community. And when you say you are a Polk State graduate, a lot of companies know that you’ve got what it takes to be in that company.”
In addition to the partnership between Polk State and Lakeland Regional Health to educate and train highly skilled nursing professionals, Garcia shared why she chose Polk State over other nursing programs.
“As a Polk County native, I love this community, and Polk State is part of the community,” she said. “And when you say you are a Polk State graduate, a lot of companies know that you’ve got what it takes to be in that company.”
Polk State’s Associate in Science in Nursing graduates consistently exceed national and state pass rates on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), with the 2021 graduates achieving a 90% pass rate compared to 82% and 64%, respectively.
Garcia also noted the College’s affordability, quality, and expert faculty.
“The professors are amazing. When you feel like giving up, they push you because they know you have it in you,” she added. “Plus, when you go and do clinicals at the hospital, the nurses there want to… help you learn and grow too.”
Garcia aspires to be that support for future nurses as well as for her patients.
“To become a nurse means the world to me,” she said. “Being able to provide care to a patient – even just holding their hand and bringing them comfort – is so rewarding.”
“Becoming a nurse [also] means I can give back what people have given to me – be that nurse who provides that type of patience and care to others.”
That includes her family, who believed in her even in moments when she didn’t believe in herself.
“The professors are amazing. When you feel like giving up, they push you because they know you have it in you.”
“My family unselfishly gave up their time so I could study and pursue my dream,” said Garcia, who balanced working full time and being a wife and mother with her academic studies. “I will be relieved to pay that back to my family. I feel fulfillment and joy.”
She pulled out a note from her Polk State Nursing uniform pocket.
“There’s this saying, ‘the difference between what-if and if I could is what you do to make it possible,’” she read. “And I’m here.”