You won’t find too many students aiming to go straight from a community college to medical school. But not too many community college students are like Niall-Conor Garcia.
The Cuyamaca College scholar already has a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Southern California and recently secured a master’s degree in professional composition and orchestration through an online program offered by the University of Chichester in Sussex, England. He’s even tried his hand at musical theater and wrote the soundtrack for a few independent films.
These days, though, Garcia is wrapping up the last of several science courses needed to enroll in medical school and embark on a new career as an emergency room physician.
“He’s a Renaissance man,” said Cuyamaca College Chemistry Professor Laurie LeBlanc.
“It’s been a somewhat serpentine journey,” said Garcia, 30.
The journey began in Lemon Grove, where Garcia grew up, then led to Walnut Hill High School for the Arts, a private, arts-focused boarding school in Natick, Mass., which he attended to hone his music composition skills before enrolling at USC in the hopes of a career scoring films. But after earning a bachelor’s degree, Garcia began to sour on the industry. Employment was intermittent. Jobs were temporary.
“It’s very difficult to get steady work in this field,” he said. “I was working too hard to not be doing something better with myself.”
So Garcia went with Plan B.
“Medical school was always something in the back of my mind,” Garcia said. “I had always thought, if not music, then medicine.”
Garcia returned to the East County and in 2014 began taking classes at Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges to complete the prerequisite science courses needed to reach his new goal of becoming an emergency room physician. (He will earn an associate degree in science from Cuyamaca this fall.)
Although he continued to complete the master’s program from the University of Chichester’s music school, Garcia’s mind remained set on medicine. He did well on his Medical College Admission Test and is hoping to enroll in the fall of 2018 at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ Medical School, which is run by the federal government and whose primary mission is to prepare graduates to as military doctors. In exchange for the government covering his medical school tuition, Garcia will commit to serving several years as an Army or Navy physician.
Garcia said Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges have been vital in his journey.
“I can’t speak about biology programs at large universities, but I hear a lot about students struggling to have an audience with their professors,” said Garcia, who works part time as a Cuyamaca College chemistry lab technician. “Here, that is not an issue. They’re engaged with their students. You ask a professor a question, and they answer you. They want to help you. They want you to succeed. But beside all that, it is a very rigorous program. It is not easy, but the faculty here will do everything to make sure you reach your goal.”
Violeta Casillas, Garcia’s lab tech supervisor at Cuyamaca College, is among his biggest fans.
“He’s going to school here while finishing up his master’s degree, he’s working as a lab tech, and now he’s applying to medical school,” Casillas said. “He’s doing it all. What more can you say?”