Medicine has always been infused in Dr. Luis Garcia’s life, from his childhood in Mexico City to his work as a surgeon in Fargo, North Dakota, to his new position as president of governance and strategy, Sanford Clinic, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. With the foundation set in his childhood and the unwavering support of his family, Garcia has been able to pursue the privilege of healing, both in a one-on-one context and on a larger scale.
Garcia, 48, was born and raised in Mexico City. He is the second of four children (two sisters and a brother). His father, also a surgeon, served as his first medical role model and had a huge impact on his decision to pursue a career in medicine. His mother temporarily stayed at home and eventually became the chief financial officer of a small community hospital founded and owned by his father.
“All recollections of family dinner I have about conversations as a child about a future career were related to the field of medicine,” Garcia said. He has a powerful memory of being age 10 and his dad inviting him to the hospital to watch an operation. That was when he knew he wanted to be a surgeon.
In high school, Garcia began working for his father in the hospital, first as a scrub tech and then as a surgical assistant.
Garcia attended La Salle University in Mexico City for medical school. He had the opportunity to further his training in Mexico and join his father’s practice, but because his father was such a powerful figure in the local medical community, he decided he needed to forge his own identity. This led him to accept a residency in the United States with plans to return to Mexico.
Garcia was matched for a surgical residency at the University of North Dakota. “I loved it with a passion — every single minute of it,” he said. “I was lucky to relate to great mentors.” Garcia gives tribute to the many surgeons that contributed to his surgical education.
After residency, he decided he wanted to have a career in the U.S. and began working toward obtaining a green card. By working in an underserved area, he obtained a visa waiver and found himself in Valley City, North Dakota, where for three years he was the only surgeon in the area. “This allowed me to mature very fast as a surgeon.”
From there, he transferred his practice to Fargo, where he has been with Sanford Health (formerly MeritCare) for 16 years.
Working at Sanford Health
While at MeritCare, Garcia decided he needed more specialized training to succeed. He trained in bariatric surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and eventually became the chair of bariatric surgery for the region and co-director of the Eating Disorders and Weight Management Center in Fargo. He also completed a health care MBA at the University of St. Thomas.
From the beginning of his career, Garcia said he has been fortunate to be involved in leadership committees and take on strategic roles. This provided him with experience in the administrative world. “To have the chance to be influential, you need to be determined to help and always say yes.” In the past few years, he served as chair of the Professional Conduct Committee, chair of the Physician Executive Council, and secretary treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Fargo market.
Dr. Garcia also played important roles in national societies. He chaired the Committee on Applicants for the American College of Surgeons in the state of North Dakota, and in the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, he co-founded and presided over the Dakota-Yellowstone Chapter and founded and chaired the Rural Surgery Committee.
It was this experience that allowed him to gain candidacy for his current position as president of governance and strategy for the Sanford Clinic. “It was an honor to be considered for this position,” he said. Dr. Garcia feels humbled to have been chosen from among many highly qualified candidates.
President of Sanford Clinic
Accepting the new leadership role has meant changing his career completely. Garcia observes that he was in the prime of his surgical practice and loved what he did with a passion. At the same time, he said, “I believe strongly in where Sanford is going nationally and internationally. This position will allow me to impact many lives at once.”
To represent and lead nearly 1,500 physicians and all APPs across the enterprise is a monumental task. However, the foundation created by his predecessors and the very skilled team that he is joining makes this opportunity “nothing less than exciting.”
Garcia identifies three important responsibilities in carrying out his new role. First, he needs to provide a clinical structure that positions Sanford Health as a leader of health care delivery. Second, he must support a strong foundation of governance that retains world-class physicians. And third, he wants to foster an environment that will allow physicians to practice the best medicine, perform translational research and innovate.
Being a clinician is not a ‘job’
As a clinician, Garcia never saw his activities as a job. “It was a privilege to provide healing and comfort,” he said.
As a president, Garcia says he is witnessing the fast development of the strongest rural health care delivery system in the world. “I am constantly amazed by the talent of the Sanford family.”
Garcia is most proud that Sanford Health is able to bring state-of-the-art medical care to more remote areas and continue to recruit the best clinicians.
“Sanford has created revolutionary changes,” Garcia said. “It is an icon of growth, change and innovation in the medical field.” Sanford Health has “disrupted all existing models and has positioned itself as a leader in rural health care delivery.”
For Garcia, to be in the medical field is an honor and a blessing. “It’s not a job; it is a privilege to be able to impact people’s lives in their most vulnerable moments.”
Family life, hobbies and interests
Garcia said he owes his success to the strong foundation provided by his parents as a child and the love and support of his wife, Greta, and their four children, Macie, Cameron, Madison and Ainsley. “I just could not contribute to Sanford the way I do without my family.”
Garcia and his wife are deep into athletic competition, competing in triathlons and the occasional marathon. Meanwhile, his two oldest children are on the swimming team, and his two youngest children are involved in gymnastics.
In his time outside of Sanford Health, Garcia also seeks to give back to the community. He is on the board of the Matto Foundation, which looks at the crisis of substance use and abuse, and the International Esperanza Project (IEP), which provides medical support to countries in Central America. Each year, Garcia travels to Guatemala for surgical mission trips.
Why Sanford Health?
In the end, Garcia said Sanford Health is a place that allows talent to emerge. “In Sanford you can build and succeed. We are a true clinician-driven organization. Sanford is my second family. The way I’ve been treated makes it difficult to want to leave.”
The business of medicine is tough and complex, but Garcia believes Sanford Health has developed the tools to be a dominant figure in health care in the U.S. and the world.
He hopes to contribute to setting Sanford Health apart as the No. 1 choice for patients to seek care and for clinicians to establish a lifelong practice.