Unaccompanied Immigrant to PA Student: Silvia Garcia’s Journey

A Story of Perseverance and Compassion

By Abby Boshart

August 22, 2018

Silvia Garcia Murcia
Silvia Garcia Murcia proudly poses for her Shenandoah University student ID card photo.

Growing up in a Honduran mountain community that lacked both electricity and access to healthcare, Silvia Garcia Murcia says her life has prepared her for a career as a PA.

“As a PA, I want to work in underserved communities because I come from there. I saw people die because there were not doctors or trained people in my hometown to help.”

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One of those people was her grandfather. At six years old, Garcia did what she could to make him feel better when he was sick.

“I made tortillas and pretended I was curing him,” Garcia said. “He told me, ‘One day, you’re going to be a doctor, and I’m going to be your first patient.”

In addition to lacking any trained medical professionals, Garcia’s hometown also had no school for children to attend. At 8 years old, she left her home to attend school in a neighboring village, El Aguacatal. As she grew older, she became increasingly frustrated with the lack of opportunities and the quality of life in her community. Garcia confided in one of her sisters, and together they made the difficult decision to leave the only country they had ever known.

At 16 years old, Garcia began the perilous journey to the United States in search of a life not available to her in Honduras. She crossed over 2,000 miles, traveling on foot or crammed into the back of a truck with strangers. She endured desert heat and difficult terrain for more than six weeks, often lacking food or water as she traveled long hours each day.

“It was horrible,” she said. “If I had enemies, I hope they never go through that.”

Map shows journey from Honduras to Richmond
Silvia’s journey from Honduras to Richmond.

Garcia arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, where she took any job that she could find. She cleaned fuel tanks and worked factory jobs before being placed in an immigration detention center in New York. She remained in custody for six months before she was placed in foster care and sent to live in Richmond, Virginia. 

Although she was barely able to speak English, she immediately began attending high school and working six days a week at a local fast food restaurant when she arrived in her new home. She worked to support herself through her entire time as a student, going on to graduate from high school and a local community college and the University of Richmond.

As a student, Garcia faced many challenges, including lacking health insurance. She recalls one time when she became extremely sick with a tonsil infection and was desperate for treatment, but she didn’t have enough money.

Garcia turned to CrossOver, a healthcare ministry clinic that provides care to low-income individuals in Richmond, but she was ineligible to be treated because she was not a current patient. After being turned away by multiple providers, a PA at the clinic realized how severe her condition was and offered to treat her.

A few months after she recovered, Garcia returned to the clinic to pay forward the kindness the PA had shown her.

Silvia Garcia studying for her online neuroscience class
Courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Garcia studying for her online neuroscience class last year.

“After CrossOver clinic helped me, I went back to volunteer as a translator,” said Garcia. “Seeing PAs, doctors, and nurses volunteering, I realized how many people were lacking healthcare even here in the USA.”

This experience, in addition to her life in Honduras, led to her decision to become a PA. After graduating from University of Richmond with a degree in biology, Garcia was accepted to Shenandoah University’s PA program but deferred her acceptance for a year so that she could take online classes and continue her volunteer work with CrossOver and abroad.

She also took this time to focus on becoming a U.S. citizen. In February, she had her naturalization ceremony.

“I never thought that one day I was going to be a USA citizen,” said Garcia. “The day before the ceremony it hit me, and I thought about everything I had gone through. I cried the whole day because I realized how big of an achievement this was.”

Garcia began classes at Shenandoah University in June and can hardly believe that all her hard work is paying off.

“I am finally starting to see my dreams come true. I am excited that I will learn the tools and knowledge that I need to do what I love the most,” said Garcia.

Garcia’s life has been an incredible journey, and it is clear that her strong spirit and perseverance have led her to where she is today. Once reluctant to share her story, Garcia is now eager to show the world all she has accomplished and hopes that she can inspire others.

“I want to touch people, so they can see that things are possible when you work hard for them. I want them to realize that it doesn’t matter where you come from, your past, or how many obstacles you have overcome. In this life, giving up is not an option.”

Abby Boshart is the communications coordinator at AAPA. Contact her at [email protected]