Claire Garcia


Nursing is a calling, and it’s also among the most noble professions for anyone to pursue. But only some people who follow the path to nursing are called.

Sometimes, it just takes a perfect stranger to see the lifesaving potential of a future firefighter, police officer, doctor, or nurse.

Claire Garcia earned her registered nurse (RN) degree in May. She was a personal trainer and a part-time student at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in 2017 when one of her clients advised her to pursue a nursing career at Valley Grande Institute.

“That was not my first choice, professionally,” she said. “I was a personal trainer working full time and going to UTRGV to slowly get my basic courses. I was never enrolled full time because I always had to make ends meet and I had to do more training.”

During one of her CrossFit training sessions, Claire met Anabell Cardona, VGI’s President and CEO, who’d recently become a client.

Claire said she and Anabell talked during her training sessions. Over the course of a few weeks, they came to know each other a little better.

Then, one day, Anabell asked, “Have you ever thought about nursing?”

Claire, who was more interested in a career in physical therapy at the time, hadn’t given a nursing career any thought.

She was admittedly a little apprehensive, but Claire said Anabell reassured her that she could successfully earn her certification as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in a year. She offered to help Claire get started at VGI.

The classes were smaller, which Claire said made her more comfortable, and she felt they had a vested interest in their students’ success.

“The school is kind of hidden, it’s small and it’s in Weslaco,” Claire said. “But once I started there, I thought, ‘wow, I wished I’d known about this place earlier.’ It would have saved so much time…from doing a bunch of classes I didn’t need.”

Claire acknowledges she didn’t think at first that she would choose the school or the career path because it wasn’t the one she had chosen for herself. Still, as she learned the material, she became more passionate about a nursing career.

However, there were also the challenges that came with wanting a career so badly.

“I cried a lot,” she said as she glanced at her fiancé, Jeremy Clemons.

She exercised a lot too, which Claire said helped her deal with the rigorous coursework and study material, and ultimately helped her focus.

Claire completed four semesters at VGI and earned her certification as an LVN within a year. She credits her four semesters at VGI for laying the foundation that encouraged her to continue pursuing the education she needed for a successful nursing career and recommends anyone who is interested in a nursing career to consider the path she took.

“You learn all of your skills as an LVN,” she said. “Every RN I have ever met wishes they’d been an LVN first. They are so focused on the administrator stuff that they don’t learn the real skills of nursing. You will learn more as an LVN.”

Claire returned to UTRGV to finish the basic courses she needed to be accepted into the RN program while working at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen.

She eventually moved to Doctor’s Hospital-Renaissance (DHR) in Edinburg, where she began working in the emergency room.

“I love helping people,” she said. “I know it sounds cliché, but I see families and I see their situations, and it just opens my heart more.”

In December 2022, Claire left DHR to finish her RN studies, and after earning her RN in May, went to work at STHS.

Charles “Chuck” Stark, who serves as the Regional Vice President at STHS, praised the relationship the hospital has with VGI, as well as the school’s ability to be a conduit that provides amazing nurses to hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley.

“The partnership with Valley Grande Institute has always been special,” Stark said. “Their personalized approach to each student’s education, and their commitment to assist every student in reaching their full potential, is inspiring.  We appreciate the success that Valley Grande Institute is having in graduating well-prepared healthcare workers who will live in our communities and make this an even better place for all of us to work, live and raise a family.”

Meanwhile, Claire said she loves that she is that first line of care when it comes to helping those critically injured or ill patients she sees in the emergency room daily, where every situation can often be the difference between life and death.

“I would never have expected to be in this position,” she said. “I can’t make myself breakfast, but I can restart someone’s heart.”

Although Claire has only recently achieved her goal of becoming a registered nurse, she dreams of becoming a flight nurse one day.

She will never forget the first time she saw a flight nurse in action. She had just started working in the emergency room as an LVN at DHR when an air ambulance landed at the hospital to deliver an emergency patient.

She watched awestruck as a flight nurse wearing a blue flight suit emerged from an air ambulance and helped deliver a patient to the hospital.

“I saw them, and I thought, ‘What is this job? How do you become this? This is cool,'” she said. “They just flew in here, saved the patient, and brought him in.”

She was hooked. She befriended several flight nurses to learn more about the profession and realized there were certain qualifications she would eventually have to earn. Of course, she is still learning how to be the best RN possible.

For the foreseeable future, Claire said she plans to sit back and wait as she hones her nursing skills working on the front lines of a Level 1 Trauma Center ER.

“It would be so cool to have that under my belt, and say, ‘I was able to do this,'” she said.


Bryan Kirk