Stanford Medical School professor to receive 2012 Roland Volunteer Service Prize

The annual prize is awarded to members of the Stanford faculty who engage and involve students in integrating academic scholarship with significant and meaningful volunteer service to society.

Ann Banchoff Gabriel Garcia talking with woman at cultural celebration

At a Oaxacan cultural celebration, Gabriel Garcia, center, accompanied the Cardinal Free Clinic Screen Team to provide basic health screenings and health education to participants.

Dr. Gabriel Garcia, co-founder of a program that trains Stanford students to serve as volunteers in local health clinics, will receive the 2012 Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize at an awards luncheon later this week.

Garcia, who co-founded the Patient Advocacy Program in 2004, is a professor of medicine who also serves as associate dean of admissions at Stanford School of Medicine. He treats patients with complex liver diseases at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and is a transplant physician in the Liver Transplant program. His clinical research has focused on the natural history and treatment of viral hepatitis.

In letters nominating Garcia for the Roland Prize, campus colleagues cited his work with the Patient Advocacy Program, a yearlong course he teaches that trains and places pre-medical and medical students in community and free clinics, including the Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto.

Garcia spoke about the program in the 2011 Miriam and Peter E. Haas Centennial Professorship Lecture on Public Service and the University, in a talk titled "The Goal of Health Care is HEALTH, Not Care."

The Haas Center for Public Service awards the annual Roland Prize to members of the faculty "who engage and involve students in integrating academic scholarship with significant and meaningful volunteer service to society." It was created by alumna Miriam Aaron Roland and includes a $5,000 cash award. Garcia will be the 14th faculty member to receive the award since it was established in 2004.

Uncommon qualities

In a letter nominating Garcia for the award, Ann Banchoff, co-founder of the Patient Advocacy Program, said he was "uncommon" in many ways.

"There are not many doctors, for example, who well into their careers seem to become less jaded, more interactive with patients, and more and more thoughtful about the future of medicine and how it can best be shaped," wrote Banchoff, associate director of the Office of Community Health at Stanford Medical School.

"And there are not many academics who stop and listen to others, are open to entirely new approaches to teaching, and who actually, despite all incentives otherwise, seek and build collaborative partnerships to advance positive change."

Banchoff said Garcia's most uncommon quality was his unique combination of conviction and flexibility.

"This is a man very clear on his values: that medicine is a collaborative enterprise centered on the patient; that all voices deserve to be heard; and that academic institutions must break down the walls between them and community and engage in meaningful partnerships," she wrote. "But he is always searching, and listening for, and learning, about the best ways to make the difference he wants to make."

Since 2003, Garcia has sponsored an Alternative Spring Break trip for undergraduates that examines health issues of farm workers in the Salinas Valley, "A Land of Plenty? Migrant Health Stories in the California Central Valley."

More recently, he has served as a faculty adviser to an Alternative Spring Break for medical students, "Rural and American Indian Health Disparities," a program that takes place at the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

Colleagues also praised Garcia's work with the Community Health in Oaxaca Program, which was designed for students committed to working with Mexican immigrant populations in the United States. The program, a collaboration among the Office of Community Health, Bing Overseas Studies and Child Family Health International, a nongovernmental organization, combines cultural immersion, language training, clinical rotations and classes on population health.

When the program was suspended in 2010 due to travel warnings for Mexico from the U.S. Department of State, students focused their work – needs assessments, health screenings and health education – on migrant population communities around Stanford and in the nearby Monterey County communities of Greenfield and Salinas. (The travel warnings have been lifted and Garcia and his colleagues hope to revive the program for next year.)

Garcia also was lauded for his work with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Medical Education Research Group, an organization founded by medical students in 2007. Its mission is to contribute to the field of LGBT health by creating and communicating new knowledge through innovative research, by influencing health and educational policies, and by advocating for LGBT patients and providers.

"His work advocating for lesbian, gay and bisexual students is less known, but meritorious," said Dr. Ian Tong, medical director of veterans outreach at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, wrote in a nominating letter. "Dr. Garcia is an inspiration to his students, a moral beacon for his colleagues and a gift to his patients."

From Cuba to Puerto Rico to New York City

Garcia was born in Cuba and grew up in Puerto Rico. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Cornell University in 1973 and an MD from New York University in 1977. He did his postgraduate training at Stanford School of Medicine from 1977 to 1987 and taught for two years at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

He returned to Stanford in 1989 as an assistant professor of medicine and rose through the ranks, becoming a professor of medicine in 2005.

Garcia served as faculty director of the Haas Center from September 2006 to May 2010. In the half-time post, he focused on policymaking, fundraising and teaching.

April 25 awards luncheon

David Demarest, vice president for public affairs, will present the Roland Prize on April 25. The awards luncheon also will feature the presentation of the 2012 Community Partnership Awards.

This year's winners, who will receive awards for partnerships with Stanford, are:

  • DreamCatchers, an afterschool program that improves the education outcomes and health behaviors of low-income youth in Palo Alto;
  • Canopy, which is dedicated to protecting and growing the urban forest in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and neighboring communities; and
  • InnVision and Stanford Project on Hunger, also known as SPOON. InnVision partners with Stanford students engaged in public service through a number of programs. SPOON collects, saves and prepares unused, leftover food on campus for distribution to the hungry.

Joy Leighton, Haas Center for Public Service: (650) 725-2865,