WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- What’s in a workday? Sometimes, it depends on who you ask.
Does it start at midnight—when Capt. Dahlia Garcia, 88th Inpatient Operations Squadron charge nurse, is halfway through her 12-hour shift in the Labor and Delivery Ward? Or does is start at 5 p.m.—when she wakes up to get ready for work?
When Garcia does get up, she hits the ground running. She arrives at Wright-Patterson Medical Center, a 20-minute commute, around 5:50 to start her shift at 6:15.
Garcia, a religious person, says the commute is an important part of her day.
“I worship on the way in. I have to, to get mentally ready,” she said. “I’m listening to my worship music on the way into work. I say a prayer before I go into work. I say affirmations before I go into work...and, of course, pray for guidance and pray that I keep my patients safe and that I stay safe and that he fills me with the wisdom that I need for the day. I know that, at the end of the day, it’s his will, but I still pray for guidance.”
The first thing Garcia does when she arrives at the Labor and Delivery Ward on the hospital’s second floor is to check in and see what’s happening.
“Kind of just look at what the workflow is going to be for the day,” she said. “And then, of course, I say hi to everybody, because that’s just how I am.”
After getting changed into her scrubs, Garcia meets her patients, if there are any, and goes over the plan of care with them. She tries to make a personal connection.
“We’re in the medical field so it’s got to be a little bit more personal,” she said. “I don’t want them to see Captain Garcia. I want them to see Dahlia.
“Then I go back to the computer and review their history, but also look at the current situation. I get my assessments done and get organized for the shift.”
Obviously, the Labor and Delivery Ward is all about giving birth. That can, and does, happen any time of day or night and is what controls the flow of the shift.
“If I have a laboring mom, I’m going into her room quite often to make sure that everything’s still going as planned,” Garcia said. “I’m talking with the providers to make sure everything’s still going as planned with them as well. We have monitors throughout the floor, where I have to constantly keep an eye on two patients, my mom and my baby, before the baby delivers.”
Other nights, there might not be any laboring moms, or new mother and child. Those nights, Garcia can turn her attention to additional duties.
One is training and mentoring 2nd Lt. Marjorie Zuber, a new Air Force nurse, who is studying to work in labor and delivery.
“Oh, she’s been great. I really learned a lot under her,” Zuber said.
She went on to say that Garcia’s empathy is what makes her good at training.
“She’s a really good mentor because she understands what it’s like to be a new nurse,” Zuber said. “Even though she’s been doing this for such a long time, she’s really good about being empathetic, like when I struggle doing certain tests, because I’m a new nurse, she’ll always help me out.”
Zuber said there is a saying she has heard while in training: Nurses eat their young.
“But it’s been nothing like that here at Wright-Patterson,” she added. “She’s never let me totally flounder.”
Garcia is also the 88th Medical Group’s officer for Ready Reliable Care, a Defense Health Agency initiative that builds on existing work and best practices to drive better outcomes for patients, staff and the Military Health System.
“I am responsible for making sure Airmen at every level are promoting safety, improving the patient experience and ensuring every patient receives the highest-quality care,” she said.
She is also her squadron’s unit fitness assessment cell manager, overseeing the commander’s physical training program and entering scores and exemptions into the system.
On quiet nights, when nobody is in labor and all her additional duties have been taken care of, Garcia turns to her schoolwork. She’s a full-time student at Liberty University, working toward a dual master’s degree online in business and nursing.
Her husband, Jerry, already has a business degree. She said she’s pursuing one as part of their plan to open a nonprofit business after she retires.
A business doing what? They are not sure yet.
“We know we want to help people,” Garcia said. “But we also want to honor God because God is a very, very, very well important part of both of our lives.”
Many do not like working night shifts, particularly 12-hour stints in the winter that never see the sun. Garcia is not one of them.
“I actually prefer to work nights,” she said. “I like it for a lot of reasons, mostly because I’m an introvert normally. It’s a little less busy, not so much the workload but the traffic coming in and out. There’s just a lot of people that come from different departments and things like that (during the day).”
The night shift is staffed with fewer people and she likes the autonomy that gives her. Nobody wants any problems with a birth, but when that happens and the outcome is good, the job is a reward in itself.
“I love just having to think quickly and react quickly with not as many people to help. And then looking back, seeing the outcome and, praise God, every time it’s been a good outcome,” Garcia said.
At 6:15 a.m., Garcia ends her shift and heads home to her husband and their four Shih Tzu dogs.
To have any quality time with Jerry, she never gets eight straight hours of sleep.
“When I get home, I go to bed about 9 or 10 in the morning,” Garcia said. “I wake up for a couple hours to spend time with my husband. ... That usually is anywhere from about 10 to 12, maybe 1 (p.m.), and then I go back to bed until about 5 p.m., wake up and get ready for my workday.”
When they want to go to an event on one of her days off, she gets even less sleep.
“What I do is I flip my schedule,” Garcia said. “So if my husband wants to go to a football game in the middle of the day on a Sunday, which we just did, I’ll wake up a little bit earlier. So I go to bed about 9 (a.m.), and wake up about noon. We’ll head out, do whatever it is that we want to do, and then come back so I’ll sleep during the night instead of sleeping during the day and sacrifice a little bit of sleep to do it.”
But making sacrifices and taking care of people is all in a day’s work.