Giving Back: How This Dentist Works to Make Her Community Better
Dr. Elba Garcia only ever wanted to be a dentist. From a young age as she grew up in Mexico City, she knew the career path she wanted to follow. The path she imagined and the path she took are very different. Today, she’s known as far more than just a dentist. She’s also a mother, a business owner, a community leader and even a Dallas County commissioner.
Garcia credits the influence of her father (a doctor) and mother (a teacher) with her desire to get into dentistry. “Before healthy diets were popular, they were regular in my house. My parents always said no bubble gum, no candy, no soda. That’s probably why I became a dentist,” Garcia laughed.
She earned a dental degree in Mexico and was ready to practice in her home country. But her future husband convinced her there would be more opportunity for a Latina dentist in America. “I was already a dentist, and he had graduated from law school and told me, ‘Elba, there are a lot of Mexican lawyers in Mexico City. If you move to Dallas, there are very few Latina dentists,’” Garcia said.
Garcia decided to follow a new path and moved to the Dallas area, where her husband had grown up. She immediately faced two problems: Her dentistry degree was not recognized in the United States, and she had to learn English.
“My English was good enough to go into McDonald’s and order a Big Mac, but that’s about it. I enrolled in community college, and I learned English.”
Dr. Garcia perfected her English while also earning her Doctorate in Dental Surgery from Baylor College of Dentistry. She graduated in 1990 and was anxious to put her skills to use. “I had graduated from two dental schools by the age of 29 and always joked that I had two doctorate degrees.”
After working at a nonprofit community dentistry practice, she went on to join a private practice, which was then offered to her for purchase when the owner retired. That’s when she encountered another hurdle.
“When I applied for a loan to buy the dental practice, nobody would give me one. My financial background was not solid enough, according to them. That’s when I realized the importance of having a financial planner.”
Dr. Garcia used all her personal savings to buy the practice.
“The biggest challenge for young professionals is to be able to get those loans for that first business,” she said. “Be sure you are in good standing to be able to get that line of credit and loan—and be able to pay it back, too.”
She built a rapport with the community and established a clientele as she balanced family life with her husband and two young boys. Her career choice proved to be a perfect lifestyle fit.
“I worked part time some days if the kids had events. Dentistry is fantastic in that area; it allows you to set up your schedule. No matter what, I always made sure we had dinner as a family at 6:00.”
Her desire to help others soon led to another venture: public service. For years patients had been telling Dr. Garcia about concerns in their neighborhoods. When people began suggesting she run for city council, Dr. Garcia agreed.
Because of the financial planning she had done over the years, she felt confident from a financial perspective making a leap into public service. Dr. Garcia beat a longtime incumbent and spent eight years on the Dallas City Council. She played a key role in numerous projects, including the Latino Cultural Center. Subsequently asked to run for Dallas County commissioner in District 4, she beat another incumbent and became the first Latina in the position.
“I knew I wanted to be a dentist, but I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to help and serve people. That’s a fantastic feeling. You get to see how many people you can touch and how much good you can do. As a Latina, as a minority, as an immigrant, as a professional, I care a lot about opportunities; and I want to open the door to people who otherwise would not have them.”
Dr. Garcia still practices dentistry one day per week in her office. The rest of her time is spent in her role as a Dallas County commissioner as well as chairing several committees and serving on a variety of boards. Life has been extremely fulfilling in ways she never could have foreseen.
“I consider myself very blessed. I tell students, ‘Study hard; do your homework. You can do anything that you want; you live in the best country in the world, where opportunities are there if you are willing to put in time and your best effort.’ That’s exactly what I’ve tried to achieve.”