Protector in Chief

Dr. Alexander Garza is sworn in as assistant secretary and chief medical officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by then-U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, right, as Garza's wife, Melissa, looks on.
Dr. Alexander Garza is sworn in as assistant secretary and chief medical officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by then-U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, right, as Garza's wife, Melissa, looks on.

Dr. Alexander Garza named Alumnus of the Year

The emergency room is characterized by quick decisions and unexpected challenges. Unperturbed by those trials, Alexander Garza came to UMKC as a pre-med student intent on pursuing medical school and, ultimately, a career in emergency medicine.

His dedication to his work has led to numerous awards and recognitions, ranging from a combat action badge from the U.S. Army to the Young Investigator Award from the American Heart Association. Now, he is receiving one of the highest honors bestowed by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Garza’s distinguished career, and his dedication to serving others and his country, led to his selection as the UMKC Alumnus of the Year by the independent committee of past awardees appointed each year by the chancellor.

His aspirations to help others and make a difference have taken Garza on an interesting life journey. Though medicine was his path, Garza was not ready to dive immediately in to the lengthy commitment of medical school right after completing his undergraduate degree at UMKC.

“When I looked around, I wanted to do something that would be interesting, somewhat exciting, and something that would give me perspective that I never had before. The desire to do something different before medical school combined with my interest in emergency medicine led me to paramedic school,” he said.

After graduating from UMKC, Garza worked full time at the Metropolitan Ambulance Service Trust as a paramedic. He worked there for two years before entering medical school.

Garza has picked his own path throughout his career, which has allowed him to not just work in a variety of professions but to become an expert in a wide range of fields. He served as an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the UMKC School of Medicine at Truman Medical Center. He completed his residency at UMKC. As a member of the United States Army, Garza served as both a battalion surgeon and a public health team chief. In the latter role, he contributed to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Stationed in Tikrit, Iraq, Garza and team were charged with helping the Iraqis rebuild their healthcare education system. That infrastructure had suffered extensively due to many years of war with Iran, poor funding and embargoes. He soon realized that local medical schools were lagging behind in updated medical materials and education. He helped start a book donation program that received 100,000 medical textbooks and journals.

Garza was also instrumental in helping the Tikrit School of Medicine obtain its first internet connection.

In 2009, Garza was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as the assistant secretary and chief medical officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This position was created by the post-Hurricane-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 to better protect Americans in crisis. As the chief medical officer, Garza was the legislated health, medical and biodefense authority for the DHS. During his tenure, Garza served as the DHS lead in response to the H1N1 pandemic and also was the health lead for multiple disasters including the Fukushima Tsunami, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the Haiti earthquake. He is considered an expert in the fields of bioterrorism, weapons of mass destruction and health threats to national security.

After leaving his position with the DHS, Garza became the medical director and homeland security advisor for FirstWatch, a real-time public safety data analysis system used by 911, police, fire, EMS, emergency management and public health organizations in 35 states across the U.S. The Situational Awareness System enables public health and safety organizations to monitor incidents as events unfold, enabling quick responses.

Today, Garza is the associate dean for public health practice and acting chair of the department of environment and occupational health at the St. Louis University College of Public Health and Social Justice. He teaches classes, advises students, performs research and shares his knowledge and experience.

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Garza and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 21, 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2016 Alumni Awards recipients.

Nominations are now open for the Class of 2017 Alumni Awardees. Click here to nominate fellow alumni who are deserving of the campus’ highest recognition for alumni achievement. Nominations close March 7.

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