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Head Chef to Health Care

Medical Laboratory Technician program student working in lab

After 15 years as a head chef, Damien Garza, of Watertown, is swapping his apron for a lab coat and earning his degree in Moraine Park’s Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) program.

His decision to make a career change came after a near-death experience in 2017. During his recovery, he noticed the workers who ran his tests and gained an appreciation for all the work that occurred behind the scenes that most patients never see or hear about.

In 2020, COVID-19 closed his restaurant—Cooper Shop Saloon. Garza took it as a sign and decided to return to school and earn his degree. He had considered other schools but chose Moraine Park because of the rigorous MLT program. He enrolled in 2020 and will graduate this spring.

“It is funny to think about the similarities between health care and culinary,” Garza said. “In a hospital, there are people making things happen behind the scenes, just like chefs in the back of a restaurant. Seeing the connections makes it easier for me to slide into this new career path and still feel comfortable.”

Moraine Park’s MLT program prepares students for entry-level laboratory work performing tests on tissue, blood and other body fluids to help medical professionals diagnose illnesses, make medical decisions and plan treatment options.

“If my time in culinary has taught me anything, it’s the ‘into the fire’ mindset,” Garza said. “The only way to get better is to get out of my comfort zone, and the harder it is, the more I’ll get out of it. That is why I chose Moraine Park.”

Garza graduated from high school in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2008, and went on to receive his culinary degree from Iowa Central Community College. From there, he moved from Chicago to Wisconsin with his wife and eventually settled in Watertown.

“When I came to Moraine Park, I did not want to do any extracurriculars,” Garza said. “I was here to do a job. I had been through school before, and I knew the drill: show up, do the work, get the grades and graduate. Eventually, after attending a few meetings, my mind started to change.”

Garza serves as Moraine Park’s Fond du Lac Student Senate President and the College’s District Student Government (DSG) President.

“I’m very passionate about community and technical colleges,” Garza said. “I already had an associate degree before coming to Moraine Park, and I believe technical education is the future. I looked into some four-year schools before making a decision about my education, and they were all prohibitively expensive. I’ve met some of the coolest, nicest, most inclusive and intelligent people I’ve ever met at Moraine Park.”

Medical laboratory technician student working in lab Medical laboratory technician student working in lab slide on a microscope test tube test tube Medical laboratory technician student working in lab

March 15th, 2023by Emilie Thielen