Dr. Carolina Sandoval Garcia is a pediatric neurosurgeon with University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians) and an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

She is both a clinician and a researcher who focuses on neurologic conditions in young patients. Dr. Sandoval Garcia is interested in hydrocephalus, a condition leading to increased intracranial pressure that can harm the brain and may lead to headaches or in younger babies, to an abnormally large head. Her research uses advanced imaging techniques like resting state functional magnetic resonance and novel connectome research to study developmental function and optimal timing for surgical treatment.

As an advanced neurosurgery specialist, you can almost always find her at M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital, but her journey began in Colombia and has been inspired by several mentors along the way.

The Beginning of Her Journey

Dr. Sandoval Garcia was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, where she entered medical school as soon as she graduated high school–which is typical for countries in Latin America and Europe. Beginning school so early afforded her the opportunity to gain more clinical experience and mentorship at an earlier age.

With an initial focus on neuroscience, she felt a penchant to pair it with surgery.

“I initially had just a passion for neuroscience, but then I discovered neurosurgery,” she recalls, “That really brought my interest in neuroanatomy together with the rewarding opportunities of surgically treating neurological conditions with new therapies and causing an impact in a very specific tangible way, more than what can be appreciated at times with chronic neurologic conditions that are commonly treated medically.”

After completing medical school, Dr. Sandoval Garcia spent seven years working alongside strong mentors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she completed her neurosurgery residency. It was during her time in Madison, Dr. Sandoval Garcia had two insights that would guide her career: that kids were the patients she wanted to treat and that mentorship–both receiving and providing it–would be essential in her path to deliver the best possible care for her patients.

In particular, it was her mentor’s surgical talent and bedside manner that had the biggest impact on her.

Impact of Mentorship

“I remember a couple of situations where we had very challenging diagnoses or sad news that we had to deliver,” Dr. Sandoval Garcia says. “The way he explained things to both the kid and the parents and made a really unfortunate, heartbreaking situation somewhat bearable, just by how caring, warm and eloquent he was, really made an impact on me.”

He distilled complex concepts into simple, easy to understand ideas and was exceptionally talented in executing the treatments, Dr. Sandoval Garcia remembers. “That was just the moment I realized that I wanted to emulate this person.”

Delivering difficult news, especially to children, is challenging, and translating complex specialized jargon into information families can easily understand is a skill that needs to be mastered with time. Dr. Sandoval Garcia is committed to teaching her residents this skill by example in practicing compassion towards her patients every day.  

Approaching these moments with patience and kindness and being accessible to both kids and parents, she says, defines the kind of doctor she wants to be–another lesson she carried with her through her fellowship in the pediatric neurosurgery program at the University of Miami.

A Day in the Life of a Pediatric Neurosurgeon

As a pediatric neurosurgeon, every day is different for Dr. Sandoval Garcia. Some days include more time connecting with patients in the outpatient clinic, while others are mostly spent in the operating room.

“The first thing I try to do in the mornings is see my hospitalized patients. Neurosurgery is a specialty with a fair number of emergencies and unplanned situations,” she explains. “You always have to account for new events and patients that arrived overnight. You also need to develop a plan for managing them throughout the day,” she said.

Dr. Sandoval also spends time conducting research with colleagues and students to help inform care for the future. Dr. Sandoval Garcia incorporates her research and the clinical and personal skills that she learned from her mentors, approaching her patients and the training of residents and medical students with compassion, and clinical and research excellence.

Through her work, Dr. Sandodval-Garcia hopes to improve care for Minnesota's communities. For here, the current moment is a one of change where “we can explore how to provide better care for our patients.”