Messages From Dr. Armstrong

Read the latest news and insights from the Dean.


Hear from Dr. Armstrong

Two CUIMC leaders—Anne Taylor, MD, vice dean for academic affairs at Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior vice president for faculty affairs and career development at CUIMC, and Katrina Armstrong, MD, chief executive officer of Columbia University Irving Medical Center and dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons—discuss diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism at the medical center.

Past Updates

June 24, 2022: Today’s Supreme Court ruling

Dear Colleagues,

This morning, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade and reversing nearly 50 years of legal precedent. Even as we reaffirm our commitment to respecting differences in individual opinions and beliefs across our diverse community, this ruling is deeply concerning for all of us who spend our lives and careers supporting safe and equitable medical care.

I write to you today thinking of our clinicians, the many caregivers in our institution, and the patients who rely on us to be there for them. Columbia has a long history of providing the full breadth of reproductive health services to our patients and supporting the research and education that will strengthen these services in the future. Though we are fortunate to have state-backed protections in New York, today’s ruling reveals how rights can be disturbingly fragile. As an institution we bear a special responsibility for leadership in this moment; our values of patient autonomy, privacy, and equal access to medical care will continue to guide us through this challenging period.

There are many among us who have shown this leadership in the past and I know they will continue to show us the way forward now. Dr. Mary D’Alton, chair of our Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and a longtime advocate for reducing maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S., expressed her concern about the impact this ruling will have on maternal health. Nearly half the states will now face almost total bans on what can be a life-saving procedure. Today our nation embarks on a course unlikely to decrease the number of abortions performed but certain to decrease the number of abortions performed safely.

Women will bear this burden, and women of color and those living in poverty will bear the most of it.

Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, a longtime Columbia faculty member who has been fighting for reproductive rights and women’s health equity for decades, was instrumental in making Columbia one of the first institutions in the country to offer family planning fellowships providing post-residency training in contraception and abortion. Along with the late Dr. Allan Rosenfield, she also helped introduce abortion and contraceptive education into our medical school curriculum. The vision and commitment that Dr. Westhoff has demonstrated over the decades provides a template for our course ahead. Dr. Westhoff recently shared with me that there are conversations going on every day across the country, discussions centered around a simple question: As the law continues to change, how can we still care for our patients?

The answer is that we will find a way.

Dr. Paula Castaño, our interim division chief of Family Planning, urges us to redouble our efforts in support of those most affected by this ruling: trainees, disadvantaged patients, and colleagues in affected states. I share this commitment to using Columbia’s leadership to support those far beyond our community.

There is understandable worry in some quarters that this decision is a precursor to further attempts to erode reproductive freedom and patients’ rights to healthcare aligned with their own values. Our commitment to the health and well-being of our community is demonstrated by our actions. Dr. Ana Cepin, Director of Community Women's Health and a member of our Family Planning division, leads services we make available in Washington Heights and Northern Manhattan—regardless of the ability to pay. Dr. Cepin’s work, and that of other faculty members, are a testament to our mission and our resolve.

Finally, I urge you to keep in mind these wise words from New York Health Commissioner and VP&S alumna, Dr. Mary Bassett, who recently shared with Elle Magazine her personal story of terminating a pregnancy: “Every woman, every girl, and every human being must intrinsically know that their health, their choices, and their life—as they choose to live it—holds inordinate value to all. Until then, there is work to do.”

There is indeed more work to do, and I am grateful to be part of this community at this consequential moment.

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD 
Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

May 27, 2022: Commencement, summer vacation, and the importance of rest and renewal

Dear Colleagues,

Last week, we celebrated a commencement week unlike any other. After two years of social distancing, remote meetups, and seemingly endless Zoom calls, the return to in-person graduation ceremonies was nothing short of outstanding. It was incredibly cathartic and rewarding to walk down 168th Street and see our smiling graduates in their Columbia blue regalia. (Interestingly, Columbia was one of the first American universities to embrace graduation regalia, and many of the custom’s standard traditions were first established right here in 1894. The more you know.)

We honored not one but three classes of Columbia graduates, as the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 all gathered for commencement celebrations on the Morningside campus. On the medical campus, we celebrated graduates of all four schools in the Armory—a fitting venue, considering that so many of our students volunteered their talents to the vaccination effort there and helped turn the tide of the pandemic in New York City. We welcomed one of my personal heroes at the VP&S ceremony, New York State Department of Health Commissioner and VP&S alumna Mary Bassett, who delivered a phenomenal keynote address on health equity. My thanks to Dr. Bassett and all of our speakers, and my sincerest congratulations to our graduates and our colleagues who took home faculty awards. It was a week like no other for a group of graduates like no other, and it was an absolute joy being with all of you.

I especially want to thank everybody who makes this special season possible. Tina Hansen and her CUIMC events team are integral to this effort every year. Tina is a 21-year veteran of CUIMC, and she’s been running graduation for 17 of those years. She was practically omnipotent this year as she organized, staged, and oversaw eight medical campus ceremonies and the work of more than 170 CUIMC volunteers, all of whom happily took on a second job for the week. Hosting graduation is a massive undertaking, requiring the services of fire safety, disability services, Health on Haven medical staff, public safety, and many more groups. We also owe a special thanks to Amador Centeno and the Facilities Management and Campus Services group, who spend months preparing the campus for our graduates and guests. Their painting, planting, and sprucing ensure that the campus is at its welcoming best during commencement week.

Of the many instances of generosity on display last week, one stands out as representing the very best of our community. Patty Conde, an employee and volunteer, found a meaningful way to include a young man with an intellectual disability in our graduation festivities. It was a simple but special act of kindness that led his mother to write a note of thanks, saying that her family was “heading home with full hearts.”

I hope that all of us will embrace this spirit and take the opportunity to help somebody in need. Our commencement volunteers do that and more, and I deeply appreciate their selfless contributions. My thanks to Tina, Amador, Patty, and all of our captains, employees, and volunteers who contributed to this special week. Many of us dream of graduation our entire lives, and your work ensures that the memory lasts a lifetime.

With graduation behind us and Memorial Day Weekend ahead, it feels like summer has truly arrived. (It certainly announced its arrival with last weekend’s sweltering heat—though, as an Alabamian, you won’t hear me complaining about warmer weather.) With summer upon us, I want to stress how important it is to take vacation time. Especially this year, with all we have endured, it is important to take time for replenishment and renewal. I will be headed to Maine this weekend to spend time with my family and pets (Eggemoggin and Buckle, a pair of rambunctious water-loving dogs, and Hector, our comparatively reserved cat). We’ll be celebrating my daughter’s delayed college graduation on Saturday and then heading straight for the water. Being by the ocean has always been my way of recharging, and you can take it from me that vacation is the best tool we have for combatting burnout. I hope every one of us will use it.

Of course, time away isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for work-life harmony. It’s important to acknowledge how demanding our work truly is and to be wary of burnout, even during this celebratory season. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I want to take the opportunity to thank Chief Well-Being Officer Lou Baptista, who has overseen CUIMC’s CopeColumbia initiative since its inception in April of 2020. Lou and the entire CopeColumbia group have provided peer support services, seminars, town halls, and so much more to support our faculty and staff during these historically difficult years. My heartfelt thanks to Lou, program director Claude Mellins, program coordinator Chireau White, and CopeColumbia faculty members Colleen Cullen, Laurel Mayer, Erin Engle, Elizabeth Fitelson, Patrice Malone, Jared O’Garro-Moore, Sheau-Yan Ho, Robert Remien, Sara Nash, Deborah Glasofer, Anne Marie Albano, and Michael Devlin. You have gone above and beyond to meet these challenges and your support is felt throughout the entire medical center.

If you’ve eagerly skipped ahead looking for the key takeaways of my latest letter, know that my most critical message to you this summer is simple: Set your out-of-office message, take some time for yourself, and spend it doing whatever brings you joy and peace. You’ve earned it. 

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD 
Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

May 6, 2022: Our dedication to our patients and our community

Dear Colleagues,

Spring is now well underway, with graduation ceremonies and summer vacation on the horizon. I’ve been glad to meet so many of you as the academic year winds down and we enjoy the warmer weather around campus. In every conversation, I’m impressed by the tremendous quality of our work across all departments, divisions, passions, and pursuits. Each interaction provides new insight into the special qualities that have contributed to Columbia’s extraordinary success over the last several decades. Chief among those characteristics is a foundational commitment to our patients, not just when they come through the doors of our hospitals and clinics, but also in the work that reaches them in their homes and communities.

Last night, I participated in the induction ceremony for the Academy of Clinical Excellence (ACE) at VP&S. ACE was first proposed by Dean Emeritus Lee Goldman, MD, to recognize clinical faculty members for outstanding patient care and distinguished clinical excellence. Inductees are nominated by their peers for exemplifying the extraordinary compassion and care embodied by our most dedicated clinicians. This year’s induction ceremony honored the two most recent classes, a double header given the pandemic’s impact on last year’s ceremony. Please join me in congratulating this year’s 42 ACE inductees. I would also like to thank Drs. Carrie Ruzal-Shapiro and Michael Argenziano, along with the entire ACE leadership committee, for their ongoing commitment to this important organization. Special thanks to Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr for a wonderful keynote address, and to Emily Frey and our events team for organizing such a special night.

At CUIMC, clinical excellence and dedication to our patients can be found anywhere you look. Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting Christopher Petit, MD, during our morning 1 train commute. Dr. Petit is the Welton M. Gersony Professor of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology. He joined us from Emory University in late 2020, and now leads a world-renowned division that has long set the standard for outstanding interdisciplinary heart care for children. Since its establishment in late 1971 under the directorship of Dr. Welton Gersony, Columbia’s Division of Pediatric Cardiology has developed many of the life-saving innovations now used to treat congenital heart disease. Families from across the globe come to us when their child has a serious heart condition, not only because of our exceptional patient outcomes, but because of the lengths our teams go to elevate the patient experience. As one example of those extraordinary efforts, Dr. Petit shared that one of our physicians recently learned of a family with limited means staying in a local Airbnb while their baby recovered in our cardiac ICU. She connected with the family and paid for their housing costs herself to ease their burden during a difficult time. Her story—one of hundreds like it—is emblematic of the kind of person who comes to work here at Columbia.

Dr. Petit also shared an update on his plans for the division, which include expanding access and patient outreach in the local community. He and his team are finding ways to collaborate more closely with community pediatricians and to be more available for new and existing patients. It’s so important that we continue improving access to our care by making it easier for patients to reach us in the practices and by meeting patients where they are, especially in communities with fewer resources or other barriers to care.

I recently connected with Nick Homma, MD, chief medical officer of ColumbiaDoctors, who updated me on some of the excellent population health programs he leads in the faculty practice organization. We discussed how important it is for academic medical centers like ours to not only deliver high quality care, but to do so as efficiently as possible. In our collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell as a Medicare ACO (accountable care organization), we have been one of the top performers in New York State for quality and cost effectiveness over the last four years. We ensure that our patients get the care they need, when they need it, without unnecessary procedures and additional costs. We do so by taking a patient-centered approach and working with our communities to tailor our care to their needs, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to medicine. Part of that patient-centered approach lies in reducing wait times, increasing convenience, and expanding our reach, which we’ve achieved in part by increasing our investment in telehealth. Around 20% of our total appointments are now conducted via telehealth, and we expect that number to grow as we reach more patients locally and across the Tri-state area. (For some departments, like Psychiatry, that number is already as high as 95%).

Hearing from Drs. Petit and Homma about how we are adapting our services and outreach efforts echoed the sentiments of so many recent conversations about patient access and equitable care. It’s simply not enough to provide the best service; we have to ensure that those efforts reach the most vulnerable and underserved populations, especially in our own neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of introducing Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, MD, MSPH, who delivered the David Seegal AOA Visiting Professorship Lecture. Her talk focused on the power of interdisciplinarity and highlighted important lessons about building and supporting successful teams. For me, the highlight of Dr. Hobson-Rohrer’s visit was hearing her immense admiration for one of our longstanding faculty members, Dodi Meyer, MD. Over the last 30 years, Dr. Meyer has become an internationally recognized leader in community health. She and her teammates, including Andy Nieto at NewYork-Presbyterian, have developed a robust portfolio of community programs and partnerships addressing everything from food insecurity to youth development. Dr. Meyer’s visionary commitment to community health led to the creation of the Community Pediatrics Training Program, where residents focus on learning principles of population health, advocacy, cultural competency, and meaningful community engagement. Reciprocal learning and true community engagement are absolutely critical to our mission, maybe now more than ever. It’s heartening to see the service learning approach embraced by Dr. Meyer gaining even more traction in departments and divisions throughout the medical center.

I’ll leave you with one more story from our coronary care unit, which I recently visited for the first time. I went to meet a critically ill patient who had been transferred from another hospital for management of a complex cardiopulmonary process after a mechanical fall. Her family had been told that she was unlikely to survive the hospitalization, and they were determined to get her to Columbia. As I watched the nurses expertly settle her in to the unit, it was clear that her family was right: There was simply no better place for her to be. While we can’t always hope for this kind of outcome, I am delighted to share that the patient rapidly improved. After being told that she would never leave the hospital, she left our care in good health and high spirits. My deepest gratitude to Chris Irobunda, MD, and the entire CCU nursing, house staff, and respiratory teams, for providing the extraordinary care that changed this patient’s course so dramatically. It’s no exaggeration to say that the team at Columbia saved her life.

And her story is no outlier. For patients and families who require the very best care, Columbia is a place where hope and healing happen. That’s because everything we do is about caring for our patients, whether it’s the work we do in the hospital today, or the education, research, and community outreach that allow us to better serve patients of tomorrow. Medicine is a team sport, and it requires excellent players across every position—from physicians and nurses to technicians, administrators, assistants, and everyone in between. The quality of our teams brings to mind the inscription above the doors of the Presbyterian Building: “For of the most high cometh healing.” Your dedication to our patients breathes meaning into those words every single day. For that, you have my sincerest thanks and admiration.

All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD 
Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

April 1, 2022: Match Day and a timely reminder to invest in our people

Dear Colleagues,

As spring arrives and pandemic restrictions begin to recede, I’m encouraged to see that our medical campus is, in many ways, back in bloom. Two weeks ago, our graduating VP&S students celebrated one of the most cherished traditions of medical school: The Match. Nearly 150 members of the VP&S Class of 2022 gathered—together in person for the first time since 2019—to learn where they will go for their residency. It was heartening to see so many smiles as students opened their Match envelopes alongside family and friends, and to hear Lisa Mellman, MD, senior associate dean for student affairs at VP&S, share her reflections on this remarkable class.

These students faced unique challenges in the lead-up to their Match. Due to the pandemic, they had completed only two clerkships of their Major Clinical Year before in-person clinical learning came to a pause. Their residency interviews were conducted entirely online and, in many cases, students were choosing their top residency choices from cities and campuses they had never seen in person. But in a year of unknowns, the outcome was terrific, as outstanding programs across the country welcomed this resilient cohort for the next phase of their medical training. The day was an apt reward for a class so heavily involved in the pandemic response. Dr. Mellman commended the graduates for their activism, their advocacy, and their humanism during an incredibly challenging period in our shared history, and I share in her proud celebration of the VP&S Class of 2022.

The Match represents the culmination of so many people’s hard work. Our deans, faculty members, and department staff all play a part in helping our students develop and navigate their pathways to a career in medicine. At our Match Day reception, I spoke with Bill Levine, MD, chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at VP&S, who helps prepare students interested in orthopedics for their Match. Residency programs in orthopedics have always been incredibly competitive, with an immense cohort of students applying for a very limited number of opportunities around the country. Since joining VP&S in 1998, Dr. Levine has taken a hands-on approach to mentorship—a contact sport approach, if you will—that engages students early and stewards them on their path to Match Day. VP&S students interested in orthopedics receive access to invaluable mentorship opportunities that help them develop their scholarly productivity. Since Dr. Levine’s arrival, those efforts have resulted in a 98% match rate among VP&S students applying for orthopedics residencies. This year was another major success, as eight out of eight students matched with phenomenal orthopedics departments around the country. I wish all of our VP&S Class of 2022 graduates well and offer my heartfelt congratulations, both to the students themselves and to everyone who supported them on their journey.

Of course, that journey doesn’t end at residency training. A career in health care and science is synonymous with continuing education, and our own faculty understand the importance of lifelong learning. Seeing our graduating medical students take this next step provides a timely reminder of how important it is to invest in our people and their continued growth. Faculty across the medical center have many career development opportunities available to them through their departments and through the CUIMC Office of Academic Affairs led by Anne Taylor, MD, senior vice president for faculty affairs and career development. In a recent conversation, Dr. Taylor shared with me how important it is that we not only support our faculty’s success in productivity, but also in satisfaction. Whether your work lies in research, education, or clinical care—or in many cases, some combination of all three—we want to help you become an expert in your field and find satisfaction in your work.

A core component of that satisfaction lies in professional development opportunities—ensuring that all faculty have equal access to the knowledge and resources required to advance their careers. When Dr. Taylor joined the faculty in 2007, the medical center had no formal structure for faculty development programs. Dean Emeritus Lee Goldman, MD, recruited her to correct that. Dr. Goldman recognized that to be a leading academic medical center, you have to invest in your human capital at every step along the way. Over the past 15 years, Dr. Taylor and Clara Lapiner, MPH, have worked closely with our faculty in developing a robust slate of career development offerings. Those include mentoring, guidance on tenure and promotion, sponsorship activities, early-career and mid-career leadership development, management training, and skill-building workshops.

This kind of support reaches faculty all across the medical center, and it has been especially critical to supporting our research mission and stabilizing the investigator pipeline throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the direction of Muredach Reilly, MBBCh, MSCE, the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research remains a leader among more than 50 Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) hubs across the country. The Institute supports all phases of clinical and translational science and accelerates discoveries from the lab bench to the patient bedside. Last June, the Institute received its fourth consecutive CTSA grant, with a perfect overall score from the NIH review committee. The five-year, $61.7M grant provides funding through 2026 and is one of the largest ever to CUIMC.

The institute’s success can be attributed, in part, to its full pipeline of education and training for researchers and a suite of development programs for allied research professionals provided by the TRANSFORM Resource. Some of TRANSFORM’s offerings include the Irving Scholars Program and the Reach for the First R01 Workshop. As TRANSFORM director and associate dean of research and career development, Daichi Shimbo, MD, prepares clinical and translational researchers to lead interdisciplinary teams across a broad spectrum of impactful projects. TRANSFORM also includes the KL2 Mentored Career Development Award, a mentorship program for junior faculty (led by co-director Jeanine Genkinger, PhD), and the TL1 Training Programs for doctoral students and postdocs (led by co-directors Marissa Spann, PhD, MPH, and Jacquelyn Taylor, PhD, RN). All together, these programs ensure that CUIMC will remain at the leading edge of research and discovery for clinical research.

Professional development programming also extends to our staff, who are critical to our shared success. CUIMC Human Resources, with the support of Morningside Human Resources and our Faculty Practice Organization, offer a variety of learning and development opportunities. Those include on-the-job professional development, leadership and management courses, coaching and mentoring, and skill-building workshops. Programs are available in the classroom and online through LinkedIn Learning. We owe our thanks to Bill Innes, chief human resources officer, along with the HR teams at CUIMC, the FPO, and Morningside for their support as we adapted to a new working paradigm during the pandemic. I would also like to thank Bill for agreeing to stay on into the new year to ensure a smooth transition for his eventual successor.

As we celebrate our medical school graduates entering the next phase of their professional journey, I encourage our faculty and staff to consider the next step on their own path and to pursue every avenue for reaching their full potential. I welcome your continuous feedback as we refine our programming to support your success. These programs not only ensure that Columbia remains among the very best scientific and medical institutions in the world today, they also steward the growth of every person who helps our community maintain that reputation and our ability to serve communities near and far. As we reflect on the challenges of the past two years, I am reminded of my favorite Merlin line from T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”: “The best thing for being sad... is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.” I encourage all of you to continue learning and to use every available resource to reach your full potential. Your success is our success, and we will do everything we possibly can to help you achieve it. 


All my best,

Katrina Armstrong, MD 
Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Institutional Messages

May 11, 2022: Medical Center Neighborhood Fund 

Dear Colleagues, 

The Medical Center Neighborhood Fund (MCNF) was created in 1987 as a partnership among Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP), and the New York State Psychiatric Institute to foster the bond between the medical center and the community. For 35 years, generous contributions from faculty, staff, students, and others have helped support many important community causes. We are asking you to support our neighbors by donating to the MCNF today. Your help is urgently needed. 

COVID-19 has hit our community especially hard as our surrounding zip codes have ranked among the highest in New York City for total cases. The economic consequences have also been striking, with many people out of work, unable to pay their bills and, in some cases, feed their families. The situation was further exacerbated as many of the community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve our neighbors curtailed programing or shut down altogether as a result of the pandemic. 

For the past two years we have focused most of our MCNF efforts on providing financial support to local food pantries and collaborated with colleagues at the Columbia Morningside campus as part of the Columbia Neighbors Food Relief Fund. The response was outstanding as we raised over $125,000 in both 2020 and 2021, triple what we raised in 2019. Over 600 have people contributed with donations ranging from $10 to several that were four figures and above. 

While food relief continues to remain a top priority, many CBOs have resumed their services and activities. The continued outpouring from the CUIMC community and generous additional support from NYP also enable us to fund additional community programming focused on the arts, recreation, job training, violence prevention and education, among other areas. 

In addition, there are volunteer opportunities: 

  • Volunteering as a site visitor to advise the steering committee regarding applications and funding allocations 
  • Volunteering at many of the food pantries in our area 

If you are interested in being a site visitor or supporting the community as a volunteer, please visit the Government and Community Affairs website for further information.

The MCNF is administered by staff volunteers, and 100% of the money we receive will go toward supporting our friends and neighbors. Giving is made easy through our PayPal site, which allows you to donate via PayPal or credit card. You can also donate by check or payroll deduction. Information is available on the Government & Community Affairs website or you can contact the office at 212-305-8060 or gca@cumc.columbia.edu for additional information. 

Thank you in advance for your gift. 

Sincerely, 

Katrina Armstrong, MD 

Chief Executive Officer and Dean 

Lorraine Frazier, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAHA 

Dean, School of Nursing 

Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH 

Dean, Mailman School of Public Health 

Christian S. Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent 

Dean, College of Dental Medicine 

H. Blair Simpson, MD, PhD 

Interim Chair, Department of Psychiatry 

Donna Lynne, DrPH 

Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CUIMC 

CEO, ColumbiaDoctors 

May 4, 2022: An Update on CUIMC Antiracism Efforts 

To our fellow members of the Columbia community:

In 2020, our nation was confronted by dual public health crises — COVID-19 and the systemic racism that the pandemic and widespread protests revealed. In March of that year, the COVID-19 pandemic began burning through communities across the country and highlighted disparities in the quality and accessibility of health care for people of color. The wide-reaching effects of systemic racism were underscored further during a summer of protest and discord, fueled by decades of brutality and ultimately ignited by the murder of George Floyd. COVID-19 and the pervasive abuse of Black communities and other citizens of color rapidly pushed systemic racism to the forefront of public health discourse. What quickly became apparent in those conversations was a painful truth: Racism is endemic to the United States, and it causes harmful and far-reaching effects on the physical and mental health and well-being of communities of color in this country.

The impact of racism is multidimensional, as populations of color have higher death rates, shorter life spans, and poorer outcomes in the face of common diseases — all steeped in generational inequality of care. Black, Latino, American Indian, and Alaska Native populations had higher risks for infection, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 across the board, while anti-Asian violence escalated to heights not previously observed. These events represented a major inflection point concerning the impact of race on health and well-being.

At Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), faculty, students, staff, and trainees grappled with these twin pandemics, which inspired individual and institutional introspection and elucidated the need for a more nuanced approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging throughout our medical center. Our community resolved that it is not enough to simply talk about diversity; our efforts must be refocused on eliminating racism wherever it exists, be it in healthcare disparities, prejudiced educational paradigms, or hidden biases among research and discovery efforts.

CUIMC Roadmap for Anti-Racism in Healthcare and Health Sciences
In July of 2020, the four CUIMC deans appointed a large, CUIMC-wide, broadly representative task force focused on outlining ways to eliminate racism from all aspects of our work. The CUIMC Task Force for Addressing Structural Racism was appointed to identify opportunities for reducing racism’s impact across six key domains:

  1. Faculty recruitment, retention, advancement, and leadership
  2. Education, training, and curricular change
  3. Health care disparities, social justice, and solutions research
  4. Clinical care
  5. Community and public service
  6. Civility and professionalism

The task force — led by Drs. Rafael A. Lantigua, Anne L. Taylor, and Olajide A. Williams — enlisted the help of more than 100 faculty, staff, and students. Members convened for a series of discussions, meetings, and focus group sessions throughout the summer and fall of 2020, and a report to the CUIMC community followed in November of that year.

The CUIMC Roadmap for Antiracism in Healthcare and Health Sciences includes actionable recommendations toward substantial, impactful, and durable progress. Implementation began in January 2021, and recommendations from the task force were adjudicated through an implementation committee of faculty, staff, and students from across our four schools. Additionally, each school has developed separate antiracism plans specific to their disciplines.

Our Shared Progress

The past year has shown promise, with abundant and multifaceted steps taken to address these six action areas. We write today with an update, highlighting numerous indicators of progress toward long-term diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the Columbia medical enterprise.

Special attention has been paid to the recruitment of diverse faculty at all ranks. From January 2021 to February 2022, 43% of all new faculty hires were diverse, including 15% from groups traditionally underrepresented in medicine. We have expanded funding to enhance diversity goals, issuing requests for funding applications three times a year to promote competitive retention. Recruitment and development efforts also extend to leadership positions, with diverse hires made in four vice dean, associate dean, and assistant dean positions at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, and the School of Nursing.

Further emphasis has been placed on diverse faculty pipeline development through mentorship programs for trainees, increased support for graduate students, and faculty mentorship for medical students led by Clara Lapiner, assistant vice president of faculty professional development, diversity, and inclusion. Additional efforts include a CUIMC Leadership and Management Course for Diverse Faculty; facilitated peer-mentoring programs for diverse faculty, including women, LGBTQ+, Columbia Black Men in Medicine, and Latinx faculty; and sponsorship to attend AAMC Leadership Seminars for minority faculty and women faculty.

Last year also saw the appointment of a chief diversity officer for staff, Tonya Richards, who has collaborated with CUIMC Human Resources in launching employee resource groups that bring together faculty, researchers, and staff of shared race, gender, and identity affiliations and serve as invaluable professional support networks.

In promoting antiracist dialogue, the medical center also launched a CUIMC Antiracist Educator Institute, the Bold Conversations on Race for Healing & Reshaping our Medical Center Community Series in partnership with CopeColumbia, and Conversations with Historians, a collaboration with Columbia’s Department of History to explore the historical roots of racism. These programs involved strong collaborations among CUIMC HR; the Office of Faculty Professional Development, Diversity and Inclusion; The Office of Innovation in Health Professions Education; and the Center for Teaching and Learning.

With an eye on further improving our professional climate and culture, the new CUIMC Office of Professionalism is now fully staffed, led by Associate Dean of Professionalism Dena Goffman, MD, Assistant Vice President for Academic Appointments and Professionalism Dionida Ryce, and Director of Compliance and Training Spencer Bennett. The office’s mission is to promote values and behaviors aligned with organizational climate and a culture of respect, support, and positive career growth. The office maintains liaisons within CUIMC HR, our partners at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and the Vice Dean for Education Offices to bolster professionalism in learning and working environments.

The CUIMC Office of Professionalism has established a code of values, CUIMC CARES, that defines principles and behaviors for creating a culture that encourages civility, acceptance of differences, respect for all, ethical behavior, and a supportive environment within our community.

In addressing health care disparities, social justice, and solutions research, CUIMC has launched the Columbia Science and Health Equity Lecture Series to convene scholars in fields relevant to health equity and solutions to health inequities. Efforts have also been made toward the organization of a network of training programs relevant to health equity to attract students and trainees. Our ultimate goal in this arena is to create a foundation for a planned Institute for the Study of Healthcare Disparities and Solutions.

In the realm of clinical care, CUIMC has engaged in a collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian to integrate clinical care into a single payer-agnostic system, promoting a more patient-centered approach to our work. We have also made strides in increasing the diversity of our health care providers, with particular attention to clinical leadership. Efforts include collaborating with our Academy of Clinical Excellence to provide support and mentorship across clinician demographic groups.

Perhaps our most immediate impact in addressing health care disparities has been in our surrounding communities, led by Drs. Rafael Lantigua and Olajide Williams. As part of our longstanding relationships with community partners, CUIMC has increased the number of Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian community health workers now serving in Washington Heights, West Harlem, Inwood, and South Bronx. Multiple outreach efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic addressed vaccine hesitancy, access, and distribution. COVID-19 vaccination efforts included pop-up clinics in underserved communities and large-scale efforts in partnership with NYP at the Armory.

The Community Health Workers Town Hall Series leveraged community partnerships to educate and inform on issues ranging from vaccine hesitancy, post-COVID syndrome, and mental health impacts of the pandemic. CUIMC also provided community physicians continuing medical education and support. We have also identified space to establish the CUIMC Community Center, which will provide a physical location for community outreach efforts and strengthen our existing relationships with community-based partners.  

Our goals have been generously funded in part by donations from various benefactors. CUIMC has received more than $20 million in private support towards antiracist initiatives. These donors have empowered student support, recruitment of physicians from groups under-represented in medicine, community health worker programs, COVID-19 vaccine outreach and education, and improvements in clinical trials diversity. We are so grateful to our donors for their support of this work.

Remarkably, the programs and milestones described here represent only a fraction of the work happening throughout our four schools. For more updates, resources, and contacts, we invite you to visit Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at CUIMC.

Our shared work toward creating a truly antiracist medical institution is ongoing. We welcome your feedback, advocacy, and support to make our goals a reality and ensure that CUIMC can remain at the forefront of equitable medical education, research, and care. We want you to know that your voices are heard and valued, and we welcome continued partnerships throughout the entire Columbia University community. We look forward to sharing more updates with you as progress continues.

Sincerely,

Katrina Armstrong, MD
Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Anne Taylor, MD
Senior Vice President for Faculty Affairs and Career Development, Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Vice Dean of Academic Affairs, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

March 11, 2022: How to Help Ukraine 

Dear Columbia community: 

Over the past several weeks, we have seen heart-rending situations in the Ukraine that involve serious injuries, loss of life, and families needing basic food, shelter, and other assistance. Many of you have reached out asking if there is anything that we as a Columbia community can do to help. 

The Greater New York Hospital Association and many hospitals in the area are working with the AFYA Foundation, which is providing medical supplies and other humanitarian aid which will then be donated to the US Ukraine Foundation in order to help the Ukrainian people. You have the option of making a donation to AFYA to help cover the transportation and logistical costs of delivering this aid. Please visit https://afyafoundation.org/ in order to do so. The foundation also has volunteer opportunities. 

CopeColumbia and Student Health on Haven are important resources for our Columbia community that provide individual support during these challenging times. We, along with the rest of the health care community, will be watching the situation over the coming weeks and provide you with additional options to support the Ukrainian community. 

Thank you.

All my best, 

Katrina 

Katrina Armstrong, MD 

Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 

Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

March 3, 2022: Message Regarding Ukraine 

Dear fellow members of the CUIMC family,

It is difficult to describe our collective anguish over the Russian government’s brutal and senseless invasion of Ukraine. We write to share our support for those in the medical center community who have family and friends who are affected by this crisis. Please know that we stand ready to support you in any way possible. 

We are horrified by what we are seeing. The bombing of civilian areas, and the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding as nearly a million people have been forced from their homes, has shaken the world. 

As President Bollinger noted in his communication late yesterday, the Office of University Life and the International Students and Scholars Office are reaching out to everyone affected to offer assistance. The medical center will support these efforts in any way possible.

Sincerely, 

Katrina Armstrong, MD  

Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center  

Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons  

Lorraine Frazier, RN, PhD  

Dean, School of Nursing  

Linda Fried, MD, MPH  

Dean, Mailman School of Public Health  

Christian S. Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent  

Dean, College of Dental Medicine

March 3, 2022: A Message from Katrina Armstrong 

Dear Colleagues,

My first few days here have been filled with warm welcomes and productive discussions about the challenges that we can transform into opportunities to advance health and science.

As I said in my remarks at Monday’s welcome assembly, I could not be more honored and humbled to be joining the Columbia community at this important time. It is an important time because the pandemic showed how we can meet challenges through great medicine and science. It is also an important time because we all agree that we need to do more than advance health care and science: We need to ensure those advances benefit everyone. By bringing an equity lens to all that we do, our science, clinical care, education, and community health programs can lead in eliminating the disparities in health and health care that have grown so dramatically over the last decades. 

Many efforts have been underway since CUIMC began discussions in 2020 on strategies to eliminate racism, sexism, and inequity. One example I learned about this week is the VP&S Department of Neurology’s plan to create a resident and faculty practice that combines outpatient care in the Neurological Institute for adults and the Harkness Pavilion for children. This practice will see patients with all types of insurance, bringing residents and faculty together to ensure equal care for all patients and the optimal training environment for students, residents, and fellows. The leadership of the Department of Neurology, including the Chair, Richard Mayeux, MD, and Chief of Staff, Jide Williams, MD, have long advocated for such a clinic, and they and the department are to be commended for developing a plan that enables Columbia and NYP to move forward in this effort together. 

In response to the “CUIMC Roadmap for Anti-Racism in Healthcare and Health Sciences,” remarkable progress has been made on many fronts: Senior Vice President Anne Taylor, MD, reports that since January 2021, we have hired 265 new CUIMC faculty; 15% are underrepresented in medicine (URiM). At the leadership level, we have recruited two vice deans, an associate dean, and an assistant dean who are URiM. We have developed new pipeline programs, opened an Office of Professionalism, and identified space to establish the CUIMC Community Center to expand our community service.

Every school and most departments at CUIMC have appointed diversity officers to implement programs to address racism, sexism, and other inequities in hiring, advancement, student recruitment, patient care, and curricula. Programs are underway to develop a body of scholarship in health care disparities and social justice and to encourage greater community service. I am committed to working with you to advance these programs to ensure that CUIMC stands for equity, inclusion, and excellence.

In observance of Women’s History Month, I want to note the role gender equity has in our overall goal of an inclusive workplace. This week I had the privilege of attending the CUIMC Women in Science Symposium, which celebrates the role women scientists have played in scientific advances, contributions that often go uncredited. This series created by Dr. Taylor and her team promotes the work of women scientists across the four CUIMC schools. At this week’s event, Katalin Karikó, PhD, gave remarks about overcoming adversity in science. She was at Columbia this week to receive, along with Drew Weissman, MD, PhD, the 2021 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for their pioneering work on messenger RNA vaccines for COVID-19.

As I shared in my remarks on Monday, I believe that academic health centers like ours have both an opportunity and a responsibility to deliver on our values—the power of science to make the world a better place, the fundamental role of empathy and compassion not just in our roles as healers but in our work together, and the pursuit of equity and justice grounded in listening to the communities we serve. 

We are all here to improve human health. We will reach our goals by investing in research and education, creating new approaches to treatment and prevention that will improve health, and training the young people who will be our community’s leaders in the future. We also have an opportunity to create a new paradigm where our advances raise the health of everyone, where we reach all patients and communities in need. We all understand that this is a complex and challenging endeavor, but this medical center has a history of bringing diverse and committed talent to the most challenging problems that exist, as the pandemic illustrated. We are a medical center that comes to work every day in service to our patients and our communities, and we support each other in that important and difficult work. 

In closing, I welcome your input as we work together on our common goals.

All my best,

Katrina 

Katrina Armstrong, MD 

Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center 

Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons