CUIMC Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month
In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15), we interviewed faculty and staff with Hispanic heritage who are helping the medical center achieve excellence in research, education, and patient care.
Read more below about Gladys Bueso, program administrator at VP&S; Veronica Barcelona, PhD, School of Nursing; Tomás Díaz, MD, VP&S Emergency Medicine; Ana Cepin, MD, VP&S Obstetrics & Gynecology; Gloria Willson, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library; and Jacob Palma, DDS, College of Dental Medicine.
Program Administrator, VP&S
On working at Columbia
I fell into my role as a result of 9/11. Prior to working at Columbia, I worked at a Wall Street investment firm. It was a good experience, but something was missing, especially after what we experienced on 9/11.
I owe a world of gratitude to Mayra Marte-Miraz for urging me to pursue my current role as the medicine residency program administrator. To this date, the decision couldn’t have been more perfect! If I were not doing this, I think I would have been a teacher.
I enjoy the diversity of the people I work with. I love working in Washington Heights, the neighborhood I grew up in. I love working with residents every year. It's dynamic, and while there are things that stay constant, so many changes take place each year!
Motivation and inspiration
I work with an amazing group of physicians and residents in training. Being able to play a small part in supporting the residents as they care for patients and working with our leadership towards the common goal of advancing our program makes it incredibly fulfilling. This past year, with the pandemic, I watched these physicians work tirelessly to save their patients. I have never felt more committed and motivated!!
I have wonderful mentors who, over the years, inspired me. My closest friends, who are like my siblings, have always served as examples of what to strive for. Most of all, my parents have been most inspiring. They came to the United States so many years ago, navigated through many hurdles, learning the language, becoming citizens, and creating a successful life for themselves and for me.
On celebrating heritage
Latinos have such joy of life. We enjoy dancing and celebrating all occasions! It's in our blood! With this past year presenting challenges of social distancing, gatherings were limited. I’m hoping that soon we will be able to resume celebrations and get-togethers with lots of dancing and delicious food!
Veronica Barcelona, PhD, RN
Assistant Professor, Nursing
Understanding health inequities
As a mother and a scientist, I believe that a person’s health throughout their lifespan, not only during pregnancy, is key to healthy kids and families.
My work centers around understanding health inequities in pregnancy and birth outcomes, with a focus on women from communities of color. My doctoral study focused on how acculturation was associated with adverse birth outcomes in Puerto Rican women, and we found that first-generation Puerto Rican women had worse birth outcomes than those who had been here two or more generations.
This work demonstrates the need to understand how culture and society influence health care and that Latinos are not a homogeneous group.
On scientists that reflect the community
It’s important to have scientists that reflect the communities we serve so that we can ensure adequate representation in research study recruitment and develop research questions that are relevant and important to our communities
Tomás Díaz, MD
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, VP&S
On pursuing a career in medicine
My path to medicine was not a direct one. Prior to starting medical school, the only physician I had met had been my primary pediatrician. I have always been an avid reader and envisioned myself as a teacher. But I favored my science classes in grade school, and at some point during college this led me to medicine...which has afforded me the opportunity to learn about the clinical sciences, teach residents and students, and listen to patient stories.
I initially wanted to be a high school English teacher because I loved the idea of sharing my favorite stories, analyzing them with others, and learning from others' interpretations of these stories.
I've learned that stories are a large part of our work in medicine. Patients share their stories with us, we interpret these stories, and document them in our notes. Medicine, when done well, is associated with healing, but providers are also witnesses to and documentarians of the experiences of our patients.
Working at Columbia
I work clinically in the Milstein and Allen emergency departments, serve as an assistant clerkship director for the emergency medicine sub-internship for fourth-year medical students, and am a facilitator in the VP&S Foundations of Clinical Medicine - Seminars course.
I was born at Columbia in Washington Heights but mainly grew up just across the bridge in New Jersey. My father is a Dominican immigrant, my mother is from Cuba. So a large draw of coming to CUIMC was the opportunity to work with patients who look like my family.
Motivated to pursue health justice
Big picture: My work is motivated by a pursuit of health justice. Access to culturally conscious health care and education is necessary for so much of the other work that must be done to achieve equity and justice more broadly. I have developed an expertise (over many hours, over many years) and now I am able to use it for clinical care, education, and advocacy.
On a smaller scale, I am motivated by the people I meet through my work—patients, colleagues, students. As I was leaving the hospital last night after a shift, a patient I had seen earlier that day stopped me on the street to tell me how much better he felt because of my care. I couldn't help but smile under my mask. Those moments help counterbalance all of the exhaustion and frustration associated with working in health care and motivate me to continue this work.
Pride in heritage
I am very proud to be Black, an identity which is not always recognized as being congruent with Latinidad. Medicine has granted me power and access to spaces that I might not have had access to previously; I am very intentional about forefronting my racial and ethnic identities in these spaces. Not infrequently, this feels rebellious. But, ultimately, my name, my physical appearance, my speech patterns are all part of my story and are very much worthy of celebration.
Ana G. Cepin, MD
Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, VP&S
On becoming a doctor
I always wanted to be a doctor. I was interested in science and thought that I could make a difference in the world with a career in medicine. One of my role models was my pediatrician. She was a Dominican woman practicing in Washington Heights and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
Working at Columbia
I went to medical school here and have worked here since residency. At CUIMC, I have great colleagues, the opportunity to pursue interesting and impactful work, and take care of a great patient population.
Above all, I like working in Washington Heights which is where I was born, raised, and is still the place I call home.
I am also director of Community Women's Health, co-director of the Ob/Gyn Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and medical director of the ACN Family Planning Practice. I provide sexual and reproductive care to girls and women of all backgrounds and I work to improve the health outcomes of our patients and the women in our community. I am motivated by how profoundly important this work is.
My mother is my most important inspiration. She faced many hardships as an immigrant woman yet always worked to help those around her whenever she could.
I am so proud to be Dominican-American. I am grateful and privileged to come from a culture and tradition that values family, respect, and hard work but also knows how to enjoy life with great food, music, and dance. I especially love traveling to DR whenever I can.
Assistant Programs Director, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library
Pursuing a career in health sciences
As a young adult, I aspired to become a doctor or other type of health professional. My great-grandfather in Chile was an otolaryngologist, my aunt was a pediatric physician, and my mother is a public health nurse who has worked for the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene for more than 30 years. Clearly, my family was an influence in my interest in medicine and public health!
My first library job was with the New York Public Library as a librarian trainee specializing in young adult services. While working there, I applied for the opportunity to pursue the master of library and information science degree. I then developed an appreciation for the world of information—how to find, evaluate, and synthesize it for knowledge creation. I also learned that I loved teaching and developing educational programs. My career has let me explore and further develop these interests. My time at CUIMC has provided me with the opportunity to work with people conducting amazing work and research in the medical and public health field.
Supporting CUIMC during the pandemic
Although the physical library was closed at the height of the pandemic, we were able to continue to provide access to information resources and research support with information services. With the emphasis on research and scholarship, it was more important than ever to support the CUIMC community in their research dissemination and publication efforts.
I am proud of our ability to adapt quickly to changes in our processes and workflows. We were able to transition to a fully remote work environment and sustain most of our information services. We also promoted our educational programs and maintained visibility in a virtual environment.
As a first-generation immigrant, my family has worked extremely hard and made many sacrifices to come to the United States from Chile. My mother always encouraged my sister and me to pursue our education and to become independent women. When I was 15 years old she enrolled in college and was determined to finish her education.
My three daughters motivate me to be the best woman and mother I can be. I am also very aware that I am an example for them. I love the work that I do and they realize how important my work is to me as well as how it is a part of my overall identity. I am very proud of them just as they are very proud of me. I also belong to an amazing network of women joined together for a common purpose, which includes supporting each other in furthering our education and advancing our careers. I am an active member of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc., the first Latina social and academic sorority in the United States.
Celebrating her heritage
As a Chilean-American, I am proud of the Chilean culture–the beauty and the warmth of the people. Chileans are a very social people and have a great sense of community. I grew up seeing family and friends over for dinner, wine, singing, dancing, and good conversations. Chileans are also proud of the beauty of the country with its different climates, geography, and amazing constellated skies. When I started working at CUIMC I was happy to learn one of the Columbia Global Centers is located in Santiago, Chile.
I usually gather with close family members for Chilean Independence Day (September 18). We listen and dance to cuecas (folkloric courtship dance), eat empanadas made with beef, cheese, or seafood, and drink Chilean wine. Both my parents and I were born in Chile. My three daughters have a mix of Chilean, Dominican, and Puerto Rican heritage. We believe it is important to acknowledge and celebrate not just these cultures but the entire Latinx diaspora.
Jacob Palma, DDS
Instructor in Dental Medicine, College of Dental Medicine
On becoming a dentist
I grew up in Nicaragua with dental needs, and when I was maybe 8 years old, my Mom sent me to the dentist to take out a tooth. By myself. In the chair, I said to them that tooth hurts, and they took it out. That memory stuck in my head and when I grew up, I saw dental needs around everywhere, and I thought I’d like to be a dentist, or some kind of provider who takes care of those needs.
My Mom was able to secure some money from a connection to help me pay for dental school in Nicaragua. To this day, I don't know who supported me, but he helped me get where I am now.
Coming to the United States
After I graduated from dental school, we had a civil war in Nicaragua, and that forced me and my family to get out in 1982. And then I started over again here in America as a dentist. I studied for two years at NYU to get my New York license and then I had a private practice for three years.
Joining the Air Force
I joined the Air Force in 1996 and retired in 2018. I don't have a military background at all, but the recruiter was very helpful in giving me an idea what being a dentist in the Air Force would be like. It was a way to advance my training and allowed me to serve the country that gave me as an immigrant an opportunity to start all over again as a dentist.
I started in Del Rio, Texas, and I’ve served in the Azores, Iraq, Korea, as well as stateside bases in North Carolina and New Jersey.
My final assignment was as clinical flight commander at Lakenheath Air Force Base in England, where I ran one of the larger clinics in the Air Force, with about 30 dentists and 100 supporting personnel. During my time there, we were named the best dental clinic in the European Command for two years in a row.
I really enjoy the opportunity to lead people to do their best work and guide junior officers because they are the future.
Running the emergency dental clinic at Columbia
As the director of the emergency dental clinic, my job is to guide our students to manage the emergencies and make sure the patient is stabilized, the pain is relieved, and then the patient is guided to the appropriate long-term care they may need. Last month we saw about 280 patients and sometimes up to 15 patients a day.
I came to Columbia because I like to teach and mentor and guide the new generation on how to be a good dentist. I tell my students to see the whole problem and not just address the problem that’s causing pain in the moment. We look at the bigger picture and then we can see what we really need to focus on to treat the patient as a whole instead of a single dental emergency.
Pride in Hispanic heritage
I'm one of the many who come here to this country with nothing and improve their lives, and their families’ lives, and I think that’s amazing.
We also economically support so many people, family who stayed in our original countries. We call it “remesas,” and millions of dollars go back to different countries in Central and South America that has a huge impact on these countries. They depend on these remesas. I see people in my church, they are the only member of their family in the United States, but they support the family back home. I take pride and remember the sacrifices that people here make for their families.