CUIMC Highlights Hispanic Heritage Month
It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the United States is celebrating generations of Hispanic Americans who have enriched the nation and society. Here at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), we want to highlight the work and unique accomplishments of faculty of Hispanic heritage. Here are just a few:
Adriana Arcia, PhD
Assistant Professor of Nursing
Arcia started nursing school with the sole intention of becoming a midwife. "I was really only interested in birth and was expecting to just grit my teeth through the coursework that didn’t deal with maternity care," she recalls.
But the training gave her a different perspective: "I came to grips with the fact that I am not cut out to be a midwife—I’m too nervous! Hats off to those who can make the big life-and-death clinical calls required in midwifery."
Instead, Arcia went to work as a bedside nurse and decided to get a PhD after becoming interested in research.
"I see a lot of problems with how we manage childbirth in this country," Arcia says. "There are better care models out there, and I wanted to have a larger impact than that which you can achieve by focusing on one patient at a time.
Arcia recently attended the inaugural Latino Leadership Institute organized by the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. "I heard so much there about the importance of representation. As a result, my main takeaway was the importance, as a Hispanic nurse scientist, of being more visible to young people, to our students, and future Hispanic nurses."
G. Joel DeCastro, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Urology
DeCastro's father was a pediatrician, but initially clinical work didn't appeal to him. "After I finished college, I moved to Bolivia, where I was mainly doing public health work," he says. "But what you think is best for people at the population level is often very different than what is needed on the individual level. I found myself wanting that individual-level interaction, so I came back to the U.S. and applied to medical school."
He attended medical school at VP&S and has been a resident, surgeon, faculty member, and researcher at CUIMC since 2011. He is an expert in robotic and laparoscopic techniques for treatment of urologic cancers.
Though he spends most of his time at CUIMC seeing patients in clinic and performing surgeries, he still finds time to travel around the world with ICAP to improve the health of families and communities around the world and he regularly conducts health outreach in Washington Heights, where CUIMC is located.
DeCastro was born in Puerto Rico to Dominican parents and grew up in Key West. "Although I’m not an immigrant myself, I’m the product of immigrants. Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to be proud of our backgrounds," he says. "The cool thing about the United States is that you can consider yourself 100% American and be grateful for the opportunity this country gives you but still identify with, and appreciate, the background of your parents."
Diana Hernández, PhD
Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences
For Hernández, who grew up and still lives in the South Bronx, housing is the focus of her research, business, and passion.
At the Mailman School of Public Health, Hernández works to create healthier environments in traditionally low-income neighborhoods. “Housing is an important area of study and intervention, as it carries vital health and social implications,” says Hernández.
Her most innovative research looks at household energy as a determinant of health.
"When people aren't able to adequately meet their household energy needs, I call that energy insecurity," she says. "Not being able to afford air conditioning can have negative health effects. Some of the impact comes from the stress of managing high bills relative to low incomes and more extreme weather due to climate change, requiring increased thermal regulation indoors."
She's also put her money where her heart is and owns several residential buildings in her neighborhood.
"I wanted to find a way to revitalize the Bronx from within, as someone who understands the nuances of my community and seeks to improve and preserve it simultaneously. And so, in 2012, I bought one small building. And then in 2013 I bought another small multifamily building, and in 2016 I bought the latest one," she says. Most of the residents in my buildings are from the Bronx or other communities in New York City where displacement has occurred. For me, doing this work is an antidote to gentrification and a way to pay it forward."
Gissette Reyes-Soffer, MD
Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine
Reyes-Soffer would have loved to become a writer or an actor and singer. But her love of learning led her to medicine. "I’ve always wanted to help others and improve the quality of life of people," she says. "Because I was always studying and staying engaged in school, it was a natural career path for me."
After medical school, Reyes-Soffer felt she could make a greater impact by researching disease development rather than treating what had already happened. She has dedicated her career to developing novel methods to examine pathways that regulate lipid and lipoprotein metabolism and is a leader in this field, winning an independent NIH R01 award and receiving an Irving Institute/Clinical Trials Office pilot award.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Reyes-Soffer has been at CUIMC for 15 years. "My presence here at Columbia lets other people know that there are not only minorities here, but also women," she says. "Women are underrepresented in medicine, and especially in research. I hope that others are inspired by the work that I’m doing and can see themselves doing similar things in the future."
She also promotes diversity in science at a national level as the current chair of the Diversity Committee for the American Heart Association’s Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. "We promote the inclusion of individuals who are currently underrepresented based on their backgrounds or the diverse science they are performing. I think the first step toward eliminating biases is to know that they exist and hold stakeholders accountable."
Yudelka Garcia, FNP
Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Instructor of Nursing
After six years as a research assistant and coordinator, Garcia’s younger brother was diagnosed with liver cancer at the age of 16. Late nights sleeping at his bedside at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York (CHONY) reminded Garcia of her earlier passion for patient care. It was the empathy and knowledge of her brother’s night nurses in the pediatric unit, she says, that inspired her to take a leap of faith and go back to school. She enrolled in Columbia Nursing’s Entry-to-Practice Program, which she completed in 2013.
Garcia has always felt drawn to Washington Heights. So when a position for a clinical instructor and family nurse practitioner (FNP) opened up at Columbia Nursing’s faculty practice, she jumped at the chance to “come home.”
"As for everyone in this neighborhood—I feel like I know their struggles. I know how difficult it is to find a provider they can relate to, someone who speaks their language, who they feel comfortable with. To have the opportunity to be that person is extraordinary. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be in this position."