Get to Know Gissette Reyes-Soffer, MD
Gissette Reyes-Soffer, MD, is a Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition. Her research established the relationship between lipid and lipoprotein metabolism and cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Reyes-Soffer has dedicated her career to developing novel methods to examine pathways that regulate lipid and lipoprotein metabolism. She is a leader in this field, winning an independent NIH R01 award and receiving an Irving Institute/Clinical Trials Office pilot award.
A 2019 Irving Scholar, Reyes-Soffer chairs the Diversity Committee for the American Heart Association’s Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB). Watch this video to learn more about the work of the committee.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Reyes-Soffer has been at CUIMC for 15 years. Read the article below to learn more about Reyes-Soffer, in her own words.
Editor’s note: Reyes-Soffer’s responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What led to your interest in medicine?
I’ve always wanted to help others and improve the quality of life of people. When I came out of medical school, I realized that there was this whole field of understanding the development of disease risk. I realized that I could make a greater impact by understanding disease development than actually being at the end and treating what had already happened.
How did your research in lipoproteins develop?
My postdoctoral mentor at Columbia is an expert in lipids and lipoproteins. I had an interest in cardiovascular disease and how obesity contributed to this. The more I trained with him, the more I became involved and the research evolved.
Having made such a tremendous impact in your area of research, do you consider yourself a role model for others?
I do. As a Hispanic woman, my presence here at Columbia lets other people know that there are not only minorities here, but also women. 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.
Did you always want to be a doctor when you were growing up?
I would have loved to be a writer, and I always wanted to sing and act, but no. Learning has always been the one thing that motivated me. My parents always said, "Whatever you do, keep learning." I didn’t grow up as a little girl saying, "Oh, I’m going to be a doctor." I just think that, because I was always studying and staying engaged in school, it was just a natural career path for me. It provided the social aspect—I wanted to help people--and the academic aspect--where I needed to always rise to the challenge.
How do you feel about the path that your career has taken?
I’m ecstatic! I love science and I love being at Columbia. Columbia has been a great home to me. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities here.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy learning and discovery, and I enjoy the challenge. When someone says to me, "Well, you can’t do that," I’m like, "Maybe we can’t now, but let’s figure it out!" That’s why I like science. It’s not like someone wrote it and I’m following a recipe. I’m creating something new. That’s the best part. I come to work every day thinking, "Oh, I can create something new, and I get paid to do it, which is crazy!"
With such accomplishments, you likely don’t have a lot of downtime. But when you do, what do you like to fill it with?
I am married and have two children that play travel sports; their schedules keep me busy. When time allows, I enjoy boating, biking, playing tennis, and snowboarding. I’m a cautious snowboarder—I have two kids, so I can’t break anything.
How are you involved with the American Heart Association?
I’m part of the AHA Scientific Sessions planning committee and also the ATVB council. I currently chair the diversity committee for the ATVB council and participate in the nominations and planning committee of the council. The diversity committee aims to decrease bias by increasing AHA member participation. 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.