CUIMC Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, CUIMC News has interviewed faculty members with Hispanic heritage who are helping the medical center achieve excellence in research, education, and patient care.

Daniela Diaz, MD

Daniela Diaz

Daniela Diaz, MD '12, teaches at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she is assistant professor of medicine and quality lead at the Center for Family and Community Medicine. She is on the faculty of the Daniel Noyes Brown Primary Care Scholars Program and associate director of the primary care clerkship.

Diaz is passionate about providing the highest quality of culturally sensitive care to New York City's underserved communities. During the COVID-19 surge in New York City, Diaz supported and joined physicians on the front lines at NYP’s Allen Hospital.

Read our full interview.

Luz Marina Aguirre, DMD

Luz Marina Aguirre

Luz Marina Aguirre, DMD, assistant professor of dental medicine at the College of Dental Medicine, directs the school’s DentCare program, an initiative that provides oral health services to communities in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx.

After finishing dental school in Bogota, Colombia, Aguirre moved to New York City to further her career. Facing financial difficulties and unable to practice dentistry with foreign credentials, Aguirre did odd jobs while she took English classes. She eventually entered a program that prepares graduates of foreign dental schools to practice in the United States.

Aguirre says sharing her story with students is important to her, so people can see how it's possible even for those with financial challenges to succeed.

Read more about Aguirre in the CDM Newsroom.

Miguel Arce Rentería, PhD

Miguel Arce Rentería

Miguel Arce Rentería, PhD, is an associate research scientist and clinical neuropsychologist at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and the Department of Neurology at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. He grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, and was the first in his family to immigrate to the United States.

His research investigates the sociocultural and environmental determinants of disparities in cognitive aging and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. His current focus has been on determining factors of reserve and resilience—such as bilingualism and eduction—to these conditions among racial/ethnic minorities.

In 2019, his study published in Neurology revealed a connection between illiteracy and dementia and was covered in multiple media outlets including the New York Times

Read the full interview.

Adriana Arcia, PhD

Adriana Arcia

Adriana Arcia, PhD, assistant professor of nursing, studies information visualization as a way to overcome the challenge of limited health literacy, making it easy for patients to understand and use information to manage their health.

Visualization can help family caregivers understand how caregiving affects their own health status, she has found, and thus motivate them to take beneficial actions, such as doing yoga or getting caregiving help. This study, and others focusing on Hispanic populations, are crucial to addressing the information needs of Hispanics and other underserved populations.

Read more about Arcia. 

Roberto Lewis-Fernández, MD

Roberto Lewis-Fernández

Roberto Lewis-Fernández, MD, is professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, director of the Hispanic Treatment Program, co-director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic, and director of the Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

His research focuses on reducing disparities in the care of underserved cultural groups and the way culture affects individuals’ experience of mental disorder and their expectations in seeking help.

Lewis-Fernández attended divinity school after college, thinking that the study of religion would lead him to understand how culture influences the different ways people see the world, but gravitated to medicine to have a more direct impact on people's lives.

Read the full interview.

Billy Caceres, PhD

Billy Caceres

Billy Caceres, PhD, assistant professor of nursing, is a nurse-scientist whose research focusea on the reach of social and behavioral factors that increase risk of cardiovascular disease in marginalized populations. His most recent study reports how high rates of reported PTSD may be connected to high rates of cardiovascular disease among Latinas.  

Caceres says his own personal and professional experiences have highlighted the importance of addressing social determinants that contribute to disparities.

Read more.

Mara Minguez, MD

Mara Minguez

Mara Minguez, MD, MSc, is assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and of population and family health at the Mailman School of Public Health and an attending at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. 

Minguez is passionate about improving the well-being of medically underserved adolescents in New York City and increasing minority representation in the medical field. 

She is a specialist in adolescent medicine and takes care of patients in school-based health centers in Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx. She also is the medical director of the Lang Youth Medical Program, a six-year educational enrichment program for Washington Heights students in grades seven through 12 who have an interest in a career in health care.

Read the full interview.

Sandra Alvarado, MS

Sandra Alvarado

Sandra Alvarado, MS, instructor of nursing, serves as a mental health nurse practitioner at the ColumbiaDoctors Primary Care Nurse Practioner Group in Washington Heights. She has been a certified psychotherapist for over 37 years, providing psychotherapy and medication management to adults. Alvarado’s clinical interests include the mental health needs of underserved Latina women.  

The increase in depression, anxiety, and trauma triggered by COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented need for mental health services, and Alvarado grateful to be able to provide culturally relevant and bilingual mental health services.

Read more.

Diana Hernández, PhD

Diana Hernández

Diana Hernández, PhD, assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, is working to create healthier environments in traditionally low-income neighborhoods.

Housing is an important area of study and intervention, Hernández says, as it carries vital health and social implications.

She works to create healthier environments in traditionally low-income neighborhoods, and her most innovative research looks at household energy as a determinant of health. She also has put her money where her heart is and owns several residential buildings in her neighborhood.

Read our interview from 2019.

G. Joel DeCastro

G. Joel DeCastro, MD, MPH, is assistant professor of urology at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons who completed medical school and residency at Columbia. He is an expert in robotic and laparoscopic techniques for treatment of urologic tumors, specifically for bladder, kidney, prostate, and testicular cancer.

DeCastro's father was a pediatrician but initially clinical work didn't appeal to him. After doing public health work in Bolivia, he found himself wanting individual-level interactions, and he returned to the United States and applied to medical school.

Read our interview from 2019.

Gissette Reyes-Soffer, MD

Gissette Reyes-Soffer

Gissette Reyes-Soffer, MD, is a Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. 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 been at CUIMC for 16 years and has dedicated her career to developing novel methods to examine pathways that regulate lipid and lipoprotein metabolism and is a leader in this field.

Read our interview from 2019. 

Columbia University Irving Medical Center believes that excellence, diversity, and inclusivity are inextricably linked and that different experiences, perspectives, and values are essential elements that enrich every dimension of our work. A diverse faculty facilitates culturally competent medical education and clinical care and also brings important and different perspectives to the research agenda.