Photos: Caribbean Cultural Celebration Brings Sounds and Tastes of the Islands to CUIMC

September 18, 2019
Diane Thompson, MD, gives the keynote address at the CUIMC Caribbean Cultural Celebration on Sept. 12, 2019.
Diane Thompson, MD, gave the keynote address. See more images from the event in the slideshow at the end of the story. (Photo credit: Bruce Gilbert)

The HR Diversity and Inclusion Council at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) hosted a Caribbean cultural celebration on Thursday, treating more than 100 attendees to food, dessert, and beverages from the region, along with live reggae music and steel pan performances.

The event was held at the School of Nursing. Guest speaker Tyesha Maddox, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Fordham University, explained the history of Caribbean people in New York City.

Diane Thompson, MD, medical director of the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit at the VP&S Department of Rehabilitation & Regenerative Medicine and an assistant professor of rehabilitation & regenerative medicine, gave the keynote address. She described how she and her mother struggled to find stable housing after moving to the United States from Jamaica, so, at age 16, Thompson went to work full time as a live-in housekeeper in Westchester County to earn money and have a place to stay. Her mother got a similar job on Long Island.

For Thompson, this was a temporary detour. She returned to high school after a year and graduated at the top of her class. As a child, Thompson had wanted to be a doctor but she had not been encouraged to pursue that goal, so she studied nursing, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, working as a nurse practitioner for years, and teaching other nurses. “Life was good,” she said.

But, in the back of her mind, she had never given up on her childhood dream of becoming a doctor, so she decided to go to medical school. First, she enrolled in a postbaccalaureate program designed to help students from nontraditional academic backgrounds prepare to apply to medical school. It was tough. After she failed a general chemistry exam early on in the program, an instructor told her she wasn’t cut out for medicine and advised her to return to nursing. Although she was discouraged, she dug in and excelled, getting into her top choice of medical school and residency. 

Thompson urged attendees to follow their own path, disregard naysayers, live fully and without regret, and surround themselves with positive people. “Your circumstances don't define who you are and they certainly don't determine how far you go,” she said.

The organizers gave away 10 books—authored by Thompson and by Nicole Dennis-Benn—in a raffle at the event. 

The HR Diversity and Inclusion Council hosts quarterly staff networking events. Anyone interested in joining the council may write to Tonya Richards, council chair, at tr2513@cumc.columbia.edu.

Click through the slideshow to see more of the fun.