Spotlight on Mara Minguez, MD

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.

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, CUIMC News will feature profiles of faculty members who are helping the medical center achieve excellence in research, education, and patient care.

Mara Minguez, MD, MSc

Mara Minguez. Photo: Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

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. She also is assistant chief medical officer for community affairs at NYP.

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

When did you decide you wanted to become a doctor?

As cliche as it sounds, I don't remember wanting to be anything else. Since I was very young, I dreamed of becoming a doctor and specifically a pediatrician. 

It’s a blessing to be a part of beautiful and painful moments in a patient's life and to witness their physical and mental growth as they develop into young adults. 

What helped you succeed in becoming a doctor?

My parents—my mother is Puerto Rican, my father is Dominican—were very clear that they wanted their children to pursue higher education and be the first ones in the family to go to college.

We came to the United States when I was in the sixth grade. I was 12 and didn’t know any English at all, except numbers and letters.

I didn't have a physician in my life who I could talk to about becoming a doctor. I didn't have someone to sit down and say, “This is what you need to do in the next few years to prepare.” I found a lot of information on my own.

That process was rewarding, when I look back on it, but it would be great to have had some sort of mentorship. This is why I enjoy my role as the medical director of the Lang Youth Medical Program.

The Lang Program is designed to foster and nurture the interest of kids in the community who want to go into the medical field. Our hope is that they’ll come back one day to our hospital and increase minority representation.

What recommendations do you have for institutions like CUIMC that are currently working to strengthen their diversity?

Increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in medicine would help in decreasing health care disparities. When we have conversations about disparities, we have to have an inclusive group of people at the table to come up with solutions.

In addition, giving our patients the option to be treated by providers who look like them, understand their background, and, above all, speak their language may also improve health outcomes. I have personally experienced great disparities in the care of my family and friends and look forward to being a part of the solution.

What would you be if you weren’t a physician?

I would be a public school teacher in an urban middle school or high school. I am a teacher—yet in a different way. I am blessed that I can combine being a physician and an educator. I’ve been both for most of my clinical career. As a preceptor in the “Foundations of Clinical Medicine” course at VP&S, I have a great opportunity to help the students to analyze what they've learned in lectures and the clinic setting, talk about the relationship between patient and provider, and decide what kind of medical provider they want to be.

I think it is essential when we talk about reducing health care disparities, or disparities of any sort, we start with education. It's important for me to ensure that my community has the health literacy that they need in order to access health care appropriately, understand their options, and hopefully reduce health care disparities.

Has the pandemic changed you in any way?

I feel more committed to my work. We have seen how the pandemic disproportionately impacted minority populations. The disparities have always been present in our systems. Yet, the current pandemic has made them more visible. And thus, my mission to serve underrepresented populations is more meaningful and my purpose more intentional.

This is a very crucial time. Every single day, whether you live in the neighborhood or you’re an employee, we all have to magnify our lens to see what's happening in health care. Everyone has something that they can do to improve what's happening in our nation, and we all have to take responsibility for that. This is a great time to learn, to not to be afraid, and to be a part of change.