Spotlight on Saleha Ahmed

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, meet some of CUIMC's AAPI staff and faculty

Saleha Ahmed
Saleha Ahmed, director for human resources and academic affairs for the Department of Surgery at VP&S. Photo courtesy of Saleha Ahmed.

Ask Saleha Ahmed what she likes best about her job and she will tell you it’s the personal connections she has with the people at Columbia.

“What I love about this place the most is that even though Columbia is a very large place, because of the connections you can have with people across the spectrum it feels more neighborly,” she says. “You could be talking to the vice dean in one moment and then a medical student the next. There's always some kind of collaboration that has to happen and the accessibility to the faculty and to the leadership is phenomenal. You don't really get that at a lot of other places.”

"I'll figure it out"

For almost four years, Ahmed has been director for human resources and academic affairs for the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons Department of Surgery.

“My job is to create pipelines of candidates, find surgeons, look at how to streamline processes in the department, and assist with enhancing our surgical footprint in the Bronx, lower Hudson Valley, and northern New Jersey. It involves a lot of team-building and relationship-building to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.”

Ahmed started her career in public relations, until a colleague suggested a career in academic medicine would offer more stability. When a job for a coordinator for marketing, PR, and academic administration at an east side medical center came up, “I wondered what academic administration was about, but I applied and thought, you know, I’ll figure it out.”

Ahmed “figured it out” and spent 14 years at Mount Sinai, moving up the ranks before she was recruited to Columbia.

Born at Columbia

Coming to Columbia was a homecoming of sorts—Ahmed was born at the medical center—but she also felt welcomed by the attention to inclusion. “I was getting my ID badge next to the chapel and there was a sign in front of the chapel that said: Ramadan prayer room this way and Shabbos gathering that way, with arrows pointing in different directions,” she says. “I took a picture, and I thought, this is where I belong. The inclusion was just so refreshing.”

Since last year, Ahmed has helped promote inclusion at CUIMC as co-president of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group.

“Watching what's going on in the Asian American community brings up the trauma that my own South Asian, Muslim community experienced after 9/11,” she says. “I remember how it felt when Jewish friends reached out in solidarity then, and we’re now doing the same with our colleagues who are being targeted and sharing how we got through it.”

The group is organizing seminars and conversations with leadership about AAPI issues and anti-Asian hate.

“That's what I love about Columbia,” she says. “Most people are willing to listen and then take action.”