Medical Student Helps Build Bridges to Neighboring Community

May 16, 2013Bookmark and Share

When she started medical school four years ago Camila Mateo felt an immediate connection to the neighborhood surrounding the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The language, the culture and the food were familiar to the daughter of two Dominican-born pediatricians. Her paternal grandmother even lived on 175th Street and worked in a zipper factory in the 1960s. “I feel more at home in Washington Heights than anywhere else I’ve lived,” says Mateo, 26, who grew up in Boca Raton, Fla.

This summer Mateo will begin a residency in pediatrics with a concentration in urban health and advocacy.
This summer Mateo will begin a residency in pediatrics with a concentration in urban health and advocacy.

Early in her first year at Columbia, Mateo volunteered as an interpreter for Columbia Students Medical Outreach, which runs a community-based clinic for the uninsured. She later began seeing patients in the clinic under the supervision of volunteer doctors. In her last year, she created a website to help others at the medical school better understand the community around them.

“I had all this insight into my patients’ lives that most of my classmates don’t have,” says Mateo, who spoke Spanish at home and until starting medical school visited the Dominican Republic once or twice a year. Her classmates grew frustrated, for example, when patients disappeared for months and didn’t return for follow-up visits. Mateo knew why. “The Dominican culture is very transnational,” she says. “Many are supporting families there. They have businesses there. They may have children there. They go back and forth.”

Her website, VIDA, or Virtual Introduction to Dominican Americans in Washington Heights and Inwood (www.vida.wikischolars.columbia.edu) was begun as a scholarly project, fulfilling a new graduation requirement that began with the class of ’13, and whose aim is to have students explore an area of medical practice or research.

VIDA is chock-full of information about the neighborhood around the medical center, its history, culture and demographics—about three quarters of residents are Latino, most of them Dominicans. The website delves into the health issues facing local residents and facts about the Dominican diet and the use of home remedies. There’s even a section on local restaurants and historical sites. 

Mateo got advice about online platforms from Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, visited various community organizations, asked other students for their questions and wrote all the text herself. Meanwhile, she found time to sing, play guitar, banjo and ukelele with a small band of medical students at the P&S Club in Bard Hall.

Since VIDA went live, she has met with faculty members to encourage them to integrate it in the medical school curriculum. She also wants it to be available to newly admitted students before they arrive in New York. “It’s important to know the people you’re treating,” she says. “Cultural competency improves your ability to be a better doctor.” Her first patient when she began a clinical rotation in pediatrics was a 3-year-old with a rare neurological condition causing facial paralysis who was suffering from aspirational pneumonia. The child’s large Dominican family, none of whom spoke English, filled the hospital room, and Mateo served as their bridge to the medical team. She remembers their hugs when the child was discharged.

Mateo, who has a B.S. in health sciences from the University of Florida, has wanted to be a doctor since she was a child, inspired by her parents and the satisfaction they derived from their work. Her parents, grandmothers, aunt and her younger brother who is a second-year medical student at George Washington University, are all coming to see her get her M.D. In addition to her diploma, Mateo is receiving this year's Harry S. Altman Prize, which is given for outstanding achievement in pediatric care. She also will be inducted into the Physicians & Surgeons Gold Humanism Honor Society, which honors students who practice medicine with empathy and and ppay close attention to their patients' personal experience.

This summer she begins a residency in pediatrics, with a concentration in urban health and advocacy, at Boston's Children's Hospital and Boston Medical Center. But she says she will miss New York City and Columbia, which pushed her to be the best physician she can be but also let her be herself. "It's something all medical schools should do," she says. 

—by Georgette Jasen

From left: Garrett Fitzgerald and Rob van Haaren in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy   Two Engineers Harness Solar Power to Help Sandy Victims
Rob van Haaren and Garrett Fitzgerald built solar arrays they could tow behind them in small trailers to harvest the sun’s energy in order to bring electricity to those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Center left, Ambassador Matlock translating a letter from a former Russian political prisoner while flying back from Reykjavik on Air Force One following a meeting with Gorbachev in October 1986. From left are: speechwriter Anthony R. Dolan and Patrick Buchanan.   After 60 Years of Public Service, Diplomat Finally Earns His Ph.D.
At 83, the former ambassador to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia has completed his dissertation in Slavic languages and literatures and is graduating from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Axtmayer running the New York City Marathon in 2011   Nursing Graduate Well Schooled in Cancer Care
Alfredo Axtmayer II will have a unique perspective to share with his patients when he becomes a nurse practitioner with a specialty in oncology. In 2008, when he was 27, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is now in remission.
Shaw is a pre-med student and an intern at the extended care facility for the terminally and chronically ill.   College Graduate Starts Volunteer Program to Comfort Elderly
Ashley Shaw, whose major is biology with a concentration in art history, started the “At Your Service Volunteer Program” for Columbia students at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center.
Raman left her career designing banking software in India to follow her passion for journalism.   Software Developer Combines Technology Skills With Journalism in New Dual-Degree Program
Rashmi Raman, along with three other dual-degree candidates, will become one of the first graduates of a two-year program with Columbia Engineering that aims to teach professionals the technical aspects of both digital media and news production.
Mulhall in front of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during a stop at a Marine Corps base in Al Anbar Province, Iraq   Brian Mulhall, From the Navy to the Law
In five years of military service in the Navy and over the past three years at Columbia Law School, Mulhall has made great use of opportunities that have landed him a job in the National Security Division at the Justice Department after he graduates in May.
Christopher Harress (JRN'13)   Royal Navy Officer Becomes Journalist
After four years and a day in the Royal Navy, Christopher Harress pursued a bachelor’s in journalism and landed an internship with the Edinburgh Evening News before being accepted to Columbia Journalism School.
Nashwa Khalil (P&S'13)   Physical Therapist Learned Benefits of Program Long Before Graduation
Nashwa Khalil knew the benefits of physical therapy long before she enrolled in the doctor of physical therapy program at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She began physical therapy as an infant after a birth injury in her left arm.

 

Top
Columbia on Facebook Columbia on Twitter Columbia on Google+ Columbia on iTunes U Columbia News RSS Columbia on YouTube

In Memoriam

The University mourns the death of David Rosand, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History Emeritus, who taught at Columbia for 50 years. An expert on the Italian Renaissance and Venice, he was also project director for Save Venice. For more information, visit the Department of Art History and Archaeology website.

Milestones

Professor Rachel Adams, director of the Future of Disability Studies program, won the 2014 Educators Award from Delta Gamma Kappa, the society of women educators, for her book Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery.

Columbia Law School professor Lori Fisler Damrosch was named president of the American Society of International Law.

Associate social work professor Michael Mackenzie has been named a 2014 William T. Grant Foundation Scholar for his research on improving the lives of young people in the child welfare system.

The Record