Her patients at Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center—many of whom are adolescents with type 2 diabetes—adore her. “I think they know that I am their advocate, their cheerleader and that I am passionate about what I do,” said pediatric endocrinologist Ileana Vargas, MD, whose interest in children with obesity and type 2 diabetes began as a student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she graduated in 1986.
“I watched it happen first hand,” said Dr. Vargas of the explosion of both obesity and type 2 diabetes in children. She did her internship and residency at Columbia University and a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at Mt. Sinai Medical School. “It was a good time to get your training,” said Dr. Vargas. “After living through the 1990s, I devoted my practice to treating and preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes in children.” By 1998, she arrived at Columbia University’s newly founded Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center as one of its first pediatric endocrinologists.
A child of New York, Ileana Vargas grew up an only child on the City’s Upper West Side and attended Mother Cabrini High School in Washington Heights—where Dr. Vargas now lives and works. “I had lots of cousins in Washington Heights,” said Dr. Vargas, whose mother had seven siblings and whose father had 10. She went to Fordham University to study nursing (“I didn’t think I had it in me to be a doctor” she said) but she did so well in her science classes that she was encouraged by peers and professors to switch to premed.
“I practice what I preach,” said Dr. Vargas, of her style of medicine. She loves Zumba dancing (which combines Latin and international music with an aerobic exercise workout) three times a week. “I take good care of myself and I want my patients to take good care of themselves.” Dr. Vargas, a mother of two—her daughter is about to graduate from Columbia and her son is in graduate school—has been happily married for 25 years to Jose Rodriguez, MD, an orthopedic surgeon. These days, they spend their time rebuilding a home on Long Island that was damaged during hurricane Sandy.
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