Leadership, Faculty, and Staff
Department and Division Leadership and Faculty
Rita Charon, MD, PhD
- Department Chair, Medical Humanities and Ethics; Chief, Division of Narrative Medicine
Rita Charon is a general internist and literary scholar who originated the field of narrative medicine. She is Professor and Founding Chair of the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics and Professor of Medicine at Columbia University. She completed the MD at Harvard in 1978 and the PhD in English at Columbia in 1999, concentrating on narratology and the works of Henry James. Her research focuses on the consequences of narrative medicine practice, narrative medicine pedagogy, and health care team effectiveness. At Columbia, she directs the Foundations of Clinical Practice faculty seminar, the Virginia Apgar Academy for Medical Educators, the Narrative and Social Medicine Scholarly Projects Concentration Track, the required and elective Narrative Medicine curriculum for the medical school, and Columbia Commons: Collaborating Across Professions, a medical-center-wide partnership devoted to health care team effectiveness. She inaugurated and teaches in the Master of Science in Narrative Medicine graduate program at Columbia. She has lectured and served as Visiting Professor at many medical schools and universities in the US and abroad, teaching narrative medicine theory and practice. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio residency, and research funding from the NIH, the NEH, the American Board of Internal Medicine, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, and several additional private foundations. She was chosen by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the 2018 Jefferson Lecture, “the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.” Dr. Charon has published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine, Narrative, Henry James Review, Poetics Today, The Drama Review, Partial Answers, and Literature and Medicine. She is the author of Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness (Oxford University Press, 2006) and co-author of Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine (Oxford University Press, 2017). She is co-editor of Stories Matter: The Role of Narrative in Medical Ethics (Routledge, 2002) and Psychoanalysis and Narrative Medicine (SUNY Press, 2008).
Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, PhD
- Chief, Division of Ethics
Maya Sabatello, LLB, PhD
- Associate Professor of Medical Sciences (in Medicine and in Medical Humanities and Ethics) in the Division of Ethics
Maya Sabatello, LLB, PhD is an Associate Professor of Medical Sciences (in Medicine) at the Center for Precision Medicine and Genomics, Department of Medicine; Associate Professor (in Medical Humanities and Ethics), at the Division of Ethics, Department of Ethics and the Humanities; and Co-Director of the Precision Medicine: Ethics, Politics, and Culture Project at Columbia University. She is a former litigator with trans-disciplinary background and has extensive experience in national and international policy-making relating to human and disability rights. Sabatello studies how biomedical technologies and genomic information impact social structures, marginalized communities, and individual rights and health outcomes. Her scholarship focuses on law, society, medicine, and disability; regulations of reproductive technologies; and the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetics and precision medicine. Her projects include Disability, Diversity and Trust in Precision Medicine Research (R01 HG010868), Evidence-based Policy Recommendations to Address Bioethical Challenges in the Return of Genetic Results in Nephrology (U01 DK100876-07 Supp); the psychosocial impact of genomic data on adolescents and family relations (studies funded by the Children Cardiomyopathy Foundation and Columbia University’s Precision Medicine and Society); and Disability Inclusion in Precision Medicine Research (P50 HG007257-05S1). She recently completed a K01 Award that explored the uses of psychiatric genetics evidence in civil litigation and non-clinical settings, such as child custody disputes and schools (K01 HG008653).
Dr. Sabatello has been a Gray Matters Fellow, a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School, and a Visiting Research Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Law. She serves as a member at various genomic- and ethics-related committees at Columbia University and elsewhere, including the Tri-Institutional Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee (Tri-SCI ESCRO), the NHGRI’s Community Engagement in Genomics Working Group (CEGWG) and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the All of Us Research Program. She currently Co-Chairs the Ethics Committee of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics.
Alexis Walker, PhD
- Assistant Professor in the Division of Ethics
Alexis Walker, PhD is an interdisciplinary scholar trained in Science and Technology Studies (STS), political anthropology, organizational studies, and bioethics. Her research investigates the social dynamics of financial and private sector organizations in health and medicine. She is currently Principal Investigator on a four-year project (2019-2023) examining perspectives from members of the commercial genomics industry on the social and ethical dynamics of their field. This work is funded by an Early Career Investigator award (K99/R00) from the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Dr. Walker’s previous research has examined the organizational dynamics of international financial institutions making loans for global health projects, the ethics of “precision rationing,” and the politics of patenting biotechnology. Her work employs qualitative methods, including ethnography, in-depth interviews, and document analysis. Her most recent work includes additional survey methods and town hall-style focus groups.
Prior to coming to Columbia, Dr. Walker was a postdoctoral fellow at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Walker received her doctorate from Cornell University’s Department of Science and Technology Studies, a master’s degree in political sociology and STS from University of Strasbourg (France), and an undergraduate degree in Biology from Brown University.
Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics Staff
Division of Ethics Research Associates
Caitlin McMahon, PhD, MPH
- Project Director
Caitlin E. McMahon, PhD, MPH received her doctorate in Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University. She started her research career working in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU based in historic Bellevue Hospital. Her dissertation research has focused on the historical evolution of the health consumer identity and the ways in which consumer rhetoric, and social, economic, and racial inequalities have informed debates over health insurance in the U.S. throughout the 20th century. More broadly, her research interests extend to the history of activism in health social movements, rights language and justice in health care access, and public health policy.
Mika Caruncho, MSW, MPH
- Research Associate
about Mika Caruncho, MSW, MPH
Mika Caruncho, MSW, MPH, is a research associate trained in anthropology, public health policy, and social work. She has extensive experience in qualitative research and has spent the past few years supporting ELSI (Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues) studies in cancer genomics at the University of California, San Francisco Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her academic and professional interests include understanding the lived experiences of various stakeholders to examine health disparities and social policies, and the intersections between racial equity and healthcare access. She has been leading her own NCI funded diversity supplement to support her work on an ELSI project that follows an online, pragmatic RCT testing a risk-stratified approach to breast cancer using genomics. Through this study she hopes to further understand the experiences of breast cancer screening trial participants from underrepresented communities, so to inform medical systems on how to cultivate trust, reduce stigma, and increase participation and representation of diverse populations in medical studies.
Division of Ethics Staff
Shawna Benston, JD, MBE, MA
- Director of Programs
Shawna Benston has a multidisciplinary background in bioethics, law, and the humanities, and experience in program development and management. Prior to joining the Division of Ethics, Ms. Benston served Columbia as Associate Director for Research Compliance Education in the Office of Research Compliance & Training, where she created speaker series, events, and trainings at the intersection of research ethics and research compliance. Ms. Benston has been a Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University's Center for Excellence in ELSI Research, where she focused on the ethical and policy implications of gene-editing technologies. She has a J.D. from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, a Masters of Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters in Classics from the University of St Andrews, and a B.A. from Yale University. Her scholarship has utilized case law and bioethical reasoning to explore dilemmas of patient agency at the beginning and end of life. She has taught courses on narrative medicine, bioethics mediation, and end-of-life ethics at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics Summer Institute.
Dounya Alami-Nassif, MA
- Administrative Coordinator
Dounya Alami-Nassif joined the Department team as an Administrative Coordinator after experience in nonprofit communications and development, academic event planning and promotion, as well as local government administration. She holds an MA in Near Eastern Studies from NYU and a dual BA in Government and International Relations/Global Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She hopes to pursue more closely the intersections between area/diaspora studies and medical humanities.
Dejda Collins, MA
- Program Manager (CTSA)
Dejda Collins is experienced in medical ethics and health inequity, with a research focus on medical maleficence and testimonial injustice towards minority women, resulting in legitimized feelings of disenfranchisement. She completed her MA in Medical Ethics & Law from Keele University and received an MA in Bioethics at New York University. Prior to joining the Department, she worked in oncology research coordination and served actively on a children's hospital's medical ethics committee. Dejda's interests lie in vulnerable populations' access to care and the importance of upholding patient agency and autonomy.
David Lamb, MSc
- Communications Associate
David Lamb is a digital marketing and communications professional with experience in academic and publishing settings. David holds a BSc in Molecular Biology from Royal Holloway, University of London, an MSc in Psychoanalytic Theory from University College London, and is nearing completion of an MA in Experimental Humanities at New York University. David is interested in how academic knowledge is disseminated and interacts with the culture at large.
Rachel Yarmolinsky, MS
- Program Director
Rachel Yarmolinsky, a longtime Director of Media Relations and Marketing at Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and a Regulatory Specialist at the Columbia University Human Research Protection Office, completed an MS in Bioethics at Columbia University in 2014. Her interests include clinical and research ethics, particularly in neuroethics and ELSI research. Ms. Yarmolinsky is experienced in event and meeting planning, science writing, graphic design, and media relations. She is on the steering committee of the Columbia University Center for Research on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics, a member of the Pediatrics and Adult Medical Ethics Committees at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/CUIMC, a member of the Social Services Committee of New York City’s Community Board 2, and a member of the board of Science Writers in New York.
Tiana Sepahpour, MBE
- Program Administrator
Tiana Sepahpour is a bioethicist by training who joined the Division of Ethics team after working in psychiatric research for several years, focusing on early intervention in psychosis. She holds a BA in Philosophy and Environmental Studies from Fordham University, and an MBE (Master of Bioethics) from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Tiana is interested in medical ethics, particularly in equity considerations for youth in the psychiatric space.
Interprofessional Education Staff
Jordana Vanderselt, MPH
- Interprofessional Education Manager
Jordana Vanderselt, MPH, is the Project Manager for the Columbia Commons Interprofessional Education (IPE) initiative, working towards collaboration across professional health schools. She received her Master of Public Health from Tulane University with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health and special focus on violence prevention. As a public health professional, she has particular interest in health systems change through program evaluation, training, and technical assistance. Most recently, she managed a teen pregnancy prevention study aimed at male foster youth with the hopes of mandating sexual health programming in foster care agencies across New York City. She is excited to be working with CUIMC to promote effective and equitable health care teams that will better serve patients, families, and communities.
Division of Narrative Medicine Staff
Cindy Smalletz, MS, MA, OTR/L, BCB
- Program Director
Cindy Smalletz, MS, MA, OTR/L, BCB is Program Director for the Division of Narrative Medicine in the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She joined the Division with and MS in Narrative Medicine and an MA in Instructional Design and Technology, bringing together a career working in learning design in the corporate sector and in education and technology at the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning at Columbia University. She is the creator, designer, and director of the first online Certificate Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, which she envisioned as an accessible way to connect practitioners around the world to deepen their study and application of narrative medicine. She also lectures on narrative medicine and directs programming at the medical center, including the most recent Virtual Group Sessions which were created for connection, stress-reduction, and to remedy isolation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, she completed an MS in Occupational Therapy and plans to further integrate narrative medicine with clinical care, burnout prevention, and education, with the hopes of changing healthcare through improving advocacy, education, communication and action.
Joseph Eveld, MS, MFA
- Program Manager
Joseph Eveld, MS, MFA, joined the Narrative Medicine program with a background in publishing and creative writing. As an adolescent he survived over two years of treatment for an aggressive form of bone cancer. Having turned to writing as a means to cope with this experience, as well as developing a passion for caregiving from both the patient and provider perspective, he felt as if he’d found “home” when he discovered Narrative Medicine practice. While completing his MS in the program, he studied Narrative Therapy and creative writing as applied in counseling for patients coping with trauma and terminal illness, as well as healthcare and social justice inequities represented in the literature and activism of indigenous cultures in the United States. He also has a BA in English from Northeastern University, and completed his MFA in Fiction at the Creative Writing program at Boston University. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train Magazine’s Short Story Award for New Writers, he has poetry published in the Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, and is currently working on his first novel.
Renée Russas, MM, GPD
- Administrative Manager
Renée Russas, MM, GPD is excited to be integrating her performance experience along the Eastern seacoast and her knack for administrative organization into her work here at Columbia Narrative Medicine. Known for enchanting audiences and critics alike with her "gorgeous voice" (Boston Art Review), Renée has sung with a variety of sacred and secular choirs around Boston including The Landmark Symphony Orchestra's One City Choir and in other such regional award winning ensembles. Renee has also had the privilege to travel for operatic debuts with the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival and the Intermezzo Foundation. Administratively, Renee has served as Company Manager to the Key West Symphony Young Artist Program and coordinated distribution for Academy Award nominated documentarian Frederick Wiseman's film La Danse. After her IRNE-nominated portrayal of Lily in The Longwood Players' The Secret Garden (2011) Renée served as their Development Director during Seasons 15 and 16. Prior to joining the Columbia Narrative Medicine team, Renee also served as Sr. Administrative Assistant to the Director of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) at MIT in Cambridge, MA and Office Manager to Reviewed.com, a division of USA Today Tech. Additionally, Renee volunteers as a consultant for several non-profit organizations and a variety of internship and membership committees. Renée holds a BA in Music and a BS in Theater from Murray State University; a Masters of Music Theater from Oklahoma City University and a Graduate Performance Diploma in Opera from the Longy School of Music of Bard College.
- Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
- Project Assistant
Kristen Magnatta is the Project Assistant for the Division of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is a graduate of Columbia University and holds a BA in Psychology. At CU, she worked as an undergraduate Research Assistant in Columbia Couples Lab. She also volunteered as a Peer Mentor, providing support to new students as they acclimated to the Columbia community. Her prior work experience is in the field of early education. For six years, Kristen taught Preschool and directed a Summer Day Camp program in New Jersey. She enjoys serving her local community and has engaged in volunteerism with different populations spanning from kindergarten classrooms to veteran organizations.