For Cesar Figueroa Ortiz, MD, MSK infectious disease specialist and a native of Bogotá, Colombia, New York City is his long-awaited home. He remembers stepping out of a subway station into Times Square several years ago and finding himself surrounded by throngs of people speaking multiple languages. “I had never experienced so much diversity,” he recalls. “I had always wanted to live in a city with people from all over the world and knew then that I had found my place. I immediately felt that I was home.”
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Tania Bubb, Director of Infection Control at MSK, Reflects on Black History Month
Tania Bubb, PhD, seeks variety in every aspect of her work. Whether she's attending meetings with physicians, construction workers, or environmental services staff, speaking with project managers and nurses, or treating patients of different backgrounds, she appreciates the diversity that working in healthcare has to offer.
But new people and situations were somewhat daunting for her as a child. When Dr. Bubb was seven years old, she moved with her mother from the island of Jamaica to Brooklyn. She recalls experiencing significant culture shock — everything from the food to the people was unfamiliar to her — and feeling like an outcast while growing up in the Bronx, where she and her family eventually settled.
"When you are from any immigrant population in the United States, you come to a point when you ask yourself, 'How do I become part of a culture that I'm not used to?'" she says. "That was difficult to navigate as a child, but the support of my family helped me through."
Dr. Bubb overcame those feelings of being an outsider while pursuing her undergraduate and master's degrees in nursing. As an intern and later a staff nurse at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center, she was exposed to patients from different racial, educational, financial, and socio-economic backgrounds. Treating these patients allowed her to see what all patients have in common and she was humbled by their strength in the face of adversity.
"Everyone wants to be treated with respect and dignity," she says. "No matter what the differences in the patients were, the common theme was that they all wanted to get better so they could get back to their lives."
An Infectious Desire to Serve Others
After becoming a registered nurse, Dr. Bubb began looking for the next step in her career. An internship in epidemiology and infection control at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens resonated with her. She liked that it was a field that required a multitude of skills as well as an ability to work with many different employees, departments, and patients.
Dr. Bubb was also intrigued by the collaborations that were developed at the hospital between the Infection Control Department and areas such as construction or facilities to keep patients and staff safe and free from healthcare-associated infections. After her internship at Jamaica Hospital, she joined NYU as an Infection Control practitioner, a position she held for 10 years. During that time, she learned how to build effective relationships and work inter-departmentally to create initiatives that would reduce infection rates and protect patients and staff.
"That was the first time I really saw the moving parts of the hospital," she says. "The job taught me how you can work with every department and have a direct impact on patients. I liked the diversity it provided in terms of job duties."
Learning to Lead
Infection control became Dr. Bubb's passion. After NYU, she spent two years as the Director of Infection Control at Westchester Medical Center, her first managerial position. Although she found management somewhat intimidating, she says the experience helped her get out of her comfort zone. It also showed her that being book-smart is only part of being a good leader in healthcare.
"Having the hard scientific knowledge can get you into a leadership position, but it doesn't make you an effective leader," she says. "You also need what is often referred to as 'soft skills', such as being able to relate to other people, build relationships, and lead with empathy and compassion while also being firm."
Wanting to get back to New York City, Dr. Bubb accepted the position of Director of Infection Prevention at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Before leaving NYU, she was also completing her doctorate dissertation on preventing infections related to central venous catherization, which is when she first became interested in oncology. She was fascinated by the preventative measures employed by cancer facilities to protect patients.
Dr. Bubb followed her newfound interest in oncology and joined MSK in January 2019 as the new Director of Infection Control. She works with Mini Kamboj, MD, Chief of the Medical Epidemiology Service, on compliance issues regarding the prevention of healthcare-acquired infections in patients, visitors, and staff.
"Dr. Bubb has the perfect combination of skills and experience required for this vital role," says Dr. Kamboj.
Besides making an impact at MSK, Dr. Bubb has served in various capacities for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) as chair of APIC's Professional Development Committee and is currently a board member of APIC's board of directors. She is also a peer reviewer for the American Journal of Infection Control.
"What Black History Month Means to Me"
When thinking about the significance of Black History Month, Dr. Bubb pays respect to the people of color who made significant sacrifices which has allowed her to have opportunities she would not have otherwise been permitted.
"To have an opportunity to pursue higher education in the healthcare field as a woman and a woman of color —that means a great deal to me," she says. "I pay homage to the people who came before me and have contributed so much for the betterment of the community."
Dr. Bubb also thinks of her mother, who raised her and her younger brother as a single mother, and the women and men who mentored her throughout her career.